Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kalgoorlie Centenary Reenactment March

On August 17th 1914, the Goldfields town of Kalgoorlie was abuzz with excitement. A couple of weeks earlier, the news had arrived that Australia was at war, and that day, 187 eager men gathered to make their way by train to the capital city of Perth. They were the first to enlist from the Goldfields, and they left behind lives, families, and occupations like mining and railway work.

Of those 187 men, around 50 would never return.

Exactly one hundred years later, the Goldfields First Troops Memorial March group staged a moving reenactment on a beautifully clear morning. 187 local men and women marched down Wilson Street to the tune of a pipe band, with a police escort in front and behind, while locals (and visitors like me) cheered them on.

I've been to a few centenary events so far, but none have brought the times to life quite so effectively as this one. Most of the marchers were not in costume, but that only emphasised the fact that the same men one hundred years ago were also ordinary members of the community, leaving behind their homes and families.

Once the marchers were standing to attention outside the train station, the names of the fifty who were killed were read out. As each name was called, the person representing them stepped out of the group and lined up. And when the last name was read, they marched away, off through the station gates. Their absence made an immediate, noticeable difference, and the subsequent playing of the Last Post, the minute's silence, and the singing of Auld Lang Syne was as sad as it must have been jubilant back then.

All in all, the whole reenactment was beautifully done, and very effective. I was only in Kalgoorlie by chance on the day, and I'm so glad I got to go along. I've studied a few of the first 187, and seeing this gave their experience so much more dimension. A bravo to all involved.

Anzac Connections at the Australian War Memorial

[Kicking off a few overdue updates with a guest post kindly written by an old friend, Daniel McGlinchey- Assistant Curator at the Australian War Memorial- giving some great insights into what it's like to work with the primary records of the First World War].

“...it is simply rotten here in the bad weather up to our knees in mud and water and no chance of getting dry ...”
The man who endured these conditions, Private John Collingwood Angus, 28th Battalion, was writing to his sister Nance, from France in May 1916. By 6 July he was killed, but the letters he wrote were donated to the Australian War Memorial, and his words now reverberate through time because of modern technology.

My name is Daniel McGlinchey and I am an Assistant Curator at the Australian War Memorial (AWM), working on the Anzac Connections project as part of the AWM’s centenary commemorations.

Members of the project team have been working for the last couple of years to digitize collections of Australians that served in the First World War. Digitization of the AWM’s paper collections means they are more accessible and prolongs the life of the originals due to less manual handling. The Anzac Connections project has already released 150 First World War private record collections online.

The process of digitizing private collections starts months before their release online. The process starts with nomination, evaluation and selection. Collections are nominated for various reasons. For example, collections are nominated because they are unique and iconic and portray life at war in a particularly descriptive manner. Some collections are nominated to support the opening of new galleries or displays and TV programs, which might generate interest in the collection material used in them.

Once we have collated the nominated collections, the fun starts with the evaluation of each one. This means we get to read collections, my favourite part, noting themes, people, and places and how they will complement the collections already online and match the AWM’s objectives. It is all too easy to be sucked into a diary that takes you back to 1915; you can sense the excitement and apprehension of a young person going off to war, as though you are in Egypt yourself swatting the flies. This is why I like my job.

Once the collections are evaluated, we hold a selection meeting to discuss each collection and its merits. Each of our small team will have a favourite collection that touches us in some way, but through rigorous debate the nominations are reduced down to a manageable “batch”, an in-house reference to the selected collections, of around 7000 images that can be scanned.

The next process involves physically going through each collection and placing it in a recognizable order ready for scanning. The individual pages are scanned and then hours spent on describing each part of the collection and adding links and descriptors. This is essential work to enhance user experience for the public.

This stage of the project includes identifying the correct copyright holders of the material. This can be a bit like “who do you think you are” trying to track relatives of long past Anzac’s by searching the many databases of information now available to us. I must admit though I enjoy this part. It is highly rewarding when you track a family member down and the reaction is a mix of surprise and pride.

There are other steps that contribute to placing the collections online and I apologize to my colleagues that I have not listed them all. Once, however, we are ready to go live with an Anzac Connections batch, we begin the promotion of the project. This entails blogging stories from the batch of collections that are being released, using social media and work networks to highlight the new collections that are available under Anzac Connections. I enjoy talking and writing about my work and it is a good way to alert a wider section of the community of what is available to help with family history research.

At the end of this month we are aiming to upload more collections in Batch Five for Anzac Connections and work has already begun on Batch Six, which includes some of my favorite letters and diaries so far. I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the work of the AWM, and here is the link to the project to see which collections are online: