Category Archives: Anzac

Recreating the past

By Dr Elizabeth Bissell, Senior Curator, Cultures and Histories, Queensland Museum and Solitaire Osei, Senior Conservator, Textiles, Queensland Museum

When Queensland Museum’s long-awaited Anzac Legacy Gallery opened its doors in November 2018, visitors may have been surprised to see a women’s mourning suit displayed near Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.

The suit was made for Mrs Christina Massey of Mayfield Road, Belmont, by Janet Walker, a popular Brisbane dressmaker during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Christina Woolridge was born in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, around 1865. She immigrated to Australia and married Thomas Massey at Roma in 1888. They had four children – James, Heywood, Helen, and Thomas Junior. Christina’s eldest son Heywood (known as Woodie) was serving in France with the 31st Battalion when his father passed away in Brisbane in 1918. It’s possible that Mrs Massey wore the mourning suit to her husband’s funeral that same year.

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Mrs Christina Massey and Mr Thomas Massey

The mourning suit is an important object to have in the gallery because it represents one woman’s story, but also the stories of many women – mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunts – who lost loved ones during the First World War. It also reflects a particular time in Queensland, and how the war affected social customs. Because there was such an unprecedented amount of death during World War 1, Victorian mourning customs, which were very elaborate and public, were replaced by more private, modest acknowledgements as whole communities mourned. The silk satin suit reflects the design and styling that was popular during the war years, comprised of a jacket and skirt of simple design lines with military-like braid and button decoration.

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Christina and daughter Helen

The fabric of the original suit was deteriorating and too fragile to go on display so it was painstakingly re-created by Queensland Museum Textiles Conservator Solitaire Osei. The process of reconstructing the suit was a challenge she hadn’t faced before, but with her textile conservation experience and training in fashion construction, Solitaire knew it was achievable.

I spent a total of 420 hours re-creating the suit in matching materials. Starting with a thorough analysis of every fabric, thread and stitch, I was able to piece together how it was originally constructed. It wasn’t an easy process, however. Normally you start with people’s measurements to make a dress, but I had to go the other way as I had no idea what size or shape Mrs Massey was. So, after numerous measurements were taken, I drafted patterns and set out to reconstruct the mourning suit made by Janet Walker one hundred years ago.

When recreating the suit, it was the braid on the jacket back that proved the most difficult to obtain. The braid wasn’t available anywhere as it was made more than a century ago, so I had to break down the components of the braid and source the material. I ended up finding it at a military store in the UK and I then had to teach myself how to braid it and constructed a replica.

With the reproduction complete and ready for display, I still had a few unanswered questions. It was my hope that one of Mrs Massey’s descendants could shed some light about the alterations made to the garment, which were found during the reconstruction process. However, the process of tracking down descendants was complicated. The relationship of the donor to the Massey family wasn’t recorded at the time of the donation and the curatorial team were unable to trace living descendants through desk-based research, which led them to seek a broader audience through a media call out.

Postcard sent to Christina from Woodie during WW1
Postcard sent to Christina from Woodie during WW1

Fortunately, Peta Geisel, Christina’s great granddaughter, contacted Queensland Museum within hours of hearing the call-out on ABC Radio Brisbane.

She and her late mother Erna Olsen (daughter of Helen Wruck nee Massey) had donated the gown in 2008. Ms Geisel said the dress had sat for many years among the Christmas decorations at the top of her mother’s cupboard in Eudlo near the Sunshine Coast, before she housed it at her home in The Gap until the time of the donation.

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Christina and daughter Helen

In September 2018, Queensland Museum hosted a morning tea for the family, including Peta Geisel, her daughter Jasmin Forsyth and granddaughter Asha. Peta’s brother Jason Olsen also attended, as well as a nephew Adam Craven. The family admired the reproduction and viewed the original suit, which prompted a few memories. Peta described dressing up in the suit as a child and even wore it on horseback in a parade one day, resulting in a rip in the skirt that is still there today.

“I have many memories of my sister and I trying on this dress,” said Peta.

“However, back then, we had no idea it held such historical value. Granny Massey’s dress has such a story to tell, and I’m delighted to be learning even more about it, as this journey continues.”

Peta used to be a dressmaker herself, so was especially interested in the reproduction process.

“Solitaire’s work is outstanding,” she said.

“You can see in the detail, her level of skill and passion for this project.”

