A century after the ‘war to end all wars’
On the eve of the centenary of the Great War that changed the world, an enduring connection between the original battlefields and the Australian landscape remains.
This is the premise of the bookMemories in Place: The Centenary of World War 1 – the culmination of a six year photographic journey by Charles J. Page to document the way major battles of the First World War are memorialised in Australia.
Spurred on to embark on such a project after reading the powerful story In The Footsteps of Private Lynch, Page says he seized the opportunity to look at this significant time from a new perspective.
The Griffith University Queensland College of Art documentary photographer and lecturer reveals his journey then took him across Belgium, France, Turkey and Australia, and the more he searched, the more he found.
“The emotion was there from the first day I arrived in France, to the precise location where Australian’s fought their first action in the Battle of Somme,” he says.
“But it was not just about the sadness felt while standing in a place where so many violent and horrific things have taken place.
“Here the landscape was speaking as a metaphor for the loss, the sacrifice — it was this that I wanted to document, by catching glimpses of how these locations reflect life 100 years on.”
The Australian connection
Page speaks of the flurry of nationalism, patriotic fervour and reverence for Australia’s involvement in the conflict that led to the construction of memorials across the country following WW1.
“Almost every town installed a monument in their street, capital cities constructed shrines and cenotaphs, and local governments embarked on a campaign to change a selection of existing street names and localities to memorialise various aspects of the conflict including battlefields, high-ranking officers, ships and of course the iconic Anzac soldier.”
In this way, the emotional resonance that characterises Memories in Place also highlights the inexorable links between Europe and Australia — both then and now.
“I wanted to explore how places such as Pozieres or Paschendale in Australia resonate with their namesakes in Belgium and France one hundred years on.”
But the goal he states, wasn’t merely to record streets and roads.
“The photographs instead hold up a mirror to Australian society. It asks us what impact does this have on our understanding of war, peace, nationhood and friendship?”
“The battlefields of World War 1 are not simply remote locations in far-off lands. They continue to exist and echo in a tangible way throughout contemporary rural and urban areas of Australia.
“The presence of memorialised structures offers one of the most visible connections to a time when authorities struggled with finding ways to honour the legacy of our commitment to the Great War.
“The memorials themselves remain largely unchanged, still standing as unwavering sentinels despite the transformation in social structures, culture, architecture and lifestyle around them.”
Collected for future generations to come
State Librarian of Queensland Janette Wright said Charles Page was a noted Queensland documentary photographer.
She said, “His beautifully composed images capture the meeting of past and present in the landscape.
“We are pleased to have played a part in bringing this book to life and delighted to add it to our collection.
“The John Oxley Library as State Library of Queensland not only collects materials from the First World War itself but also the commemorations that have happened since — the ceremonies and activities that tell us so much about Queensland’s evolution.
“We will also give a copy of this exquisite book to every public library in the state so that it can be made available to all Queenslanders.
“And we look forward to Charles sharing his expertise and inspiring local photographers to capture contemporary reflections of WWI.”
What does the Great War mean to you?
Ms Leneen Forde AC, Chancellor of Griffith University and supporter of the Memories in Place project, says she hopes the book will stimulate people to enquire about the places they use on a daily basis that are named in connection to the war.
“I truly hope these photographs will encourage viewers to look up a name on a map, to find out what former battlefields look like today and to do further research into the ‘war to end all wars’,” she says.
“I congratulate Dr Page not only for the beauty and poignancy of his photographic work but also in developing and fulfilling such an important concept.
“I’m sure this publication will inspire Australians to find out more about World War 1 and its impact on who we are today and where we live.”
The publication will be officially launched by Ms Leneen Forde AC, Chancellor, Griffith University and Ms Janette Wright, State Librarian and CEO, State Library of Queensland on Thursday 3 April at the State Library of Queensland, South Bank.
Lauren Marino, Publicist Arts
0418 799 544