Friday, December 27, 2013

Podcast: Episode 1- A Brief History of Western Australia in 1914

2014 is going to be a huge year around here with the centenary of the Great War coming up. I have a number of different ventures going on, including the completion of my novel Between the Lines, a series of monthly podcasts, and the big one- a television series along the same lines as this blog, called Diggers From The West.

You'll hear more about all of those in the months to come, but for now, I give you the first episode of the podcast series- a brief history of Western Australia leading into the Great War, and a war story that will be familiar to regular readers of the blog.

As promised in the podcast, the transcript of the episode follows, with added links and photographs.

Please feel free to share, and I look forward to talking more about our Great War soldiers in the year to come.


Welcome to Episode 1 of The Road to War and Back.

I’m Claire Gregory, Western Australian author of the First World War novel Between the Lines. Writing fiction is my pastime, but in my day job, I’m an archaeologist and historical researcher, and I combine those skills to investigate local stories from the Great War at my blog:

Please visit the blog to see the text of these podcasts, plus the associated photographs and documents that tell the story.

In this series of monthly podcasts, as the centenary of the Great War approaches, I’ll talk once a month about what Western Australia was like a hundred years ago in 1914, and I’ll hunt through the archives to reveal the hidden tales of individuals who went away to fight. As we walk in the footsteps of those who went before us, we’ll see the impact the war had on this state, and understand why we remember the ANZACs so many years later.

So, without further ado, this is Episode 1: A Brief History of Western Australia in 1914
More than 40,000 years ago, Western Australia was inhabited by the Aboriginal people of various language groups, who lived on this land, belonged to it, and cared for it, as they still do.

But from the 17th century onwards, people of other countries began to take notice. Most of their impressions were not favourable; Dutch travellers passing by on their way to the East Indies could only hope to keep going, lest they end up shipwrecked and stranded, as happened to many, and nobody wanted to take a chance on what looked like such desolate and dry land.

It wasn’t until the 1820s that the British government decided to make Western Australia a colony, some forty years after the first European settlement of Australia in New South Wales. The town we now know as Albany came first, in 1826. Three years later in 1829, Captain James Stirling arrived to establish the Swan River Colony, and the city that would eventually become the capital- Perth.

Over the next century, Western Australians of all walks of life did it tough, from the Aboriginal people who struggled to hold onto what was rightfully theirs, to those who built the cities from the ground up, to those who went out on the land to make a go of sheep and wheat farming. Perth grew steadily, as did the harbour city of Fremantle and the suburbs between the two, and everything really took off from the 1880s, when gold was discovered around the state.

In 1901, the six separate colonies in Australia became a Federation of States, and our national identity was born. In Westralia, as we called our state, we were sometimes known as Sandgropers to people from t’Otherside, and we had a reputation that hasn’t changed much with time. We’re tough, sometimes rough, and always hard-working, with a sense of humour to see us through the hard times.

By 1914, this was a prosperous place to live for most of the 320,000 inhabitants, with graceful city streets on the edge of the wide Swan River, and all manner of industry contributing to a thriving economy.

On August 5th that year, it was an unusually warm day in the city of Perth. Outside the offices of the West Australian newspaper on St Georges Terrace, a crowd was beginning to gather. For weeks, news of the conflict in Europe had been trickling through. Since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in June, the world had been slowly tipping towards an unavoidable war, and today it had all reached a peak. Around midday, the paper boys brought out a new broadsheet, and the crowd began to cheer.

The British Empire had declared war on Germany, and Australia was ready to fight.

One of those who answered the call as soon as he could was Frank Seccombe, listed in the Embarkation Rolls as a piano expert. Frank, it turns out, was a musician of some renown, known around the state for his piano skills and his basso-baritone voice. The Sunday Times in July 1915 described Frank like this:
More than once down in the jarrah country, when a mill hand or sleeper-cutter had allowed his tonicked tongue to outrun common decency, it was Seccombe who warned him to desist, and it was the same Seccombe who, when the lout repeated the obnoxious epithet or expression, put him to sleep for half an hour with one of the piston punches he kept handy for such occasions. Apart from such affairs, F. D. was a breezy, good-natured Bohemian, and was splendid company at a private festivity or smoke social. 
Frank enlisted at the Blackboy Hill camp up at Greenmount- the place where most of Western Australia’s 32,000 Great War soldiers passed through for training on their way to war. Sadly, his story is a short one. He landed on the beaches of Gallipoli on ANZAC Day, April 25th 1915, and was one of the first to fall, shot dead in seconds. He left behind a wife and step-daughter, and his memory has faded with time.

But we see Frank in the records if we look closely enough, just as we see his fellow ANZAC soldiers. Their names may rest on memorials, but they live on in history. Join me next month for Episode 2, and uncover more memories of Western Australia at war.


  1. This is wonderful, Claire! I left a comment on Facebook, too. I love your voice--both written and spoken. It's so much fun to hear you.

  2. So much fun to hear your voice, Claire! A great idea to do these podcasts.