Friday, October 30, 2015

2014 Centenary Events: Blackboy Hill and Fremantle Troop Departures

While all eyes were on Albany in October 2014 for the centenary of the Australian troop departure, there were some smaller scale commemorative events in Perth to recognise an oft-forgotten element: the fact that almost all Western Australian troops departed from the Blackboy Hill Training Camp and on through the port of Fremantle.

These troops, most of them with the 11th and 12th Battalions, marched out of Blackboy Hill on October 31 1914, and made their way down to Fremantle by train. There, they boarded the ships Ascanius and Medic, and these did not go down to Albany to meet the rest of the fleet that had gathered there- rather, after pulling up anchor from on October 31st, they waited off the coast until the rest of the convoy caught up with them on November 2nd.

Far too often, it is either stated or assumed that all troops left through Albany. The great irony is, even Albany soldiers travelled up to Perth for training before departing from Fremantle.

The City of Fremantle (and other partners) acknowledged this fact with a series of events over October 30th and 31st, beginning at Blackboy Hill and ending in Fremantle. I attended the Blackboy Hill events, but as I was on my way to the Albany events the next day, I'll turn the reporting over to a friend who attended the Fremantle side of things.

Blackboy Hill- 30th October 2014

The evening at Blackboy Hill was a great family event, featuring many groups who are working on Western Australia's military history. From the 10th Light Horse to historians and archaeologists from Notre Dame University, from re-enactors to pipe bands, from antique vehicles to the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre group writing the Blackboy Hill is Calling history, there were presentations, demonstrations and displays of interest to all.


10th Light Horse display

Era-appropriate tents set up for the kids who were camping overnight

Military vehicle display

A/Prof Deborah Gare and Dr. Shane Burke of Notre Dame discuss their work
The student pipe band did a fabulous job

Representing the original enlistees who marched away from the camp

Fremantle- 31st October 2014

While I was busy driving down to Albany the next day to join the events there, the commemoration of Western Australia's troops continued in the harbour town of Fremantle. The following photographs and experiences come courtesy of a friend, Michael Gregg, who was there to see the troop march arrive.

Following the same general route as the troops did in 1914, a representative group made their way from Blackboy Hill down to Fremantle via railway, with the Hotham Valley steam train fitted out to match the original.

Michael was waiting at Fremantle harbour to watch them arrive, and gives a very evocative description of his experience.


It’s the drums that hit me.

A minute ago, I was a rowdy bystander at yet another street parade, a festive spectator gawking and bored, waiting for the action to start.

And it does. A quiet paradiddle on the snare drum, and suddenly we are in a different world.

The skirl of the bagpipes cuts in, slashing across the present like a knife. In front of me a horse kicks reflexively, and the khaki rider steps her forward, leading the column where?

Flags lift and droop, and behind them, boots lift and step. Khaki uniforms pass me, stepping in time, slouch hats hiding in shadow the identity of the wearer. No matter – I know you, the hope and glory of our young nation, striding into the world.

Past the Customs House, the column curls, stepping out now onto alien territory, a first no-mans land, a place of embarkation and separation. The flag waving spectators run to catch up, to be part of the transition and the tradition. A curt official orders me away. “You can’t come in here”. It blurs past me, but how cutting to the loved one whose very heart is stumbling up a flimsy gangway, burdened by a bulging pack of official requirements and a desperate sense of separation.

Quietly we gather together. Flashes flash, and cameras film. Voices speak, extolling great glories. But one quiet voice cuts through - a reflection of one man’s life, legacy and suffering. Lest we forget what war meant to the very real participants. We hang in silence, caught in a moment of awareness. And then the impossibly polished bugle sounds. It is The Last Post. We stand, remember and respect. And then the “Rouse” lifts us, jolts us put of our reverie. The jaunty scale tells us we are alive, and grateful to be so. Politicians ease off for their scheduled “photo ops”, but the crowd remain, standing, remembering, marvelling.

Eventually I stop crying.


Some of Michael's photographs from the event are below.

The train coming in

Arriving at the station with the band all ready to greet it. The next few photographs show parts of the march to the docks, with various units represented.

And below is the end point at the Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay, just beside the spot where the ships were tied up back in 1914.

A big thank you to Michael for sharing his experience and photographs.

Next up: Anzac Albany.