There are more than 12,000 war memorials across the length and breadth of Australia – and La Trobe University photojournalists are documenting stories about 100 of these, from cities to outback towns, in every state and territory.
The ambitious project is for a book to be published around Remembrance Day, as part of this year’s centenary of the Great War and the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli.
It’s a year in which the memory of everyone involved in that historic conflict – whether a name on a plaque or chiseled in stone – will be of added poignancy not only for their families, but collectively for the whole nation.
Human side of conflict
The book will tell the tale of one person from each memorial, illustrating for new generations the human side of the conflict and the impact the war had on local communities.
It features accounts of large city monuments to a solitary highland cairn built by school children from rough rocks in the Flinders Ranges. And all manner of structures in between.
An initiative of the University’s Bendigo Campus-based online photojournalism course, the project is led by head of photojournalism, photographer Julie Millowick and colleague Chris Atkins, and Geoff Hocking who is designing and writing the book.
Also involved are students and graduates of the popular course who live in various parts of Australia.
Legacy of a new nation
Ms Millowick says ‘The book will explore the enduring legacy of the service and the sacrifice of young Australians who answered the call of a newly federated nation. We are doing this through a combination of local stories, historical material and modern photographs to link today’s readers with a serviceman or servicewoman named on a war memorial.’
She says the project is also professionally relevant. Graphic design, photography and photojournalism are taught at La Trobe as part of the Visual Arts Degree, which enrols more than 120 students every semester.
‘The logistics of the exercise have been daunting. Most of the work was carried out over the summer holidays, visiting 100 locations – the majority in regional Australia – for photo shoots and interviews.
Ms Millowick photographed 41 memorials for the main section of the book and 66 for an appendix which will feature another 150 images of memorial gates, arches, gardens and soldiers on plinths.
She travelled from Albany to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, across the Nullabor to Eyre Peninsula down to Mt Gambier and Central Victoria to Sydney, Northern NSW, Far North Queensland and remote South Australia. Selected graduates helped cover other remote regions and the outback.
One graduate visited memorials in a sweep through towns along the Darling River, from Brisbane to Adelaide, while another ventured cross-country from Southeast Queensland to the top of Western Australia. An honours’ student who is about to enrol in a Masters course covered five locations in Tasmania.
The project has already generated wide interest in towns where photo shoots took place. For example in Mt Gambier, Ms Millowick’s visit coincided with an RSL wreath laying ceremony on National Servicemen’s Day in February.
There she interviewed and photographed Eddie Heaver, the 90 year old son of a WWI soldier. At night in a local park, she photographed a captured German Krupp Field Gun that was restored by the local vintage car club.
A tree of memories
Another captivating chapter comes from Chewton, Central Victoria.
Here Joan Matthews, the energetic 86 year daughter of soldier Robert Archer, was photographed embracing the trunk of giant tree planted by her father – much as she saw him do from time to time so he could gauge how much it had grown. Why did he do this?
The book tells us Private Archer enlisted two days after he turned eighteen. During fighting in Belgium, shrapnel tore into his temple, leg and arm. Critically, a piece stopped just short of his heart, after penetrating his wallet and a family photo.
‘He was left untended on the battlefield for two days before some of his mates went out to find him, but they were too late to save his sight. He was completely blind. Both eyes were removed.’
He was eventually taught how to be a chicken farmer and how to repair shoes and given a braille-watch. His chapter concludes:
‘Robert Archer acted as Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Blinded Soldiers Association for almost 36 years. He was awarded the MBE in April 1955 for his service to blind ex-servicemen.’
Ms Millowick says the book will illustrate many such iconic tales, links between the war service of people like Robert Archer and the memories that remain in the hearts and minds of their families today.
‘As we reflect on the Great War and the birth of the ANZAC tradition this year, the book will remind us that the glory of a national victory rests on the shoulders of those who served.’ – Ernest Raetz