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Dr Melanie Oppenheimer, Flinders University; and Dr Bart Ziino, Deakin University, 7 August 2015

Dr MICHAEL PICKERING: Welcome back everyone. It’s 1.33 and my guide tells me that I am supposed to introduce you at 1.30 - so I am three minutes late. We are now going into panel three. I hope you’ve enjoyed this morning’s panels. It certainly seems to have stimulated a lot of interest, and has been entertaining as well. Certainly in lunchtime conversations we had some very forthright and valuable conversations with museum staff. Again, thank you all for raising issues.

I now will hand over to Joanne Bach, who will be discussing the issue of War and Peace on the Home Front with Dr Melanie Oppenheimer and Dr Bart Ziino.

JOANNE BACH: Thanks everyone. Yes, I’m Jo Bach. I’m one of the curators that curated the Home Front exhibition. I am really up here just to keep time and to facilitate the discussion and give as much opportunity to our two guests.

Dr Melanie Oppenheimer is Professor of History at Flinders University in South Australia. She has written and researched about volunteering and women and war. She is the author of The Power of Humanity: 100 years of the Australian Red Cross [applause] She is currently working on a book about soldier settlement.

Bart Ziino is a lecturer in history at Deakin University in Victoria. He is the author of A Distant Grief, which is about war graves and repatriation, or potential repatriation. He is currently researching private sentiment around the war experience.

We will give Melanie and Bart a chance to have a chat first up, and then we will go into questions. So we’ll start with Melanie.

Dr MELANIE OPPENHEIMER: Thank you very much. I’d like to start with this particular image, which was an image, for me, that set me on my path of looking at the role of volunteers; unpaid labour on the home front in both World War I and World War II. This is an image that you’re probably quite familiar with. It is an image of someone knitting. Knitting is synonymous with the home front in World War I and also World War II. I think it’s a very poignant image. Its Grace Cossington Smith’s 1915 painting called The Sock Knitter. It’s of her sister Madge knitting the socks for - we are not quite sure who - or I don’t know quite to whom Madge was knitting the socks. It is a task that women around the nation continued - right from the beginning of the war right through. They continued to knit as their part of the war effort.

Sometimes I think it’s been pilloried; it has been downplayed. It’s been said that maybe it’s not something that is trivial. I don’t think it is trivial. I think it is a representative of hard labour, hard work and something that actually produced an item, and items that were needed by the men on the other side of the world.

The other thing about knitting - I’ve got an image that I will show you - is that during World War I many well-known influential people - ‘celebrities’ we might call them today - became involved on the home front in raising funds. Perhaps one of the most well-known at the time was Dame Nellie Melba. In her autobiography she offered a vignette about how she saw knitting. I will just read this extract to you:

On one of my first concerts after the declaration of the war, I noticed, as soon as I had stepped on to the platform, that almost every woman in the audience seemed to be knitting. …The first bars were played of my accompaniment. They meant nothing to me. Still that terrible clicking, that distracting flash of needles continued. And suddenly I stepped forward, spread out my hands, and cried: ‘Stop! Please stop! You are driving me mad. … I know the soldiers will forgive me…’

Dame Nellie Melba was a great supporter of the Australian Red Cross and she was told to stick to singing rather than knitting, because apparently she wasn’t very good at it.

Now here’s another well-known person, May Gibbs. I notice that in the exhibition you have a vignette of May Gibbs. This illustration is in my book, The Centenary History of the Australian Red Cross. It says a lot about knitting, making pyjamas, the all-in effect of this type of work for women.

Now the caption for it is actually words to a song - ‘Sister Susie sewing shirts for soldiers’. What I particularly like about it, this is the gumnut, her series of gumnut children, which is in its infancy. Of course there are examples in the exhibition. May Gibbs went on to do a whole series of these images for postcards for sale, for fundraising. In this case, in this particular instance, this card is for the Red Cross with Sister Susie, you will see up there, knitting with her spider’s web comes out of a Red Cross bag.

The Red Cross was one of the most important organisations, voluntary organisations, during World War I. It formed on the outbreak of war. So prior to the First World War Australia didn’t have its own national Red Cross Society. It is quite interesting because in that year, 1914, the Red Cross in Switzerland was celebrating 50 years. So it actually took 50 years for that organisation to actually arrive in Australia. There were two things that really got it going: one was the war, the outbreak of war; and the other was the arrival of Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the wife of the Governor General, who arrived in May 1914, just before the outbreak of the war. Lady Helen arrived with a head full of the Red Cross, because she had been involved in the establishment of the Scottish branch of the British Red Cross Society in her home in Scotland.

