On Friday 29 August, Fiona and I attended the launch of WWI: Love & Sorrow at Melbourne Museum. We were excited to have been invited, and the opening and exhibition exceeded our already high expectations.
Guests were well sated with an historically appropriate fare of chicken sandwiches, ANZAC biscuits and scones with jam and cream. We were treated to a moving live performance of 'The Distant Call of Home' by the Orbweavers, the theme song for the TV series 'The War That Changed Us'. It set the scene beautifully. Dr Marina Larsson, author of Shattered Anzacs and Honorary Associate of Museum Victoria, gave a thought-provoking introduction, reminding us that this exhibition in all its confronting, gritty and shocking detail contains stories that need to be told. Larsson emphasised that telling war stories fully and sensitively, without avoiding sadness and trauma, is a powerful form of respect. These stories - long buried by soldiers, families and the passing of time - are finally now, 100 years on, being uncovered.
WWI: Love & Sorrow examines the impact of the war on Australian families through the stories of eight individuals, from a mother left devastated by the loss of her son to a teenage soldier who struggled with the lasting effects of his war experiences for the rest of his life. Through these eight people, we are given the chance to reexamine the war and its very real impact across generations of Australians. This exhibition is a refreshing reminder to all of us that in this time of prolific WWI commemoration activity, there are people and institutions willing to challenge the enduring ANZAC legend and to present for close inspection the devastating realities of war.
The exhibition itself is not only impressive in the level of historical research and detail it brings, including close collaboration with families and evocative displays of letters, scrapbooks and other personal items, but it also impresses in the use of cutting-edge technology. While the accompanying smartphone app was not to be officially released until the following day, when the exhibition opened to the public, we were taken on a short tour by a museum staff member who demonstrated how the app works. Providing additional audio and visual material, the app allows visitors to engage more deeply with stories told in the exhibition. The creative mix of traditional story-telling with innovative technology makes this exhibition a truly personal and involving experience.
Way Back When will definitely be going back for a closer look and we encourage everyone to do the same.
WWI: Love & Sorrow opened at Melbourne Museum on Saturday 30 August. It will be shown for the duration of the WWI centenary, closing in November 2018.