When Bertie asks his mother to forge his birthdate so that he can appear old enough to sign up for the military, she reluctantly agrees only after comparing the war and the world to the circus show he always tried to attend as a child (but was never allowed to see because of Australia’s racism). Later, after he is buried alive under the soil with Tommy, Bertie writes home to ask his mother to reveal his real birthdate—but he is not allowed to say this literally because outgoing mail is censored; instead he writes about being “in the Show” and finally understanding “what the grown-up world is like.”
While Bertie’s mother sees his exclusion from the circus show as symbolizing his inevitable exclusion from white-run Australian society, Bertie inverts this meaning. He says in his letter that he is now in the show to indicate his inclusion in the white world only insofar as he shares the horrific trauma his fellow white soldiers also experience. An exciting spectacle associated with childhood, the circus show actually symbolizes Bertie’s loss of childhood, showing that the seeming excitement and fanfare of the war were actually cover for profound cruelty. In short, the inversion of the meaning of the circus show demonstrates how the meaning of the war itself was inverted, turned from an opportunity for men to prove themselves, see the world, and win glory into a site of horrific trauma.