A large part of the curatorial team’s work on the Anzac Legacy Gallery has involved tracking down and meeting with descendants of those people whose stories are featured. Consultation and collaboration are so important when designing a gallery, and we try to find someone related to every single object we display. Stories enrich objects, providing context and connection.

Read more about the Anzac Legacy Gallery here.

 

Queenslanders Band Together

As Queensland celebrates its 160th birthday this year, we’re shining the spotlight on a time throughout history where Queenslanders banded together, the First World War. 

Each year Queensland Day on 6 June marks the official separation from New South Wales as an independent colony. One of the most significant historical events to rock Queensland was the First World War in 1914. Today we look at items on display at the Anzac Legacy Gallery which serve as a reminder of challenging times for the state, sacrifice and comradeship.

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Queensland Army Recruiting Poster

Could you imagine seeing this Army recruitment poster in the streets and enlisting into the army at 18 years old? This was the reality for nearly 58,000 Queenslanders, and more than ten times as many civilians who supported their war efforts back home. The poster shows two maps; one of south east Europe and the other focusing on the Gallipoli area. The poster reads “Queenslanders your country calls” along the top and “We’re coming lads hold on!” in bottom right hand corner.

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World War 1 Nurse’s Cap

This nurse’s cap is homemade and belonged to Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) member, Miss Evelyn Drury. The primary role of a VAD member was that of nursing orderly in hospitals, carrying out menial but essential tasks – scrubbing floors, sweeping, dusting and cleaning bathrooms and other areas, dealing with bedpans, and washing patients. They were not employed in military hospitals, except as ward and pantry maids; rather, they worked in Red Cross convalescent and rest homes, canteens, and on troop trains.

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Yes button badge for 1916 or 1917 referendum

These referenda held at the height of the First World War established the principle that there would be no conscription for the armed forces during that conflict. They were remarkably divisive and demonstrated an Australian popular refusal to accept compulsory membership of the armed forces, which was at odds with the vast numbers who had joined up voluntarily.

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Anzac Legacy Gallery

The Anzac Legacy Gallery is a permanent exhibition on level 1 of the museum and explores the stories, objects, and journeys that trace how the First World War changed the face of Queensland and continues to shape our lives, a century later. The gallery is summarised into three major thematic areas, Queensland at War, The Story of Mephisto and Queensland Remembers and features more than 500 objects and 200 personal stories.

Read more blog posts ‘Stories in living colour’ here and ‘A man from Glamorganvale’ here.

 

A Man From Glamorganvale

Mephisto, the world’s only remaining German First World War tank is without doubt a unique and fascinating object. Visitors come from across the world to see it, and many words have been written about it. It is also a treasured object to many Queenslanders who remember it out the front of the old Museum on Gregory Terrace, or lurking menacingly in the Dinosaur Garden of Queensland Museum at Southbank. But it is also close to the hearts of Museum staff and volunteers – one more than most.

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Lance Barrett, Queensland Museum Volunteer, 2018.

My name is Lance Barrett, and I am a Front of House volunteer, meeting and greeting the public when they visit the museum. My paternal Grandfather William Joseph “Bill” Barrett played a part in the history of the Mephisto tank. As my grandfather passed away some years ago, I am only now coming to realise the significance of his experiences. During the 1980s my grandfather was interviewed by Queensland Museum and attended a function here but I would have been busy working at my job at Telstra then and missed it. Years later, when I joined the Sciencentre and the Museum, I began to understand that he was actually present around the time of the capture of the Mephisto and was interviewed when he was 90 about his experiences.

My grandfather enlisted in 1916, a boy from Glamorganvale, just 18 years old and fresh of the farm when he signed up. Before leaving he planted a number of Moreton Bag Fig seeds in the plot on his family farm, in case the worst should happen. By March 1917 he was on the Western Front, was wounded in battle at Broodseinde (Belgium) and returned to his unit in France in July 1918. In October he was transferred to the 26th Battalion who retrieved the tank and sent it on its way to Brisbane. At the interview with then Queensland Museum Curator, Mark Whitmore, my grandfather spoke about how he saw Mephisto when he was relieving troops holding an outpost beyond the tank.

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William Joseph “Bill” Barrett, circa 1916.