She arrived. As soon as the war was declared she snapped her fingers and got everyone across the nation into action and galvanised the women of Australia.

The interesting thing about the Red Cross in World War I - this is actually one of the few, if only, coloured posters that I’ve managed to find that is Australian. Most of the other wonderful posters that you see from the World War I period are actually either English or American or from somewhere else. This is one of the only posters that I managed to find - a very early one. For me, it has all the symbolism of the Red Cross. It has the nurse wanting to help. In the background it has the soldier, the person that they are going to help.

There are many hundreds, if not thousands, of images of women sitting in rows with red crosses on their bosom from World War I and subsequent wars in Australia. The thing that is really interesting about the Red Cross is that it is formed, literally, within days of the outbreak of the war and spreads like wildfire. There is something very appealing about what it is offering Australian women in particular - also men, but predominantly women.

I’ve said, a little bit facetiously, ‘It is a women’s organisation run by men’. Unfortunately, that is largely how it is up at the top echelons.

The thing I like about this image - this is of the Scone branch of the Australian Red Cross - well, the British branch of the Australian Red Cross Society - it has got a very long term - it is so quintessentially Australian. Why? The dog at the front. It’s absolutely gorgeous. His ears are pricked. He’s looking at the photographer. And also the tin shed. So you see a lot of these images, very stilted images. For me it really says a lot about Australia, about the impact of the Red Cross.

You can also notice how it is all very ad hoc. Look at the different sizes of the crosses. Obviously the women have joined and they said ‘Go away, go home and sew the Red Cross onto the bosom of your apron.’ And so you’ve got all different shapes and sizes of the Red Cross. That certainly wouldn’t pass muster today with the organisation.

This image of Red Cross workers is again a quintessential image. Now what did the Red Cross do? Well, apart from raising millions of pounds, they essentially looked after the sick and unwell soldier - the sick and wounded soldier. So here is a group of Red Cross VADs serving tea to people, men from the Randwick Hospital in Sydney. Again this is synonymous of images that we see all around the country of women doing a range of largely domestic tasks for the war effort. So one of the things, the patriotic endeavour was unregulated - by today’s standards we would be horrified. It just was organic. It came up from below. There was very little government interest - very little government regulation.

This was an area of private philanthropy largely. Private philanthropy looked after sick, wounded soldiers and their dependents. It wasn’t until the carnage of World War I got so great that the Federal Government started thinking that they needed to be more involved. And of course by 1917 they create the Department of Repatriation.

But sometimes I think it’s instructive. Well, what came before then? What was in place? States had their own arrangements, but predominantly it was private philanthropy. In these organisations they termed ‘patriotic funds’ - even that language is very interesting.

Other organisations came to the fore during World War I in terms of patriotic endeavour, fund raising and the like. So the Red Cross looks after the wounded and sick both here and overseas. The other main organisations - of course there were many hundreds of others - were the Australian Comforts Fund, the Salvation Army and the YMCA. Those organisations had a loose arrangement. They looked after the fit and well soldier. They provided all sorts of entertainments, recreation, trying to keep them out of the brothels in Egypt, trying to keep them out of the brothels in the west, you know in France; just trying to keep the men occupied with sports and different sorts of things - keep them on the straight and narrow. That was their remit. The Red Cross was looking after the unwell in the hospitals. People at home were raising funds, donating goods in kind for that effort.

One of the statements that I have made - and I still believe this is true - is that it crosses class boundaries, this sort of activity. It didn’t matter whether you came from the salubrious suburbs and could donate your many hundreds of pounds and have that printed in the paper or you could put your pennies in the workplace through the Comforts Fund, or something like that, everybody participated. Pacifists could work with Belgian relief funds, with particular organisations set up to help civilians on the home front in Belgium and those countries that were occupied. This is something that crosses class. It crosses religion. It also became an activity for children.

This is taken on Australia Day, which was 31 July 1915 - not the Australia Day we know, of course. It was a large fundraising activity. These are children, girls who are members of the Junior Red Cross, and then boy scouts creating the cross in the middle. Thousands of school children and young Australians did their bit for the war effort as well in many different sorts of ways.

Now, of course, they fund raised - and I loved in your exhibition you’ve got some fabulous badges, wonderful examples of that. I have just got a couple here. The one in the centre is from Strathalbyn Red Cross Society in South Australia. The emu - some of these you’re not quite sure of the provenance. Are they English? Are they Australian? But something with an emu on it, there’s absolutely no doubt where that came from. Then this other one, ‘for kith and kin’. People would, just like today, buy a badge and donate some pennies towards it.

