Katy Mutton, visual artist; and Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen, University of Western Sydney, 7 August 2015
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: Welcome to the next session, for which I am both convenor and timekeeper. I will have to give myself a good talking to if I go over time. In this case we are looking at the shattered ANZAC. We have Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen and Katy Mutton, artist. We will start off with Katy, if that’s okay. If you’d like to just give an introduction and then go into your talk.
KATY MUTTON: My name is Katy Mutton. I am a visual artist based here in Canberra. My art work, or my interest, is really related to war and how it impacts on national cultural identity.
Today I am going to speak about a post-war project which I started last year. It grew out of an interest in World War I Australian soldiers’ settlement, the scheme and its history. Really it started with my husband, who grew up in a place called Colignan, which is just outside Mildura in Victoria. He took me on a driving tour around the Sunraysia region to show me all the spots - places he had grown up.
He had gone to high school in Red Cliffs, and was telling me about the history of Red Cliffs in Victoria, which is about 20 minutes’ drive south of Mildura. It was one of the largest Australian soldier settlements to spring out of World War I. It had over 700 block allocations. It was established in 1920. I think they started actually clearing in late 1919.
I am coming from a perspective as a visual artist who is just interested in history and who is interested in the region. My husband was telling me some stories about some of the old blokes and talking about ‘blockies’, which all the locals would affectionately call the families that grew up on those blocks - ‘blockies’. I just got really interested in it. I was a little bit internally outraged that I had no idea about this history.
I thought when I started looking at the numbers - such a huge number of men who took up these blocks - this whole area of history that I really had no idea about, I was struck by the scale. I started asking or thinking about it in terms of how do over 700 men establish a community in this remote location - many of them having been gassed, dealing with disabilities and trauma. I was just really curious about the whole thing.
So I started doing lots and lots of reading, first with Marilyn Lake’s book The Limits of Hope, which is about soldier settlement in Victoria. Luckily for me a local historian, Ken Mackenzie Wright, had written a book called Land Fit for Heroes, which was charting the history of the blocks in Red Cliffs in terms of a more almost genealogical account of each of the blocks, as much as he could track, and how the holdings were transferred.
Anyway, the things that I found out were that the majority of blocks allocated to returned soldier settlers had been located in remote regional areas far from major cities. Many were too small to make a living from, or unproductive, limited access to water - although not in the case of Red Cliffs.
Most families started without a house, lived in tents or built small shacks. Although there were some training programs in place, many men had no farming experience and were probably ill-prepared to understand the challenges that would present once they were on a block. More than half of Australian settlers had left their land by 1938, which is a massive amount.
So I decided to start a small project to collate the research and became a bit obsessed by it. I undertook an artist residency at the Art Vault in Mildura last year. I invited locals to speak with me about the history. It was very - maybe brazen, I don’t know. When you are from outside, even though I am married to a local, it takes a while sometimes to warm up in the community.
I asked around and said, ‘Look, if anyone wants to have a cup of coffee or something and just talk about the history’ - I wanted to learn as much as I could. So I put a call out at the opening of an exhibition I held, and a woman I had met before, Pam Shugg, approached me at the opening and said, ‘Look, I’ve got this suitcase. I think you’d be really interested. Why don’t you come around for dinner tomorrow night and we can have a chat about it.’ And I said, ‘Fantastic’.
I was swept up in the opening and didn’t really fathom what would be there. Then the next night I went around and this is what was on the table. [image shown] Actually you can see bits of bread and coffee and things. It was quite phenomenal.
She brought this suitcase out. It was just an object of beauty in itself. It’s packed, obviously, full of letters and cards. There are ephemera - a hammock tag, diary, postcards, photographs. There are brochures about pruning. There were chemical lists - all sorts of things. If you can just see at the top there’s this beautiful envelope with a little bit of bracken, the fern. That letter is actually a letter he sent - sorry; I should explain who I am talking about.
The bloke up the top is Oz. His name’s Oz Edwards or Ozzie. The lady down the bottom is Myrtle. So Oz and Myrtle were sweethearts. They are Pam’s grandparents. Sorry, I missed that little bit.
She presents this suitcase. It’s full of letters. It’s all letters written by Oz to Myrtle - just about every one - they met in 1912 - and basically tracks their courtship. He meets her at a hay ride in Ballarat when she’s 16 and he’s 18. They send correspondence. He signs up to the war. Goes overseas. Goes to Egypt, Gallipoli, Western Front. Is captured. Becomes a prisoner of war in Germany and then is back home in 1919. So he survives the war.