In my role as a Front of House volunteer I regularly visited the display Courage of Ordinary Men. It made me think about my grandfather’s war experience, and really personalised the First World War for me. In 2012 my Dad visited the European battlefields, including Villers-Bretonneux, to see where his father had fought. When he brought home photos, it made me feel so connected with my grandfather and his experiences. Added to this, other relatives have served in the military over the years, including both World Wars and Vietnam. One distant cousin received a DCM in World War 2, and my Dad served in peace time. With all these family connections, and talking to visitors to the Courage of Ordinary Men exhibition, I felt everything fall into place because so many of my relatives have served our country – a family history of service. I have wondered whether I could do that – it seems to me the ultimate bravery.

Members of the Barrett family in 1986, with Mephisto. L to R : Darrell and Elaine Barrett (nee Harding), Barbara Douglas (nee Barrett), Elaine Barrett, Bill Barrett (centre), Glenda Barrett, Vivian Griffiths and Kelvin Barrett.

Now, when I talk to visitors about war time, I challenge them to think about what it really meant for the men and women who served. And today as I look at Mephisto, newly installed in the Anzac Legacy Gallery, I find myself thinking again of my grandfather, standing at an outpost on the Western Front, looking across at this tank, just after it had been captured. And once again feel that wonderful connection to my grandfather, William Joseph “Bill” Barrett. I think about our family, my Aunts and Uncles, most of who are still with us, who are so proud of Grandad, their Dad, and his role in the First World War.

Stories in living colour

By Dr Geraldine Mate, Principal Curator, History, Industry and Technology, Queensland Museum

When I was asked to say a few words at the opening of the new Anzac Legacy Gallery, I thought “yes, that would be great”…then they said three to four minutes and I thought that would be impossible. I could talk for an hour, but how could I fit so many incredible stories into four minutes?!

And there are literally hundreds of incredible stories. Stories about bravery under fire, quiet moments in war, about women who cared enough to devote months and even years of their lives to giving to others, of cruel internment, of men who stoically bore injuries and illness as an aftermath of war, and of those who never returned.

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This gallery, however, is not just one of wartime one hundred years ago. It’s also about the Queensland we live in today, a Queensland where unexpected events are tied by filaments back to the First World War, where tea cosies, place names and even robots can be seen through the lens of time as having a link to the war.

But this war, and its link to Queensland, was not in sepia, or black and white, but affected and embroiled real people. And people are at the centre of the stories presented here, stories that we are privileged to be able to tell. These stories could not be told without the objects that were loaned and or donated to us by the descendants of the original owners of the special objects that make up the gallery.

I would like to thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your involvement in the gallery – in ways both big and small. It may not seem much at times – a phone conversation about your grandparents, lending us a photograph, or coming in briefly to look at something donated years ago – but for me as one of the curators for the gallery, it meant an enormous amount, allowing us to get a more personal glimpse into the lives of the men and women we are telling these stories about.

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This would be a good point to acknowledge that this gallery is first and foremost a team effort. There were a large number of Curators and collection managers involved over the course of the project, as well as other colleagues in different roles who brought the project together. The project management team, Graphic Design, Exhibition Design, the Exhibition Services team, our amazing Conservation team, and last but by no means least the teams at Architectus and Romeo who brought the curatorial vision to life.

That’s one of the exciting things about doing an exhibition. You start out with a single idea – “let’s do a gallery about World War One and its impact in Queensland”. There’s the discovery phase where you look at the objects in the collection and reveal the stories about them; the hard graft stage where you write the stories, finalise the object selection, and choose photographs, and write some more; the creative phase where you work with designers to create a space that suits the gallery and case layouts that tell the stories to their best advantage; and then the final push to get objects conserved, to build and install cases, and polish the glass before opening day. As a curator, it’s pretty exciting seeing the objects and stories that have going around in your head for months or even years suddenly before you, in three dimensions and living colour.

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The idea of living colour was particularly important to me as a way to connect in the gallery with the real life stories, and this was an objective for us ­– connecting with the people – the men and women who were part of the war, or lived with its aftermath, and those who have continued to impact Queensland today.

Women like Elsie Wright who by day helped her husband farm on their soldier settlement block after his return from the war, and by night embroidered to support their family. Men like Caleb Shang, a book-keeper from Cairns who was awarded the DCM, or Henry Dalziel, an apprentice in the Railways from Atherton, who was awarded the Victoria Cross.