Another way is probably drawing the Nellie Melbas of this world into it, the role of concerts, the role of entertainment in fundraising. I think Nellie Melba raised thousands - hundreds of thousands of pounds in her concerts. Also there are these sorts of songs where you would buy the book and money would go towards a particular cause, in this case the Red Cross. So many different ways to raise money - a very, very important element of the war effort at home.

I just thought I’d finish by talking, just very briefly, about another aspect of the Red Cross work, which was to establish a wounded and missing bureau. I live in South Australia. I’ve been working very closely on the South Australian information bureau records. The ones that have been digitised for a while now, and that are in the Australian War Memorial, were the records that were in Egypt and then in London that Vera Deakin was in charge of. They’re a very interesting collection. Each state branch of the Red Cross had their own wounded and missing bureau. In South Australia it is the only state where the records have survived.

As part of the ANZAC Centenary these records have been digitised. They are now online. They are developing this whole project. It is absolutely fascinating, these records. I have been working through, systematically, the Gallipoli files. There are about 250 of them - with this fellow Leo Alderson being one. This is a very poignant story. Just in a nutshell, his father went in when the bureau was opened in early January 1916. So the men had already been evacuated from the peninsula by the time this bureau was established. They hadn’t heard from their son since April. They had written to the army. They said, ‘Oh, he’s fine’. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the army didn’t know where he was. They kept sending these mixed messages to the family. The family were really at their wits end.

So in January 1916, when the bureaus opened, Leo Alderson’s father goes in there and says ‘Can you please help us find out what’s happened to our son.’ To cut a long story short, he died within 10 days on the peninsula. He was actually evacuated off into a hospital ship, but he died at sea. As was common in the carnage and the chaos of those evacuations, anyone who died at sea was just buried overboard very quickly. There were no records. But the Red Cross was able to determine this and give the family some understanding of what had happened to their son.

Then finally, two years later, the military then held a commission of inquiry and said, ‘Yes, in fact that’s what has happened to your son’.

This is a very important role that the Red Cross played on the home front. I think it might link in with what Bart might be talking about. I don’t know what Bart is going to talk about.

But what I found coming out of these records - and maybe helps to explain some of that manic knitting that Dame Nellie Melba was talking about - was that in order to just not think about what was happening, not think about your loved ones, that no, they did not know what had happened to their son, and the military didn’t know either, how do you deal with that? The Red Cross tried to play a role in trying to help families. It was an amazing role that they played.

The level of anxiety that comes through these records is absolutely palpable. It has made me realise the level of anxiety that permeates through the home front during World War I actually just escalates as the war goes on. I will leave it there.

Dr BART ZIINO: It’s a perfect segue. Thanks Melanie. I won’t talk about wounded and missing. I am going to talk about anxiety and I am going to talk a little bit about knitting. I might table knitting as a question to take up at the end. I was going to talk about anxiety.

There are a couple of things that I really want to raise here about life on the Australian home front. The first one is - you probably don’t need reminding of this - the Great War is the first of the 20th century’s terrible total wars. This is where whole economies are geared towards defeating the enemy. All the resources of the nation are being invested in that effort to win the war; that is human resources and industrial resources, of course.

Australian soldiers are exposed to total war on the mechanised mass battlefield. They see it upfront and at the pointy end. At home in Australia it has been rather more difficult to argue the case that Australians fought in a total war. That’s if we use those traditional measures of industrial mobilisation and conscription for military purposes. Of course in Australia conscription is rejected twice at the vote.

As I say, it can be difficult to argue that total war was felt out here, but I am going to argue that total war was felt here.

Australians were most certainly engaged in fighting that kind of war in that they spent the whole four-and-a-half years of the conflict committing themselves over and over mentally and spiritually to that war. For all the fractiousness of the Australian home front and division - and it certainly was a divided place - most Australians were still committed to at least the idea that victory had to be achieved in this war right at the end.

So there is a paradox here. On one hand Australians remain by and large determined that they will see this war through; on the other hand, for the entire duration of the war the decisions about what can be committed to the war, what can be sacrificed to the war remains with individuals and their families to decide.

