Themes and Elements of Experience
Theme – darkness and light
The research process including community workshops and discussions with the artist, as well as the collected material, point to the single overarching theme of darkness and light – the darkness of war and its aftermath and the survival of both. (note that this is different from the light of the eternal flame which is a memorial – to remember sacrifice and the cost of war – ‘lest we forget’)
In the context of the War and aftermath experience, darkness is the war itself, silence, nightmares, grief, loss of working identity, disability and ill health, suicide, violence, shame. It connects with inability to express the experience, a lack of voice, and in terms of the historical record, a lack of story.
In the context of railway work of the period, darkness is the gloom of poorly lit stations, and of work at night.
Light is manifested in several physical ways: the advent of electric light at railway stations during the period; the railway guard’s lamp (for details see types of work in historical context part1); peace bonfires and illuminations celebrating the end of war; the kerosene light Roy Howard needed to sleep by. It is also expressed in individual stories through music and other creative endeavours, sport and social activities, and community service.
The stories themselves also shed light on the experience of coming home to civilian life that is not part of the popular Anzac memory, particularly through memorabilia, images and memories that have been kept as treasures of the person’s life and passed down over generations.
In the Great Southern Line setting, the artwork itself can open windows on to that less known experience. By responding to particular, characteristic elements in the stories, it can give specific embodied meaning to the experience and so sharpen senses and awareness, and encourage reflection (itself a form of light).
Note also that sound is connected to light – bands, train whistles – and voice.
Elements of experience
The historical and personal material reveals a number of threads or elements of experience of returning from the First World War to work on the Great Southern Line – some shared, some less common and some that highlight the distinct character of individuals. Some of these are suggested in the stories summary. Further thinking about each individual story will help get to the critical fragments – eg from the idea of resilience to an image : ‘he held the Bowral length’; ‘he could get a tune out of many musical instruments and got great pleasure from me playing the cornet in the Municipal Band’
The Great Southern Line and the hub stations
The historical personal material collected also suggests possibilities for working with the dominant commonality of the Line itself as a physical and metaphorical link between railway workers in different jobs and positions, and between the different hub stations; as a solid presence and a movement that connects experience. The artwork itself is a way of ‘moving’ people and connecting with experiences of the past. In doing so it has the opportunity to draw on characteristics of the hub stations at the time and to take account of the built heritage that remains (see statements of significance)
Hub station characteristics of work and place
Goulburn hub may be characterised by its size and character as an industrial railway workforce in a large regional centre. Loco workshops are large. The work is physical and heavy and involves large machinery and engines. It is noisy. Work with boilers, steam and fire, steel and coal. The eight-hour day procession is a major feature of the year with sporting and social activities. The farewells and welcome homes at Goulburn station are large events with bands and train whistles. Because Goulburn oversees a railway district, staff at the station and workshops include people in high positions in the railway hierarchy – for example in the Loco Department, Steamshed Inspector and District Superintendent. Loco dominates in terms of our stories.
In contrast to Goulburn, Moss Vale is genteel. It is characterised by its refreshment rooms and care for passengers, by the Blue Gum Girls’ choir and their care for wounded and other returning soldiers including the distribution of flowers, cups of tea and chocolates. Violet day at the station is a strong image. It is also characterised by its role as an important stopping place for refuelling (passengers and trains). It is a place that reflects the movement of trains, their role as transport. Stories here include those concerned with the arrival and departure of passengers – porters – and fettlers who work along ‘lengths’ of the railway.
Picton has elements of both Goulburn and Moss Vale. Its Loco Department is supervised through Sydney but stories show the movement of personnel between Goulburn and Picton. Like Moss Vale it is concerned with the movement of agricultural produce to market. Stories highlight Traffic and Loco. In the post war context Picton is the stop for Waley Red Cross Home for shell shocked soldiers where Roy Howard convalesced and met his wife. The Picton Memorial School of Arts established by the community is another focal point for our stories. Alexander Ingleton, long term Picton resident and Porter, played an important role in fund raising for the Memorial as a musician – singer and violinist – as did his wife. As a pair they seem to characterise the social life and energy of Picton and perhaps the practical arts interests that fuelled the enthusiasm for a School of Arts as a memorial.
Future uses of material
Initially it may be appropriate to consult Museums Officer Claire Baddeley about the potential for material to be used by Rocky Hill and St Claire Museums which have been, with Claire’s assistance, the source of important material for the project.
Martin Crotty and Marina Larsson (eds), Anzac Legacies: Australians and the Aftermath of War, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2010 (references from introduction)
Trevor Edmonds, ‘A Railway War’, in Australian Railway History: Bulletin of the Australian Railway Historical Society, V.61, No. 878, December 2010
Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, Melbourne University Publishing, illustrated edition 2010 (Available at Goulburn Library – see photos and last chapter ‘The outbreak of peace’)
John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A history of the railways of New South Wales 1850-1986, Melbourne University Press, 1989
Marina Larsson, Shattered Anzacs: Living with the Scars of War, University of New South Wales Press, 2009. (Insight into family experience, Government management of pensions, issues of focus on those killed in action rather than long term wounded, etc. Intro gives a good overview)
Marina Larsson, ‘Unsung healers: disabled Anzacs and their family caregivers after the First World War’, Memento, issue 38, 2010, National Archives of Australia (copy provided – good summary of what she addresses in Shattered Anzacs)
Robert McKillop, ‘Thematic History of NSW Railways’, Office of Rail Heritage, RailCorp, 2009 (http://www.transportheritagensw.com.au/#thematic-history/cljyt) (update in preparation)
Hugh Millen, ‘Australian veteran’s health: WW1’, October 2012. Medical Association for Prevention of War: www.mapw.org.au (copy provided)
Elizabeth Villy, Red Poppies and the White Waratah: Heroines of the Great War from Wollondilly, The Oaks Historical Society, 2016.
Newspapers sourced from Trove, Goulbourn Evening Penny Post (GEPP), Picton Post (PP) Scrutineer and Berrima District Press, Southern Mail
New South Wales Railway Budget 1914-1917, Archives Research Series No. XI, ARHS NSW
New South Wales Railway and Tramway Magazine 1917-1920, Archives Research Series No. X2, ARHS NSW