I took just a very small amount of images to show you today. There are just tons. It is sometimes overwhelming.
The story of the suitcase - Pam’s grandmother, decades before, had given her a bunch of things that she wanted to have her incinerate. Pam said she looked through – she couldn’t help herself - the things and saw that there were letters. There was no way - she didn’t really want to get into the letters and go through personal things – she could burn it. So she said what she did was she put it in a cupboard and hid it away and thought just keep it there and sit on it.
A few decades went by. Grandmother Myrtle was almost at the end. She said to Pam, ‘I really wish I hadn’t given you that suitcase to burn all those years ago.’ Happily Pam was able to say, ‘It’s okay. I had actually stashed it away.’ Pam, she loves her grandparents - a very loving family. She still couldn’t bring herself really to read the letters.
So this has been a really interesting journey for both of us, because she heard that I was interested and sort of knew me a little bit - because we had spent 18 months living up there briefly, but totally knew each other for different reasons. It’s been a bit of hand holding, probably for both of us, in terms of my tentatively wanting to look at it and be inspired by it and her really wanting to share it but also experience the letters and experience the correspondence for - some of it, or a lot of it, really almost all of it - for the first time and get to know this connection that she has.
The really fantastic thing - coming back to soldier settlement - at first she brought them out. Everybody that I’d met, when I said I wanted to talk about soldier settlement they were really keen to talk about it, but they tended to focus a lot still back on what the relatives did in the war. I kept having to pull back and say ‘actually, I want to focus on what happened afterwards on the blocks’.
The great thing about this is the letters start in 1912 and they go all the way through, and really heavily until 1920 - end of 1923, because Myrtle stayed in Melbourne working just in administration while Oz went up to Red Cliffs and set up the block. So you have this fantastic correspondence where he is writing to Myrtle every Sunday telling her about the progress; writing from the tent, talking about the flies, the dust. You can see on the bottom right that letter has got a big smudge of red earth on it. Often he’ll apologise in the correspondence to say he’s apologised because its sweat marked or he’s perspiring.
I have lived up there. I lived there for 18 months in Mildura in the height of summer. It’s shocking. To think of someone living in a tent and trying to write a letter and establish a block is pretty incredible.
What I wanted to say also, Oz did quite well on the block compared to a lot of people. And Red Cliffs itself is a more successful story in terms of soldier settlement. But one of the things that Oz’s story enabled me to do - I did lots and lots of research and continued the research - is I wanted to creatively respond to the Australian’s soldier settlement scheme and what happened to men when they came home.
What this gave me was a more personal connection. Even though he had a fairly positive outcome, it meant that I could get a good sense of who the other people on the blocks were, who he was helping, what the progress on the land was like - talking about the heat, the flies, the hard work. It just sort of balanced my broader research.
I decided to use Red Cliffs, the location, as the catalyst for this creative exploration and began to make a body of work. Earlier this year I exhibited at the ANCA gallery in Canberra. I put together a show [‘Post-War: Thousand Mile Stare’], which was made up really of explorations and ideas responding to the research. This is a very large ink drawing on a very fine Kozo paper.
Some of the things I looked at were ways to represent the earth - the shifting of the earth. I also started exploring the idea of microbes and disease and people coming back with illnesses, and that these might be transferred to families.
I liked the idea of integrating text as well and bringing in the words of settlers - so not creating new text, just extracting from letters and research. These are the first iteration of creative responses, I suppose.
The second exhibition - there’s a bookmark exhibition. I am running a project website, so I share parts of the research and images and Oz’s story, and then more general information about soldier settlement on the website. I run a Twitter feed and Facebook.
The book end to this will be April next year when I will have a show in Mildura at the ADFA - Australian Dried Fruits Association – building, which is a beautiful 1920s deco building, original. I will show you that.
The very last bit I wanted to talk about quickly is where the work is going. I made different types of work. We made some installation works where my husband baked 708 hardtack biscuits that we put into sweat boxes, because it was all dried fruit in that area, as an installation – so to represent one for each block. I invited a performance poet, CJ Bowerbird - 2013 slam poetry champion - to respond to the artwork and to the research. He has written some amazing poetry and performed at the exhibition opening.
The different experiments will all come together in this Mildura show. You can see my research process. I have some pretty crazy databases and spreadsheets on my laptop. It’s become an everyday thing. These are images of the way that I started to look at mapping the history. What I was interested in was researching the blocks, researching how long people stayed on the block from the original settlements, what were the reasons that they left and trying to create visualisations out of that data to help me understand, because it seems like a lot when you read about it, to actually try to picture it in your mind what that actually looks like.