So this morning we heard about what the Federal Government did and tried to regulate in terms of the censorship of the media and the movements of so-called ‘enemy aliens’. But in the big issue of the organisation of resources the Federal Government, as Melanie said, did not have a guiding hand here, so it is left up to individuals and families. You might begin to understand why home front tensions were so acute when that issue is left up to those individuals to decide. There is no government authority here to arbitrate on who should go and who should remain - so communities begin to turn on each other as they begin to evaluate each other themselves. Who has a greater obligation to go: him or me; their son or my son?

The differences here are rendered as between loyalists on one hand, shirkers on the other. The reality of course is much more complex than this. Deciding what could be given to the war involves this really intense negotiation within families. They are left to determine whether, especially for men, a man’s duty primarily is to serve the nation by joining up in the armed force or whether it is still legitimate to insist that a man’s greater duty is to remain at home and support one’s family, including aged parents and unmarried sisters. We can’t just divide this up into married men have a reason to stay and single men don’t. That is what this image on the screen is all about. It is just one example of the Federal Government’s questioning of men deemed eligible as to whether they would go to the Front or not.

This went to just short of a million men in Australia of military age. [image shown] Most of them replied that they would not be enlisting. Their responses are very interesting. I don’t expect you to be able to read this. But this man says: Look, I’ve got a brother at the Front. I’m here with my aged parents and it’s just about enough for me to watch them worrying themselves to their grave about him without myself going’. I do want to pick up on that issue of worry and anxiety in a moment.

The point here is that men are not just deciding on whether they can enlist, but they’re involved in this constant process of measuring their own responsibilities against other men to decide who should enlist. It is a really subjective process, and what ultimately it does is paralyses recruiting all together. People do not want to go while they feel that someone else has more responsibility and less to lose than they do.

In that situation then conscription for some people looks really attractive as a way of breaking that deadlock in their heads, so that they don’t have to decide anymore, so that they don’t have to accede, indeed, to their family’s determination that they have a greater responsibility at home. On the other hand, conscription threatens to upset all of those really delicate balancing acts that families have set up for themselves here in the war in terms of what they can give and what they can’t afford to give to the war.

So that’s one point, that for the whole war the determination about what can be given remains with individuals and their families and not from above through the Federal Government.

The second point that I really want to make about life on the home front is that it is dominated, as Melanie said, by persistent anxieties about the course of the war on one hand, but more especially about the well-being of loved ones and how they are progressing at the Front. So, again, there’s something of a paradox here: there is a determination to win the war but it is attended at all times by this constant worry about those loved ones.

Even as people want to win this war and they want to persist, their resilience emotionally is being eroded all the time by that anxiety. That is true even amongst some of the most patriotic individuals out there in the community. The scale of the war, the demands of the war are all very clear to people at home. They are under no illusions about this. We saw the casualty lists earlier, that Fay showed, in the newspapers alongside the reporting as well. So from the time that we get the Gallipoli landings and the beginnings of those casualty lists the war is really a nightmare of endurance; it keeps going and going and going day and night in people’s heads.

I will give you an example. A woman by the name of Jacoba Palstra, in Melbourne, had two sons at the Front. She said that ‘The worst is to be thousands of miles away and always thinking in the other part of the globe.’ She is always thinking about her sons.

Some ways that you can alleviate that trouble - here is our knitting [image shown]. For all the production value of knitting, it is also a way of distracting one’s self from those anxieties. I love this image. It says something to me. I want to know what she is thinking as she is doing that. She is concentrating very hard. A lot of women are attesting to the fact that this kind of work is a good distraction.

The other way of maintaining contact with the Front, and a sense of union with it, is through letters and correspondence. We really can’t underestimate how important those soldiers’ letters are in nourishing the resilience of people at home, helping them to keep going.

I will give you an example again from Jacoba Palstra. The Somme campaign is coming to an end in November 1916. She gets a long letter from her son which, in the first instance, says that he’s not dead. She says, ‘I have just gone over it again. It is sparkling energie [sic] and life, it was as though I felt it coming into my veins’. You can see here how important that connection with the Front really is.

The problem here, of course, is that no-one has any genuine sense of how long this is going to go on - when this might end. Again, what she says to her son is, ‘the best thing to do is to look not too far ahead and thank the Lord for every bit of the way safely past.’ So they have these ways of charting the progression of time. Christmas becomes important. Birthdays become important. Anniversaries of departure become important for that charting in time.

What we see though, especially in the second half of 1917 when the war is going very badly, is that there are large numbers of people in Australia who are seriously beginning to question whether they themselves can continue to sustain their commitment. It doesn’t mean that they are against the war or the cause. What they are worried about is the deterioration of their own health and well-being.

