When WW1 brought Australians face to face with mass death, a Red Cross Information Bureau and post-war graves workers laboured to help families grieve for the missing.
The unprecedented death toll of the First World War generated a burden of grief. Particularly disturbing was the vast number of dead who were “missing” - their bodies never found.
This film and series of photo essays explores two unsung humanitarian responses to the crisis of the missing of World War 1 – the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau and the post-war work of the Australian Graves Detachment and Graves Services. It tells of a remarkable group of men and women, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, who laboured to provide comfort and connection to grieving families in distant Australia.
The Dreamer & the Cheerful Thing
Some months after my grandfather Bob Snape’s death in 1977 I collected two old trunks full of memorabilia from his last home, in Sandringham.
What a treasure it turned out to be: jammed full of papers, comprising correspondence, diaries, short stories, a poem or two, much of it typed, some of it hand-written, some official-looking documents and some music scores roughly sorted into manila folders, and a variety of souvenirs and ephemera. There were also half a dozen ordnance maps, aerial photographs of some Western Front battlefields and some battered old albums containing postcards, of WW1 France and Belgium, but also of England and Wales. These have since been catalogued on the Warrnambool RSL Victorian Collections page.
Bob’s treasure trove tells the story of his experiences during the war, and that of his younger brother Harold who also fought. Bob was a prolific correspondent and diarist, whilst Harold’s own tiny pocket diary alone ran to approximately 40,000 words. Near the end of his life, Bob told me, “You can burn the lot for all I care. You decide when I’m gone....”
Walter J.R. Barber
Wind & Sky Productions
Many Roads: Stories of the Chinese on the goldfields
In the 1850s tens of thousands of Chinese people flocked to Victoria, joining people from nations around the world who came here chasing the lure of gold.
Fleeing violence, famine and poverty in their homeland Chinese goldseekers sought fortune for their families in the place they called ‘New Gold Mountain’. Chinese gold miners were discriminated against and often shunned by Europeans. Despite this they carved out lives in this strange new land.
The Chinese took many roads to the goldfields. They left markers, gardens, wells and place names, some which still remain in the landscape today. After a punitive tax was laid on ships to Victoria carrying Chinese passengers, ship captains dropped their passengers off in far away ports, leaving Chinese voyagers to walk the long way hundreds of kilometres overland to the goldfields. After 1857 the sea port of Robe in South Australia became the most popular landing point. It’s estimated 17,000 Chinese, mostly men, predominantly from Southern China, walked to Victoria from Robe following over 400kms of tracks.
At the peak migration point of the late 1850s the Chinese made up one in five of the male population in fabled gold mining towns of Victoria such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Beechworth and Ararat. It was not just miners who took the perilous journey. Doctors, gardeners, artisans and business people voyaged here and contributed to Victoria’s economy, health and cultural life. As the nineteenth century wore on and successful miners and entrepreneurs returned home, the Chinese Victorian population dwindled. However some chose to settle here and Chinese culture, family life, ceremony and work ethic became a distinctive feature of many regional Victorian towns well into the twentieth century.
By the later twentieth century many of the Chinese relics, landscapes and legacy of the goldrush era were hidden or forgotten. Today we are beginning to unearth and celebrate the extent of the Chinese influence in the making of Victoria, which reaches farther back than many have realised.