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These stories are yours – the families of the men and women who’s lives we reveal a little of in this gallery. Thank you again for your donations, stories and photographs. Thank you for the privilege of a small glimpse into your family’s history. I hope you enjoy the gallery, and feel proud of the stories we are telling of your loved ones to the many, many people who visit Queensland Museum.

As you look around the exhibition we hope that you find a touch point – perhaps in a story, funny or poignant, or in the sheer size of the undertaking of war and the long impact of the war in Queensland; and that you leave with a new view of the Legacy of our Anzacs.

Other Anzacs

Written by Senior Curator, Social History, Mark Clayton.

At 4 a.m. on the morning of February 5, 1916, Mr W.J. McLaughlan who was on sentry duty on the beach at North Fremantle, noticed in the dim light an object which he at first took to be a snake, but which on closer examination proved to be a remarkably elongated fish of a bright silvery colour.

The Keeper of Biology at the Western Australian Museum, Mr W Alexander, soon identified this as a new species which he described in detail – four months later – in a paper read before a meeting of that state’s Royal Society. He proposed then to name the new species Evoxymetopon anzac, sp nov., explaining that this was “specially suitable for a fish found in Australian waters and nearly related to famous Frost-fish (Lepidopus caudatus) so well known in New Zealand.(1)

Related to the scabbardfish, Evoxymetopon anzac was the first species named after the - now - famous expeditionary force.
Related to the scabbardfish, Evoxymetopon anzac was the first species named after the – now – famous expeditionary force.

With the vantage of hindsight, and a century of liberal thinking, using the name ‘Anzac ‘to describe a new fish species might seem appropriate to us when in fact it could have been received as inappropriate and possibly even sacrilegious back then, especially given the prevailing legal, social and military tensions of that time.

A relatively new term then used mostly by military personnel and only reverentially, by civilians, the scientific community’s appropriation of the term ‘Anzac’ was – up until then – without precedent.

Since the first national Anzac Day commemoration had occurred some weeks prior to his Royal Society address, Alexander could not have been ignorant of the words sacredness, or the mounting media calls for its use to be safeguarded.  Already, by May 1916, a regulation had been passed (under the War Precaustions Act), “making it an offence for any person to use, for the purposes of any trade, business, calling, or profession, the word “Anzac,” or any word resembling it.” Initially intended to discourage the word’s commercial exploitation, these punitive provisions were progressively extended after the war to encompass a much broader range of potentially inappropriate uses.

In short time ‘Anzac’ became one of the few words in the English language ever to have been afforded legal protection, and it was here in Queensland that the Regulation’s legal force was first tested (the newly completed Anzac Memorial Church in Indooroopilly being given a Prime Ministerial reprieve, on the basis that its foundation stone had been inscribed prior to the Regulation’s passage).

With considerable foresight the Regulation’s authors had adequately anticipated and provided for Anzac parks, streets, biscuits and cottages, all of which were within the realms of past and popular experience,  Evoxymetopon anzac’s arrival from left of field however would have been difficult to foresee, or prevent. While provision had already been made within the Regulation for trademarks, the naming of species was typically regulated by peak international bodies which operated outside the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction.

If the term Anzac could be appropriated for one new species, then conceivably it could be re-used over and again for any number of other species (or genus)? Which is exactly what occurred.

Alexander’s paper had no sooner been published when, in 1919 on the other side of the world, French arachnologist Raymond Comte de Dalmas described a new ground spider genus (found in Australia and New Zealand) which he named Anzacia.

Anzac variants may well have been applied often since then, the term having even been used to describe insects (Anzac bipunctatus) and plants (the cultivar Callistemon citrinus having been termed ‘White Anzac’).

The cultivar Callistemon citrinus, otherwise known as White Anzac
The cultivar Callistemon citrinus, otherwise known as White Anzac

Queensland Museum staff have also played a part in helping to sustain this century-old practise, ABRIS Research Fellow Michael Rix having described – in 2006 – a tiny spider which he named Flavarchaea anzac….

 “The specific epithet refers to Australia’s national day of wartime commemoration, ‘Anzac Day’ (annually on 25 April). This date remembers and honours all Australians who have served and died in war, and originated after Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (‘Anzac’) soldiers landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, on 25 April 1915. The first specimen of this species (QMB S66839) was collected on Anzac Day 2001.”

We may not remember them, as we do those other Anzacs, yet still their numbers grow.