They can see it in themselves. They can see it in their community. As they see people’s health deteriorate they see some of their friends in fact die. One of the really important Red Cross workers in New South Wales dies late in November 1917. It is put down, by a lot of her friends, to overwork and anxiety.

At the end of 1917 there are a large number of people in Australia who have decided that their men - their men in particular - have been away long enough from home. I’ll give you a good example of this. One particular woman - and Melanie showed us a picture of Australia Day in 1915 - the woman who was responsible for that initiative, a woman by the name of Ellie Wharton-Kirke, in the middle of 1917 started to struggle with her own capacity to go on.

Here is the medal that she got. People could quote their patriotic credentials here. This is the medal she got for being so well regarded for that patriotic fundraising work.

Her son is killed at Pozieres - one of four sons she had at the war - in 1916. She says after that she’d become ‘very ill - under Doctor’s care and do not expect I’ll ever be better.’ The causes of that illness had been longer in the making than this. She had been worried about her sons ever since they enlisted at the start of the war. She said ever since that time ‘I have borne this awful strain that I feel I can no longer endure’. All she wanted - she says she was a heartbroken mother - was her youngest son to be released from the army to come home to her. What she said, in her own words, was to see her ‘baby son once before I die’. That appeal is to no avail, as the appeals of many people were to no avail. He wasn’t sent home.

All she could say in 1918 - she is still going on about this - is that she shares this feeling, she said, with ‘thousands of Australian mothers who have suffered for nearly four years the agony and suspense’.

As I say, people are reaching the end of their tether. When we get to 1918 we see how exhausted this society is. It is not just about endemic social and political division. It’s not just about conscription or sectarianism. It is about the constant effort that these people have to put in to maintaining their emotional commitment to this war in the face of what they can see happening to themselves and happening to the people around them in terms of that deterioration of well-being.

Of course they did persist. Ellie Wharton-Kirke did survive the war. Some didn’t. That long endurance that they’d been through left some really hefty scars on people. We know that people were coming back from the battlefields at the end of this war. They had wounds. They have illnesses, neuroses, and all that sort of thing. In fact what those people saw when they came back was that they themselves were returning to war-damaged and broken families, as well as that embittered society that itself was really war-wounded as well.

I am going to leave it there. Oh, goodness, we have pushed beyond time, haven’t we?

JOANNE BACH: We have. That’s all right because it’s really interesting stuff. I did have a question, but I think it might be more pertinent to throw it open to the audience, if anyone has any questions for either Melanie or Bart?

QUESTION: I just have a very ordinary question. Your copy of The Call to Arms, are those papers available and in open access at the archives?

Dr BART ZIINO: They are. They are at the Melbourne office of the National Archives. They are only a small segment of those papers, and they relate to a particular committee that received papers from men in Victoria, or 3rd Military District.

QUESTION: Only Victoria?

Dr BART ZIINO: Only Victoria. A small number of them for the New England region in the archives are up there as well, yes - sorry.

QUESTION: Hi. Bonnie from Queanbeyan. First of all, you are right about knitting. It is actually a form of meditation because of its repetitive strokes and the zone in which you end up. It is a distraction, a disengagement of the gears and the worries. For the women who knitted during the war effort it was a wonderful chance for them to feel they were contributing; so in many mental ways as well as physical ways.

The picture of the woman with the fleece raises some interesting technical aspects. Earlier this year in April at a community event that we had we actually featured that picture. A woman from Europe, who had migrated here, came up to the picture with her two little grandchildren. She pointed to the picture and she said, ‘and my mother used to knit direct from the fleece, just like she is doing’. So she’s not knitting from spun yarn. She is knitting direct from the fleece, which is a very different technique. It’s a very interesting picture for more than one reason. Thank you for sharing it.

On the other picture, the For God, King and Country matter raises some interesting questions about the Red Cross. The history of the Red Cross in Australia has seen it move as an organisation, and I am wondering in your official centenary history of the Australian Red Cross if you have picked up the progression from what was an organisation very pro God, King and Country to the modern organisation which is very non-nationalistic and non-any Christian overt references at all? It’s actually progressed and matured way beyond where it started. I am just wondering if you have actually picked up on those ‘where did that happen’ kind of questions?

Dr MELANIE OPPENHEIMER: I think you and I could have a chat over coffee afterwards. It is an organisation that has changed enormously; being born out of war certainly impacted on its flavour and type for a long while. Of course it is situated around war, but I think in Australia it had a particular flavour. We will talk afterwards about that I think, yes, because it is an interesting point.

