May 2007

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Harry Chauvel & TE Lawrence

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

In the dying days of the war to end all wars, Anzac horsemen cantered down the Golan Heights and put the Ottoman army to flight. Damascus lay before them, theirs for the taking. On the night of 30 September 1918, they took it.

Early the next morning, their commander arrived. The son of a New South Wales grazier, Harry Chauvel was a born cavalry officer. He was 53, the first Australian to command a corps, and Damascus was the pinnacle of his career as a field soldier.

Chauvel found his local liaison officer, a 30-year-old Oxford archaeologist named TE Lawrence, outside Government House, "attired as the sherif of Mecca" and surrounded by a crowd of exuberant Arabs.

Lawrence had spent the previous two years raising a revolt in the desert, an enterprise he described as a "sideshow of a sideshow". Emaciated, exhausted and agitated, he informed Chauvel that a new civil administration had been formed and suggested the Australian troops be kept outside the city, well away from its discipline-sapping temptations.

Immersed in the logistics of men and mounts, prisoners and provisions, Chauvel took this advice at face value. But Colonel Lawrence had divided loyalties. He'd promised Damascus to the Hashemite king, Faisal bin Hussein. The Arab army was running late and its triumphal entry into the ancient capital would fall flat unless Lawrence could buy it some time.

By afternoon, the jubilation of the liberated Damascenes turned to pillage and revenge, and Chauvel realised that his subordinate was trying to put one over him. Faisal's supporters were clearly incapable of maintaining order, so Chauvel paraded the Light Horse through the streets. Their emu feathers had an immediate calming effect on the population.

When Faisal eventually galloped into town, he was met with bad news. Syria and Lebanon were promised to France, and the British were keeping Palestine. Chauvel was the minute-taker at the meeting. Lawrence denied knowledge of the sell-out and asked to go home.

After the war, Lawrence lobbied for the Arab cause, denigrated Chauvel in his empurpled and unreliable memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, joined the RAF under a false name, died in a motorcycle crash in 1935, and was later played on the screen by a much taller actor. Harry Chauvel became Chief of Staff, trained a generation of Australian officers and died in harness at the age of 80. Inspired by his memory, his nephew Charles made Forty Thousand Horsemen, a film in which Peter O'Toole does not appear. In 1921, the British installed Faisal as the king of Iraq.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

Rehearsal for the ABC TV show ‘Cooking with Wine’, March 13, 1956

Whose ABC?

Amid questions of relevance and culture war hostilities, the ABC’s charter clearly makes the case for a government-funded national broadcaster

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

In This Issue

He would have sisappeared years ago

John Carroll’s ‘The Existential Jesus’

Too big for the bathroom shelf

Clive James’s ‘Cultural Amnesia’

From Frogmore, Victoria

Understanding Raimond Gaita

Only connect

Loneliness in the age of freedom

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality