Landscape of Loss

I've been researching Western Australia's individual First World War soldiers for many years, but in 2013 I decided to take a different approach. The stories I was finding from around the state were fascinating, but the lives of the men were so different, and their contexts so far apart, that I wasn't gaining much new insight into the bigger picture.

What I was really keen to know was how the Great War came home to Western Australia in real time. What was the impact of the conflict in our suburbs and streets? We know how many men went to war; we know how many were wounded and killed. What was it like to be living at that time, watching these events unfold, being part of them? How was the average Australian household affected, whether directly or indirectly?

To understand these questions, I needed to take the population from a single, defined area and examine not just a few, but all of their stories.

I chose the Perth suburb of Subiaco as the location of the study for three simple reasons:
  • It was reasonably well-established in 1914
  • It was easy to delineate on a map, providing a solid boundary for the study
  • It retains a great deal of heritage value today

In 2013, I studied a small section of Barker Road, beginning with addresses from the military embarkation rolls.

By 2014, my methodology had changed greatly, and I had worked out much more comprehensive ways to understand who was living in the homes of Subiaco during the war years, and how the war affected them. I spent an entire year researching Olive Street in an immense amount of detail, laying the foundation for the next phase of the study.

In 2015, I was awarded a University Postgraduate Award scholarship by the University of Western Australia to undertake the research full time for three years, as a PhD in History.

Further detail will be posted on the blog, and updates will also be provided through the Landscape of Loss Facebook page.

The thesis, in short:

A Landscape of Loss: Mapping the Social Impact of the Great War in Western Australia

Between 1914 and 1918, Western Australia contributed some 32,000 soldiers to the Great War. Over two thirds would become casualties of war, wounded or killed on battlefields a world away from home.

Specific Aims

This project aims to investigate the social impact of the Great War in the suburb of Subiaco, home to 1,300 of those soldiers, to understand the extent of loss and degree of change that resulted from the conflict. Using primary source materials, every house in the suburb will be checked for Great War connections. Data gathered will include detail such as:

*Occupations of enlisting soldiers
*Household composition
*Length/ status of residence
*Outcome and subsequent impact

The data will be mapped using GIS technology to demonstrate patterns of change over time.

While the soldier records are the starting point, the thesis also extends to examining the experiences of those who did not go to war, with their stories often to be found in the blank spaces that are otherwise overlooked.

Potential Significance

No other study has yet been located that examines in such depth the impact of the Great War on home soil in Australia. By investigating this cross-section of the Perth community, the project has the potential to produce a new understanding of how the Great War changed Australia on a micro level, which may also provide insights into why commemoration was important in the past, and is again becoming so today.

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