A journey of hope and resilience: safeguarding children for 120 years

On a bitterly cold winter's evening, Katherine and I headed to the warm and opulent surrounds of the Regent Theatre to celebrate 120 years of the Children's Protection Society (CPS). Way Back When has been working with CPS to produce a book and a website to explore the story of the development of the society, its ground-breaking work with families and its contributions to the child protection system in Victoria. The book, A journey of hope and resilience: safeguarding children for 120 years, was launched by Minister for Families & Children and Youth Affairs, The Hon. Jenny Mikakos on Wednesday 13 July. Professor Dorothy Scott OAM, who was on the steering committee for the project, gave a fascinating and inspiring speech on the evolution of child welfare services in Australia, and the part CPS has played and continues to play. 

The Hon. Jenny Mikakos (centre)

The Hon. Jenny Mikakos (centre)

Professor Dorothy Scott OAM

Professor Dorothy Scott OAM

Gathering to celebrate 120 years of CPS

Gathering to celebrate 120 years of CPS

CPS President Jane Munro AM and CEO Aileen Asford

CPS President Jane Munro AM and CEO Aileen Asford

The society was born on a Saturday morning in 1896, when a group of Melbourne’s most influential dignitaries and charity workers gathered at Government House with the intention of forming a group aimed at protecting children from cruelty and neglect. Led by Lady Sybil de Vere Brassey, wife of the Governor of Victoria, this meeting resulted in the formation of the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty and Neglect of Children (VSPCC). Over the past 120 years the society has provided services for children in need. It has faced constant challenges with passion and commitment, and remained steadfast in its support for families and children throughout Victoria.

An early VSPCC executive committee. Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria, MS 10384

An early VSPCC executive committee.
Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria, MS 10384

Unfortunately Lucy and Sarah couldn't be at the launch, and were greatly missed! As always, this project was very much a team effort.

It was an honour to work with CPS on documenting and celebrating its history, and to tell the story of such a long-running and important organisation. We're looking forward to working further with them on a website, which will feature audio documentaries using the oral history interviews we conducted with current and former staff as part of this project. 

You can read more about the launch on the CPS website.

Fiona Poulton

Australia Calls: Whitehorse exhibition launch

Throughout 2015 we have been working with Whitehorse City Council to produce an exhibition commemorating the centenary of World War I and examining the impact of the war on the local community. Australia Calls was launched in the Whitehorse Artspace at Box Hill Town Hall on Friday 11 September by Whitehorse City Councillor Helen Harris, Federal Member for Chisholm Anna Burke and Federal Member for Deakin Michael Sukkar.

The exhibition examines the impact of the war on Whitehorse by exploring the stories of local families and individuals – from those who enlisted and experienced the war first hand, to residents who contributed to the war effort from Australian shores. We had the rich resources and archival collections of local historical societies to draw on, as we researched the stories of five local servicemen and examined themes including local recruitment efforts and fundraising activities, the conscription debate, and efforts to support returned serviceman following the war and to commemorate their experiences.

Way Back When  historian Nicole Curby with panels telling the stories of local servicemen.

Way Back When historian Nicole Curby with panels telling the stories of local servicemen.

The exhibition also features abridged articles printed in local newspapers during the war, and stories contributed by the family members of local residents who lived through the war years. There are items from local heritage collections and private family collections on display.

We also conducted an oral history project with descendants of local servicemen, and the exhibition features four audio documentaries created from these interviews. The documentaries include stories from the battlefront and examine what life was like for returned servicemen after the war.

Click below to listen to this short audio documentary on remembering World War I.

Collection items on display.

Collection items on display.

Way Back When  historians Sarah Rood, Fiona Poulton and Katherine Sheedy (far right) with local council and historical society members.

Way Back When historians Sarah Rood, Fiona Poulton and Katherine Sheedy (far right) with local council and historical society members.

It was a privilege for us to work with Whitehorse City Council, local historical societies and community members to produce this moving, informative and stunningly presented exhibition. We would like to thank the historical societies and community members for generously sharing their collections and stories with us.

Australia Calls will be open until 14 October 2015. We urge you to visit and explore the impact of the war on the Whitehorse community.

