FORMER Premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu headed a long list of distinguished guests at the official opening last Tuesday of the new Foster and District Historical Society exhibition at Foster Museum, ‘South Gippsland at War – 1914 to 1918.’
Mr Baillieu, chairman of the Victorian ANZAC Centenary Committee, mingled with guests including the federal Liberal member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent, the new Nationals member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, South Gippsland Shire Councillors, school principals and well over 100 representatives of community groups and organisations, from the historical society and the RSL to the hospital and banks.
None, however, were more important in the eyes of Mr Baillieu than the local schoolchildren who completed the ‘Foster’s Fallen ANZACs’ project, which forms part of the museum exhibition. Under the guidance of humanities teacher Justine Kirwan, the eleven students from South Gippsland Secondary College researched the lives of the 22 local men whose names are recorded on the cenotaph at Foster as having fallen in World War I.
It is all about connection, said Mr Baillieu. The students were given a thread, they picked it up, ran with it and told stories that because of the special connection they made with these ANZACs they will always remember – and hopefully pass onto future generations so that the sacrifice of the ANZACs will never be forgotten.
He added that advances in online ANZAC resources in recent months have made it a lot easier for researchers. Where the students had to trawl through dozens of different sources, sometimes struggling to decipher handwriting, anyone wanting to research the ANZACs now has detailed war records at their fingertips on the AIF Project website. Go to www.aif.adfa.edu.au/search.
With the museum space deemed insufficient for the large crowd (around 150) expected, the speeches were delivered at the Wilsons Promontory Motel. Afterwards, many people trooped back along Foster’s Main Street for the cutting of the ribbon, a light supper and a look at what is a beautifully presented exhibition.
Historical Society vice-president and keen amateur historian Mike Heal explained that planning for the exhibition began back in 2013. He worked with a team of volunteers, undertaking much of the research on the internet as well as at the offices of The Mirror. Together with newspaper articles from the time, written sources included letters, casualty lists and soldier records. Visual sources included Avenues of Honour and honour boards. Then there was the living history – talking to the families of returned soldiers.
The painstaking research of the historical society volunteers and the college students has been combined to present a fascinating exhibition which fills three rooms at the museum and gives us, as student Carmen Tracy commented, “a great insight into World War I”.
Amongst the photographs and war memorabilia are some special touches assembled by members of the historical society, such as a large handmade cross of remembrance and 73 red poppies knitted as a tribute to the district’s fallen WWI soldiers. The glass display cabinet nearby holds photographs, memorabilia and accounts of five soldiers whose descendants live in Foster to this day.
The exhibition includes details of life on the home front during WWI – the struggles, the heartbreak and the war effort. Amongst these is a model of a little girl carrying a basket of eggs. A sign points out how country people would collect eggs and send them to the soldiers in the military hospital in Melbourne.
It was with the same scissors that opened the Promontory Road in 1939 and are now part of the Foster Museum collection that Mr Baillieu cut the ribbon to mark the opening of ‘South Gippsland at War – 1914 to 1918.’ He was accompanied by some of the young people in whom he sets such store when it comes to honouring those who served as ANZACs and passing on the torch to ensuing generations.
The exhibition will continue at the Foster Museum until the end of January 2016. The museum is open from 11 am to 3pm on weekends and school holidays.