So this is me preparing and highlighting and sectioning, drawing up the layers, then identifying all the blocks and then starting to piece them together. This is an in-progress internal image from Red Cliffs. This is another iteration. This is the last one. This basically represents a section of Red Cliffs. It’s not all of the blocks, but most of them, and it’s 1939. So if you can imagine, you are looking at the map. It’s 1939. What I’ve done is tracked from the original settlers who is now there. All the gold is the ones that have sold their blocks, or handed them back. It’s a little bit hard to see on this image, but there is a red-orange colour which is all the ones that were cancelled. It’s hard to tell between the tones. The mass of gold and goldy colours are sold, or they have had their lease cancelled. Then all the little green ones are the ones that have died. Some of them are suicides. There are lots more anecdotal stories from children of settlers, who I’ve spoken to, talking about local suicides. I haven’t tried to identify them as such in these maps. This is kind of where the project is at. Thank you. [applause]
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: And if we can go straight across to Elizabeth. Over to you.
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: I actually don’t have a slide show. I am wondering, is it possible to go back to one of Katy’s images, maybe the image of the map with the anecdotal suicides. As grizzly as it is to talk about, I think it’s a really good entrée. I am going to talk about military psychiatry. We know that the soldier settlement experiment, that that policy is an ambivalent one; for some men it’s something positive for them and they succeed, but for a lot of men they don’t. There is this hint that there are psychiatric reasons for that, or exacerbates existing problems from the war. Precisely this anecdotal evidence, family stories about suicide that are attributed to wartime service difficult to prove sometimes. I imagine you heard a lot of stories. When people find out that I am working on military psychiatry they will often tell me family stories about uncles or fathers or grandfathers who acted in certain ways or did certain things that the family understood in a context of wartime service.
I don’t know how much longer we’ve got, but I thought I could just give you an overview of my research, or my interests.
I have three main points I wanted to raise about the way that military psychiatry relates to the home front but to this idea of the shattered ANZAC, which this session is about. I will try not to take up too much time.
As I say, I work on the history of military psychiatry and the history of psychiatry more broadly. My interest or view on the shattered ANZAC is through that lens. Of course Australian soldiers weren’t immune from wartime psychiatric disorders, though it seems at times - and certainly probably in previous decades before PTSD was recognised as a legitimate psychiatric condition – that it didn’t always fit in with a popular view, or even an official view of the resilient ANZAC soldier. It sits at odds in some way with that mythology.
I think the other point I’d like to make is that histories of psychiatry and histories of medicine more broadly can be marginalised both amongst historians but I guess in popular consciousness more broadly. I really think they resonate when we’re thinking about wartime and trying to understand the effects of wartime, and particularly the wars of the 20th century. As Bart said in the previous session, these are total wars. They’re not just fought by professional soldiers, but they’re fought by civilians in uniform - civilians who have been conscripted or volunteer. They come into uniform for the duration of the war. If they’re not killed they go back into civilian society. So any medical aftermath to that, or psychiatric aftermath, often filters out into societies, but certainly into families as well.
Three main points I would like to make. The first one is that we can’t understand current ideas and cultures around post-traumatic stress disorder, which of course comes out of the Vietnam War and a condition that was described, at least initially, as Post-Vietnam Syndrome and becomes post-traumatic stress disorder in 1980. We can’t understand the history of that disorder or the idea of trauma more generally without understanding shell shock, as it was framed in the First World War, and then its iterations in the Second World War, war neurosis, battle fatigue - it was known by various terms.
We need to see that history, I suppose, leading up to post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not a biological entity. It’s not a disease entity. It’s a cultural construct in many ways. There is a lineage between the recognition of shell shock in the First World War up to the recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder in the present day.
We can also trace, I suppose, a change there from shell shock in the First World War - it was understood partly to be about predisposing weaknesses in the soldiers themselves; there was less of an emphasis on the trauma of the event itself that they may have passed through, though there was certainly some sympathy for that - up to post-traumatic stress disorder in the present day, where it is understood that war is objectively traumatic. So there is no opprobrium that attaches to patients that are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder - at least in the medical literature. We know culturally that there is some ambivalence there. So that’s the first point.