QUESTION: Hi. I just wanted to say some of those Call to Arms responses have been digitised at the National Archives. So whoever was asking about those, you don’t have to go to Melbourne, necessarily, to see them. There are not that many. There are not thousands.

Dr BART ZIINO: Well, there are thousands.

QUESTION: Yes, but digitised I mean.

Dr BART ZIINO: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: You don’t have to travel to see them. They are there. I was looking at one once and the response from the guy about why he wasn’t going to enlist was, first of all, that he was working away in his parents’ garage inventing a lot of things that he thought would support the war effort. He thought this work was much more important than being a soldier. His second response was, ‘Oh, and by the way, I’m seeing this girl and she’s the prettiest girl in Melbourne. If I go some other fellow’s going to get her’. Bart, I am interested to hear how you feel when you read some of these things, because invariably when you read them as a historian you start to react yourself. I think never was the word ‘shirker’ more apposite. But when you see the diversity of the responses when you are looking at the records, when they don’t fit the categories that you think they are going to fit, you really have to think quite hard about what’s going on.

Dr BART ZIINO: Yeah. I know the guy you are talking about there.

QUESTION: Was it your grandfather?

Dr BART ZIINO: No, not my grandfather. I would be grateful if it was. Yeah, look, that one, I laughed at that the first time I read it, and then I wrote a terrific article about this. Oh, it’s out. What’s going on with people like him - I mean he’s single. You know, he would seem to be the person with the least to lose from this war, but in fact what people like him are doing is saying, ‘Well, I’m young. I’ve got prospects. I’ve been working on X, Y, Z and you’re asking me to give up what I’ve been working on and leave behind a guy who isn’t going to make the same sacrifice as me’. Now in his case he’s saying ‘he’s going to step into my shoes and take the girl’. The rest of his letter says, ‘I haven’t actually asked her out yet, but I know how important she is’.

Dr MELANIE OPPENHEIMER: That sounds like Australian humour to me; someone having a go. I haven’t seen it.

Dr BART ZIINO: No. No. I think he’s deadly serious about this.


Dr BART ZIINO: Look, he’s not the only one. There are other people saying, ‘Look, I’ve just about got enough money to buy a business. I am working on the farm. I’ve got to take it over from dad. You want me to give up all of that for the sake of somebody else who has got the equal responsibility to me?’ That’s what I meant when I said recruiting gets paralysed by this. It is not that there aren’t people who would go; it is people who won’t go unless they see some equality, or feel that there is some safety net there. That’s a great bit of work, that one.

QUESTION: Have you any feel of the anxiety that was felt, or that tension levels were greater in the city than in rural Australia, particularly in more isolated areas?

Dr BART ZIINO: I wouldn’t want to suggest so. It is hard to track this sort of thing, I guess, because so few of the letters or collections of letters survive from Australia to the Front. Lots of them do, but not in the numbers that you see from the Front back to Australia.

There are women - especially women - in rural Australia who are just as on tenterhooks and on the knife edge as anyone else in the cities. One of the most awful stories is of a woman out in Broken Hill there who spends the whole of the last two years of the war just writing to her son about ‘I’m just hanging on. I’m hanging on. I’m waiting for you to get home. I’m waiting for you to get home’. The bugger nicks off and does a mining course in the United States on his way home. Finally gets home at the end of 1919. There she is. Then promptly keels over and dies, like three weeks after he gets home. This is going on everywhere. I couldn’t imagine that it’s intensified in one particular place.

JOANNE BACH: Sorry, we have got time for one very quick question.

QUESTION: Mine is, I think, a very quick question. In relation to when the Red Cross started in Australia, was the CWA going then? That would serve a similar sort of function.

Dr MELANIE OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, it starts in 1922. I have a thesis about that: that it’s the women’s voluntary work that they do during the war. They like it so much. They learn so much. They learn how to run meetings. They learn how to come together, et cetera, et cetera. When the war finishes they turn their attentions to their local communities; so one of the organisations that comes out of that is the CWA in 1922. That’s my perception of it.

QUESTION: Just to add to that - the CWA especially focused on the matter that as many babies died in Australia during the war, if not more, than men died at the war front. The whole issue of mothers’ and babies’ health care and support was hugely brought into public awareness. That’s why they formed after the war, to address this huge issue of mothers’ and babies’ ill-health.

JOANNE BACH: So many great things that we can continue to discuss over afternoon tea, but we have one more session to go before then. Please thank Melanie and Bart for me. Thank you. [applause].

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Date published: 07 September 2015

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