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Economy of Truth

There's something in history writing that I call Economy of Truth. This is what happens when you are trying to be brief. You have to omit stuff not relevant – or not too relevant – to what you are talking about. In other words, you have a word limit and can't get bogged down. The idea is not to get it wrong in the process. So if you say "16 ships" you have to mean just that and if one turned back then you may have to say that too and if the whole thing is neither here nor there you probably would be just as well off with saying "ships". Words are our tools after all.

Unfortunately, here we are a little short of "actually, I have no idea how many ships there were, so I'll avoid the issue with clever wording". There are certain problem with this. If you use secondary sources, you have to be aware that someone else may have already economised. That means that sometimes you're stuck with either copying their wording verbatim (a bit of a minor no-no) or going back to the primary documents. The Australian Dictionary of Biography contains many classic examples of tightrope-taut wording.

You know you're definitely on the Dark Side of the Force when you either wake up with Darth Vader or use this to cover up inconvenient facts. Here's Peter Stanley from Alamein: The Australian Story (p. 24): "These divisions included the 6th and 7th Australian divisions, which contrary to persistent Australian myth were sent east by [British Prime Minister] Churchill and not reclaimed by the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin."

This relates to a current controversy (which I'll cover on in due course) and is correct in fact but deliberately misleading. The argument between Curtin and Churchill came later, over their return to Australia when the campaign in the East Indes fell apart.

Peter, we're not awarding points for debunking myths that you make up yourself. So there.