The second point I would like to make is that the recognition of wartime psychiatric conditions, the steps that the psychiatric profession, the medical profession, take to address that, the awareness that it raises in the community goes a long way to explaining why psychiatry enjoys the current prevalence that it does. If we think about the forms that psychiatry took in the nineteenth century, it was an asylum-based practice. I think the mass wars of the 20th century changed that, because psychiatrists come into contact with civilians in uniform. They treat more ostensibly normal people who have broken down under wartime conditions. That really changes psychiatry’s remit and the idea of who a patient is. It‘s not necessarily the madman in an asylum, but it is an ordinary person who is broken down under particular kinds of stresses. So it changes the way that psychiatry operates and the acceptance of psychiatry more broadly.
Third, and most importantly for this symposium, for the work that you are doing, Katy, for the exhibition out there, and I guess our discussion or our understanding about World War I in particular in Australia, is that thinking about psychiatric conditions in wartime, the way they were treated or not treated, how they were diagnosed or not diagnosed, can open a window onto private lives because, as historian Marina Larsson has suggested in her book Shattered Anzacs, which is the namesake for this session, many military psychiatric casualties, as well as other forms of medical disablement, those soldiers were treated in the home. They weren’t necessarily hospitalised long-term. They weren’t even necessarily diagnosed in the case of psychiatric conditions.
So a lot of these after-effects of wartime were played out in the family home. That means it cracks open a window, though it’s difficult to get at because often it does rely on these fortuitous discoveries of letters. Hospital records are hard to get at because of various privacy provisions and privacy legislation that exists. It’s a way of cracking a window into thinking: okay, what is the aftermath of war in terms of private lives, in terms of family lives, the effects of caring long-term for someone with a physical injury or a mental condition that has arisen during wartime? What is the impact on spouses, on parents? Often it is parents that are looking after their sons that come back from the war. We know that most enlistees were young men - young, single men.
So it’s a way of opening a window onto private lives and trying to think about the effect that the war brings into the home. It’s very, very difficult to quantify. It often relies on a kind of anecdotal evidence, but it is one way of trying to think about that particular aftermath of war, particularly important for the First World War in Australia where we have tended to focus on the military campaigns.
KATY MUTTON: If I can just add, what I find particularly interesting with Red Cliffs is that you can actually make a lot of connections through a number - there are still children of settlers. There have been some fairly good oral histories and the letters - in crazy spreadsheet you can actually start to make these really interesting connections and, like you said, try to get a better picture.
We had in some of the encounters - people I find really want to talk about this history. Perhaps it’s something that people haven’t wanted to talk about for a long time, but certainly many of the people that I have spoken to in that region are really keen to share their stories. A particular fellow in his nineties, who I met through the military museum in Red Cliffs, wanted to talk about the suicides. I didn’t bring it up. He just offered up to talk about the things that he’d experienced when he was a kid. I have looked at the official documentation - you don’t see that. But through his voice he would say, ‘Well, there were this bloke and this bloke and this bloke on this block that drowned themselves in underground tanks’ or ‘I was there when I was ten and the bloke next door shot himself. My grandfather came and dealt with it.’
It’s quite interesting the layers that exist. The men on these blocks, places like Red Cliffs and soldier settlements, I just find really fascinating. I suppose in the cities there men were diluted with people who hadn’t been to the war; whereas everyone in that community had - the men had been. The bloke I was talking to said, ‘I was okay. My memories of childhood are really great. Even though I knew these things were happening I didn’t feel traumatised by them.’ But he also said, ‘I was lucky because my Dad was a happy drunk.’ Everybody drank - absolutely everyone just about - except Oz. There were some that didn’t, but a lot of people self-medicated, I suppose, through alcohol. He said, ‘But I had friends whose fathers’ - talked about domestic violence and that sort of thing because they weren’t happy drunks.
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: Elizabeth Nelson is a historian who has just published a book arguing that there may be an undercurrent of post-war domestic violence that you could attribute to the stresses of return and alcoholism. Which again some people would say it’s the dark side of that sort of larrikin, boozing it up in Egypt. But that heavy drinking culture in the military can persist post-war and it’s problematic for a lot of families.
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: I have a question for you, Elizabeth. Of course people came back from the war, from day one of the war - in 1914, 1915, 1916. It is not as if everybody came home at the end of 1918. With the idea of the trauma, were there any changes during those war years and how the authorities recognised that this trauma was real, that this person wasn’t a coward, wasn’t deserving of a white feather? What changed? Were there any changes noticeable?
