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Beastly huns, fifth columnists, and evil Nazis: Australian media portrayals of the German enemy during WW1 and WW2

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posted on 2022-03-28, 19:51 authored by Antje Kirsten Gnida
Wartime media portrayals of the enemy serve not only a short-term propaganda purpose in aid of recruiting or the selling o f war loans bonds. Portrayals o f the enemy also often underscore a nation’s innermost fears, values, and myths. Australia’s WW1 poster and film portrayals of the ‘beastly Hun’ and ‘invading German hordes’ illustrate an early stage in the young nation’s social imaginary which at that time involved an almost complete identification with Britain and an obsession with racial purity and the superiority o f the Anglo-Saxon race. The films go as far as demonising German residents in Australia as fifth columnists and spies. Closely connected to this was the nation’s fear of invasion which had been prevalent in Australia’s social imaginary since the 19th century. The film and poster portrayals during WW2 reveal another stage of development in the nation’s social imaginary: the dehumanisation o f the German enemy is subordinated to the construction o f a distinct Australian character and values, among which Empire loyalty still holds an important position. Australian films o f the period do not portray the German enemy as an inferior race but stress his moral inferiority instead. The ‘fight with clean hands’, for example, is presented as an Australian value. The posters, meanwhile, depict the German as a more abstract evil threat. Nevertheless the underlying theme of many o f these films and posters is still the threat o f invasion. Australia did not have conscription for military service in Europe during both world wars (there was limited conscription in WW2 but this did not extend to service in Europe), so it relied heavily on visual propaganda for recruiting and getting the nation behind the war effort. Despite this fact, investigations o f the portrayal o f the German enemy in Australian visual culture during the two wars have been scarce. This is the first thesis-length investigation o f the portrayal o f the German enemy in Australian films and posters during WW1 and WW2. The portrayals are textually analysed and interpreted in the context of the nation’s unique social imaginary and identity discourses. This study contributes to two different areas o f academic research. First, it adds an Australian perspective to existing investigations of Allied media portrayals o f the German enemy. Second, the historical approach reveals the development of the country’s social imaginary over the first half o f the 20th century. It exposes the long history o f some o f its most prevalent aspects, chief among them the nation’s fear for the safety o f its borders, which still exists today.


Alternative Title

Australian media portrayals of the German enemy during WW1 and WW2. | Australian media portrayals of the German enemy during WWI and WWII.

Table of Contents

Introduction -- 0. Investigating Australia's WW1 and WW2 visual media portrayals of the German enemy -- -- PART 1: World War 1 -- 1. ANZAC legend, war atrocities, invasion fears and fifth column activity: the Australian social imaginary in WW1 -- 2. From Hun-beast to bushfire: the German enemy in Australia's WW1 posters -- 3. From racially inferior barbarian to fifth columnist: the German enemy in Australia's WW1 films -- -- PART 2: World War 2 -- 4. Australianness, Empire loyalty, invasion fears and the 'enemy within': the Australian social imaginary in WW2 -- 5. Australian military dependence on Britain and the indirect German threat: the German enemy in Australia's WW2 posters -- 6. German moral inferiority vs. Australian values: the German enemy in Australia's WW2 films -- 7. Conclusion.


Bibliography: leaves 262-282 "May 2009 This thesis is presented for the degree of Doctor o f Philosophy in Media & Communication."

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Media, Music and Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Catherine Simpson

Additional Supervisor 1

Renata Murawska


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Antje Kirsten Gnida 2009. This thesis was digitised for the purposes of Document Delivery. Macquarie University ResearchOnline attempted to locate the author but where this has not been possible; we are making available, open access, selected parts of the thesis which may be used for the purposes of private research and study. If you have any enquiries or issues regarding this work being made available please contact Macquarie University ResearchOnline - If you wish to access the complete thesis, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Document Supply, please contact






1 online resources (vii, 282 pages): illustrations (many color), map, ports

Former Identifiers

mq:33513 2173037