The Centenary of Anzac Day 1915 is not an obvious theme for a family-friendly event celebrating local heritage and stories. The 37 million dead, total for all sides, is not necessarily something that will bring out mum, dad and the kids to a large event known as Heritage Weekend.
As the curator for the event that was my challenge for 2015: to balance family-friendly exhibitions and activities with retaining the historical and ethical integrity of Australia’s involvement in war. It was a tough theme, the reality of the horrors we have inflicted on each other over the last 100 years is a confronting story.
It was a fine balance line to walk. As a parent, I know that you don’t suddenly want your young children confronted with what a machine gun actually does to your body – not without some kind of warning at least! But I wanted so very much to tell the story with integrity and meaning, to tell the reality of Australia’s involvement in overseas conflicts, and the impact war etches into families, towns and countries.
As I said in my introduction to the photographic exhibition:
War is not an isolated event. War doesn’t just suddenly happen. There is always a back-story, that doesn’t fit into a 15-second sound bite or a 140-character tweet. The back-story is so much more than that. It is the story of layers and layers of cultural, economic and political pressures erupting into violence.
The centenary of World War I is more than just calendar marking or voyeuristic hindsight at the idols of the past or the depths of the horror that we inflicted on each other. World War I, and the 100 years of service explored here, provided an opportunity to be honest about war, and the sacrifice it tears from every family and every town like ours across the globe.
I had a number of exhibition elements including a traditional photographic exhibition and historic object displays. To present a balanced approach, I wrote with an honest pen the actual reality of war and counter weighted that with photographic elements which told the story, but not too graphically, always mindful of my family audience.
One of my large exhibition elements was a huge screen projection – pictured above – on which I curated images along two thematic lines. On the left are images which show the wars overseas, from the trenches at Gallipoli to the SAS on patrol in Iraq. I deliberately also included photos of Australians overseas and the men, women and children in the countries we have fought in, and with. Then on the right, that international story was grounded in the domestic with photographs of the impact of war on Australia. So you see, for example, the AWAS training, men and women in factories and Red Cross workers collecting for the war effort. Each of the faces on this screen, the people of the past, looked directly at the camera, and at you.
We live more than ever in a world quickly connected to each other. Our island status means nothing now. War happens fast. The enemy is no longer faceless. We know their stories. Their fate is our fate. We are their story, and they are ours.
I achieved my objective. I had no chairs out near the large projection for the first few hours. Then I noticed people were stopping to watch, and watch intently. I put out rows of chairs. They came, they sat and they watched. And that is the best answer a curator can hope to receive from visitors - you made the visitor stop and think.
Here's a selection of images from the weekend - 15,000 visitors strong again this year. First up is a small video showing one of the venues being set up and then filled with people.
Mining Exchange from set up to busy with visitors
Visitors engaging with the photo exhibition
World War II Grocery Store: Sebastopol Historical Society
The recreated trench on the left by Creative Cubbies
HipCat Printery demonstrating letterpress printing