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: There were. I suppose this is partly it. It’s a broader story than just Australia, because there is a mirroring of British policy, where initially symptoms that were characterised as shell shock were understood either as ’malingering’ - so people faking the symptoms - or it was a kind of concussion. So they were neurological symptoms.
As the war went on, I would say after probably mid-1915, there is recognition that these are psychological in origin, even if they seem to be physical manifestations of some kind of brain damage in some very spectacular cases. There is enough sympathy and recognition in the community, but also amongst military and medical authorities, to say: look, we need to deal with these men in a sympathetic way, even if there is a lingering suggestion that this might be a manifestation of cowardice or malingering in some way.
You see it in things like for very bad cases people who are hospitalized there is an attempt to segregate asylum; so either setting up separate military mental hospitals or actually segregating a military hospital into a civilian section and a military section, as though there is a kind of moral distinction between civilians and military patients.
There are various local fundraising efforts to help men with ‘war nerves’, as it is sometimes described in the community. I think there is a degree of sympathy. But, of course, there also starts this thing which, something up to the present date, is a running battle between men who perceive their incapacity to work or their nervous symptoms as a symptom of the war and as being entitled to a pension, then the department engaging in a kind of running battle trying to work out: okay, well, how bad are the symptoms? Can we document the symptoms? How much of a pension are you entitled to? That creates a lot of animus.
It’s repeated in the Second World War. It is certainly repeated in the Vietnam War. It’s repeated up to the present day. So, yes, psychiatric symptoms, they are a medical problem, but they’re also an administrative problem, a public policy problem, in some ways, for a government that’s trying to administer a pension regime and saying: okay, who is deserving of a pension and who is not? Easy enough if someone’s lost a limb to quantify, very difficult if it’s a kind of invisible damage. Does that answer the question?
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: That was great. It does. I have been sitting here. Throughout the day information adds up and I start to jump and wiggle in my seat. If you go into the exhibition you will find, as you enter the door, there’s a story of Alice Yoxon. Now Alice Yoxon was born in Germantown, which had to change its name to Holbrook because it was no longer polite to call it Germantown. She joined the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment). She had two brothers who served. During the war she also had a boyfriend who was killed. For the rest of her life she kept a photograph of him and his obituary in what we call ‘the workroom’. It is a place where she did all her work. She also knitted from the First World War until the day she died.
One of her brothers got a soldier settlement block up on the Murray River and injured his hand. His hand became infected. They cut it off. His arm became infected. They cut it off. His shoulder became infected. He died. A legacy of the war that won’t enter the history books because it’s not war related. She went up there with him to support him during those periods.
Eventually when she died her daughters got in and basically destroyed all the historical records. You are talking about the documents, papers from the war that may have survived. They went in. In cleaning up the house they just threw it all out and literally incinerated it, except for the stuff I could save, because she was my grandmother. A little bit of pride here - a personal ego trip. I think it’s a reminder - it’s not far away - the fact that she kept a picture of her first boyfriend, after having boyfriends and marriages later and such - married for 40 years - shows the legacy, the continuing - partially trauma. It just doesn’t leave the memory. It stays there with people, even people who were not directly involved.
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: One of my students the other day said - we did a week on shell shock in one of her first year history courses - ‘Could people on the home front get shell shock?’ At the time I thought - not that it was a silly question, but it was a basic question about diagnoses. But sitting here today I wonder if it was not a very astute question in cases like that.
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: Very astute. Rather than talk about me, we will open the floor up to questions now before we go for afternoon tea.
QUESTION: Elizabeth, I wonder if what we now recognise as PTSD - and you said way back in the First World War was recognised medically - as a society, even though we have recognised it medically we’re not prepared to recognise it broadly because it destroys that myth of ANZAC?
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: It’s an interesting question. I puzzle over this sometimes because people - I mean, I guess there have been debates in the last two or three years about, yes, we recognise PTSD. It’s been in the diagnostic and statistical manual since 1980. There are programs in place in the military, and yet there still seems to be this gap between people seeking help - and then if people seek help sometimes they feel that they are ostracized, or they’re judged for doing so. I think there is something in that. Could we trace it back to a kind of mythology about wanting to understand something about a mythic kind of Australian resilience?
Certainly I have heard men in the military at the moment saying: look, that’s a kind of ethos often amongst the men that they feel is destructive to people seeking help. I sometimes wonder - I am not a clinician or anything - if it makes people uncomfortable. It’s an uncomfortable cost of war which we recognise in an official context, but then how to treat it and care for people in those circumstances is a very, very difficult question.
