Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds BRUCE SCATES: We’re standing outside the exhibition buildings in Melbourne. This magnificent dome structure was built to host the International Exhibition of 1880, an exhibition that showcased the technological, the commercial, the cultural achievements of its time. Victoria’s motto was peace and prosperity, and this building, it exudes the confidence, the optimism, the elegance of the Victorian Age. Whoever would have thought that just a generation later, the Empire, Australia, indeed, all the great nations represented here in 1880, would be wrought asunder by war? We called it the Great War. It would tear Europe apart, and it would claim countless thousands of lives.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds Indeed, a child born when this great dome reached up into the sky had a very, very good chance of dying far, far from home on the distant battlefields of Gallipoli, Belgium, Palestine, and France. In the science celebrated here, the technological advances that had promised to improve the lives of millions, would lay the world to waste. The First World War was the world’s first industrialised war, and it was fought with terrifying new weapons of mass destruction.
Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds Alongside the exhibition buildings stands Museum Victoria, and to mark the centenary of the Great War, the museum’s hosting an exhibition all of its own. The curators have called it ‘Love and Sorrow’, and they hope to convey the cost, the unfathomable human cost of the Great War. We’ve decided to begin our history of the First World War here, because the objects featured in this remarkable exhibition speak to us across the ages. They help us to imagine what now lies beyond living memory. They embody the experience of the men and the women who suffered that catastrophe 100 years ago. This is a re-creation of Glencorse Wood in Belgium. The landscape represented here was shattered to pieces by high explosives.
Skip to 2 minutes and 20 seconds This tiny patch of ground alone claimed thousands of lives– Australian lives, British lives, German lives. All the bodies of those men are mingling now in the cold dark earth of Flanders. And what we see in this landscape is a landscape that’s being reborn, because when visitors walk across through this space, their own form is embedded in this landscape, and the woods somehow come to life again. And what that’s telling us is that the Great War somehow still affects us all. In the next five weeks, we’ll walk through woods like this one. We’ll take you on a journey across the killing fields of Europe.
Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second We’ll speak to the historians that have made these landscapes their life’s work, and we’ll discuss the testimony, the voices from the past that can still whisper through these woods, and make this imagine place somehow real. In week one of the 100 Stories– that’s this week– we’ll be examining grief and mourning. And really, this honour roll is a perfect place to begin. It records the name of some 90 men, most of them clerical workers from a stock and station agent here in Melbourne. That business would have employed what? A few hundred people? Around 1 in 5 volunteered for overseas service, and 12 of these 90 men never came home.
Skip to 3 minutes and 45 seconds REBECCA WHEATLEY: Fenley McDonald was killed in Australia’s first major action of the Great War, the landing at Gallipoli in April, 1915. George Hummerston was killed nearly three years later to the day in the desperate battles to turn back the German offensive in 1918. Both were young men in their twenties, and both left grieving families behind. They never recovered Fenley’s body, and names carved in wood and stone became surrogate graves. Names mattered in the 1920s, and they matter still today, because behind each name lies a story, stories that we can now recover through archives available online.
Skip to 4 minutes and 25 seconds LAURA JAMES: An honour roll is an official and very public kind of memorial, but families also had private places where they could grieve. Often, they centred around a photograph on the mantelpiece, a shred of uniform, or a letter written from overseas, and read, and reread time and time again. Recovering the private face of grief is our second task for this week, and sometimes these memorials were incredibly fragile like this baby’s bootie sent to daddy, Frank, from a daughter that he would never live to see.
Skip to 4 minutes and 58 seconds PROFESSOR BRUCE SCATES: In week two, we’ll look more closely at how women mobilised for war. And again, we’ll divide that topic into two separate but related themes.
Skip to 5 minutes and 8 seconds REBECCA WHEATLEY: To begin, we’ll look at women’s unpaid war work– the writing of letters, knitting of socks, the emotional labour that connected women with their menfolk far away on battlefields overseas. And we’ll look at women’s actual war service– the nurses who confronted the physical and the psychological trauma of war.
Skip to 5 minutes and 26 seconds LAURA JAMES: It wasn’t all trauma, of course. For the women who wore this uniform, nursing was also a great adventure. a chance to see the world. And she recorded her experiences on a camera like this one. In week two, we’ll explore that woman’s view of war and try and share it with you.
Skip to 5 minutes and 43 seconds ADJUNCT PROFESSOR BRUCE SCATES: Week three is devoted to what we call the other ANZAC– Indigenous servicemen whose experience of war has long been ignored in Australia, and the Chinese, the Russian, the Greek, the non-British soldiers who formed an integral and too often forgotten part of the expeditionary forces that were sent from Australia and Aotearoa and New Zealand.
Skip to 6 minutes and 6 seconds REBECCA WHEATLEY: Week four is entitled War Wounds, and we’ll look at the plight of the blind, the crippled, and the faceless, the whispering men who died as a result of their gas poisoning, and the cot cases– men who were confined for as long as 40 years in beds like this one.
Skip to 6 minutes and 21 seconds LAURA JAMES: Modern artillery not only mauled mens’ faces– it affected their minds too. The second part of War Wounds looks at shell-shock, looking at the psychological as well as the physical damage wrought by war.
Skip to 6 minutes and 36 seconds ADJUNCT PROFESSOR BRUCE SCATES: And in the final week of the MOOC, we’re going to look at how the war divided our society, both during and after the fighting, because Australia and the world were never going to be the same again.
Skip to 6 minutes and 48 seconds REBECCA WHEATLEY: The Old Lie looks at the conscription debates, the anti-war movements, and the way the war created a less tolerant and less inclusive society.
Skip to 6 minutes and 57 seconds LAURA JAMES: A Land Fit for Heroes considers the country that these men came home to, examining the plight of soldiers settlers sent out to farm often marginal land.
Skip to 7 minutes and 7 seconds ADJUNCT PROFESSOR BRUCE SCATES: Every week, we’ll provide you with readings, discussion topics, and the chance to debate the big questions raised by the 100 Stories project.
Skip to 7 minutes and 17 seconds LAURA JAMES: Each week, we’ll guide you through the archival sources, introducing the digital narratives that will enable you, anywhere in the world, to explore the lives behind the stories.
Skip to 7 minutes and 27 seconds ADJUNCT PROFESSOR BRUCE SCATES: At the end of this course, we’ll return here to Museum Victoria. We’ll talk to the curators and the conservatives who worked hand in hand with historians to assemble these objects, to tell their stories, and to create this truly compelling exhibition.
Skip to 7 minutes and 43 seconds REBECCA WHEATLEY: But for now, let’s make our way back to the battlefield where Fenley McDonald fell on the day of the landing at Gallipoli.
Watch Bruce Scates, Rebecca Wheatley and Laura James introduce the course and discuss the different themes to be covered over the next five weeks of the course.
A map of the Gallipoli Peninsula, showing the main battlegrounds of the campaign is available from the Downloads section of this step.
The importance of discussion and debate
Learning history is all about sharing information and perspectives, and debating ideas. World War 1 remains a contentious subject even as we commemorate its Centenary.
The stories we will explore in this course have been chosen to illustrate some of the more confronting aspects of war, and we are excited to hear your thoughts on them. In this type of online course, the more actively you share your ideas and join in the discussions the more you will get out of this course. We can’t wait to hear from you!
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