As an historian, I think it’s interesting that we have known about this problem - we have known about this problem for ages - but officially there has been recognition of this problem since early 1915, and yet solving it has proved very difficult. That’s not really an answer. It’s a reflection. It’s not really an answer.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that point - I am not sure, you are probably aware - within the last year there was a case in the States where a woman started a campaign to stop calling returned servicemen ‘heroes’. She had a brother who had returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and she felt he was certainly damaged psychologically. But she said this term ‘hero’ was stopping them seeking treatment and help because they thought they had to live up to this image. She was castigated in the media by various people. It is just an add-on to the discussion.
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: Really interesting. I think families can have such a moral authority sometimes in these discussions.
QUESTION: I have a question. You were talking a lot about the psychological effects of war and how people weren’t quite sure how to talk about it or deal with it when it came back to Australia. Are there any similarities that you can draw between attitudes towards psychological issues and the high instance of venereal disease that came back to Australia? Was it treated in a similar way? I imagine people didn’t know how to approach it or talk about it in society.
Dr ELIZABETH ROBERTS-PEDERSEN: It’s a really interesting question and a cross-over that I have not thought about, except that I suppose they both impel a kind of administrative response. It’s interesting in some ways - I am not an expert on - my voice sounds silly, ‘I’m not an expert on venereal disease’. But I’m not. I am not an expert about it, except to say I know the numbers were high and I know there was this tension between: do we punish the men and construe it as a moral failing and discipline the men and dock their pay or do we give them condoms and just try to prevent the infections in the first place?
One parallel I suppose I can think of, I know in the Second World War the approach to venereal disease was more preventative. That was certainly the way that armies, allied armies, tried to approach psychological problems as well, which was saying: we will vet out people that we think are prone to breakdown. They are not very useful things.
In terms of thinking about it as a taboo, though, which I think maybe you were getting at, venereal disease is a taboo. Is mental illness a taboo? It’s a really interesting angle that I hadn’t thought of before and I will think further on it. We can talk about it.
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: One more maybe.
QUESTION: Bonnie again, from Queanbeyan. It’s only recently that I realised when I looked at a 1911 photo of school children in Mount Gambier, which included three of my aunts who became maiden aunts, that that generation of young school leavers from 1911 were the generation that gave us the soldiers and was also the generation that confronted the Great Depression.
I think this comes together in the soldier settlers where the soldier settlers were on unsustainable blocks without adequate economic or agricultural infrastructure and supports. The shattered men that came back from the war were then doubly shattered economically with the Great Depression. In our family this was expressed in my grandfather, who used to truck fruit from Moss Vale up to the Sydney markets, who saw his truckloads of fruit being dumped in the harbour because the price had fallen out of the market.
They then set up a growers’ cooperative. I think a cooperative was seen as a soft non-socialistic non-communistic kind of way of helping themselves to get a decent price. So the economic confrontation of the post-war impacts was hugely felt by the soldier settlers.
KATY MUTTON: I think it is very layered. The history of soldier settlement - I know Melanie has been doing lots of work on New South Wales particularly - it’s incredibly complex because you’re dealing with a scheme that took place in lots of different remote locations around Australia and different locations in Australia; the weather and the earth quality and all that is different in different areas. Men on different settlements were dealing with different conditions. Some had better access to water. Others didn’t. Some had terrible situations with pests. There is that terrible story about that bloke down south - I think he was reporting 3,000 rabbits a week he was having to kill.
There are some terrible stories from around the country, but they don’t all sync together because the locations weren’t the same. There are fundamental strains that are common but each story is so different and each area is so unique. Again, they were hit with the Depression. They were hit with the prices of fruit. It’s a very complex history. Even just focusing in on one region you quickly realise just how complex it is.
In terms of things like the other impacts from the war, say men with what we call PTSD, often they were trying to work the land. A lot of them might not have been able to cope particularly well. Most of the men on Red Cliffs I know had been gassed and had breathing problems. It’s horribly dusty up there, the earth. You have amazing dust storms that come through that could inhibit you. A lot of the men had to go down from Red Cliffs to Caulfield hospital. They would be away for three months, maybe six months, maybe eight months recovering or resting, or having treatment for this war neuroses type thing.
Who keeps the farm going at that time? It’s the women and children working the land to try and keep the property so that they don’t get kicked off. It’s a very, very complex history.
Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: Thank you. I will close it off there. We have afternoon tea waiting for us downstairs. Thank you to our speakers. Thank you very much. [applause]
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Date published: 01 January 2018