Fiona Poulton

Book Launch: Boroondara Remembers

On Saturday 11 April our latest history Boroondara Remembers: Stories of World War I was launched along with the City of Boroondara’s ‘Gallipoli and Beyond’ events program. Way Back When was thrilled to attend this auspicious occasion as part of commemorations of the centenary of World War I.

The Hawthorn Arts Centre was packed with local residents, historians, community members, politicians, families and friends, all keen to participate and strengthen their connection to our shared past.

Way Back When was engaged to write a history of how the residents of the City of Boroondara (including the suburbs of Ashburton, Balwyn, Balwyn North, Camberwell, Canterbury, Deepdene, Hawthorn, Hawthorn East, Kew, Kew East, and parts of Glen Iris, Mont Albert and Surrey Hills) experienced WWI on the home front. The resulting publication, Boroondara Remembers: Stories of World War I, includes family stories from local residents, such as the story of Edward Slade, a 32 year old bricklayer and father of three from Kew, who enlisted in February 1916. During his service in the AIF, Edward wrote letters home to his wife and three young daughters, which have been treasured by his grandchildren Isabel Harkensee and Kevin Saunders. Edward’s letters are heartbreaking to read:

 Dear little Annie,
Mummy said in one of her letters that you had forgotten what I am like. It is a long time now since we said good bye, but my hopes are that it will not be very long before we remember each other again…

Thankfully, Edward survived the war and returned home to his family three years later. We had the privilege of meeting Edward’s grandchildren and capturing Edward’s story in this history. His is just one of many stories of the ordinary men, women and children who lived in the city of Boroondara during World War I and experienced the hardships and community spirit of the time.

Authors Fiona Poulton (L) and Lucy Bracey (R) with local resident Isabel Harkensee (centre) who was one of many Boroondara residents who shared their WWI stories with  Way Back When  for this project.

Authors Fiona Poulton (L) and Lucy Bracey (R) with local resident Isabel Harkensee (centre) who was one of many Boroondara residents who shared their WWI stories with Way Back When for this project.

The book was launched by the Mayor of Boroondara, Cr Coral Ross, who spoke about the project with great sensitivity and compassion. The full version of her speech can be found here.  In closing, Cr Ross said:

There will be many histories written for the centenary of Gallipoli. But I would encourage you to read this one – it is a deeply personal local history and we are all the richer for knowing about the lives of these Boroondara ANZACS.

The Federal Member for Kooyong, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, was also in attendance and spoke passionately about the centenary of WWI and the City of Boroondara's work to commemorate it. 

Authors Alicia Cerreto, Fiona Poulton, Katherine Sheedy and Lucy Bracey with  Hon Josh Frydenberg MP. 

Authors Alicia Cerreto, Fiona Poulton, Katherine Sheedy and Lucy Bracey with Hon Josh Frydenberg MP. 

The launch of this publication marked the beginning of a series of events the City of Boroondara is hosting to commemorate the Anzac Centenary. The full list of activities can be found on their website. Copies of Boroondara Remembers: Stories from World War I are available for purchase from the website above through the City of Boroondara. 

This is just the beginning of Way Back When's involvement with projects commemorating the centenary of WWI, so stay tuned for more stories of Victorians at war.

Lucy Bracey

WWI: Love & Sorrow launch at Melbourne Museum

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.

Lucy Bracey

Under the Red Ribbon launch party

 On Saturday 27 July 2013, the Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Men’s Health Centre (VAC/GMHC) celebrated their 30th anniversary with the launch of a commemorative book and website, Under the Red Ribbon, produced by Way Back When over the course of twelve months. The history was officially launched by the Hon. David Davis, Minister for Health and Ageing, at a birthday party held at the Positive Living Centre in South Yarra. Partygoers, including many people who have been involved with the organisation throughout its history, enjoyed hearing the memories of guest speakers Caroline Hogg (Health Minister in the late 1980s) and Phil Carswell (the VAC's first president), as well as readings from the book.

Under the Red Ribbon traces the history of the VAC from its formation in 1983 in response to the impending HIV crisis, to its continued and unfailing commitment thirty years later to the hope of the eradication of HIV. The website features the full text of the book, as well as a timeline and lots of multimedia material, including audio documentaries, digital stories and films created from interviews with key people involved in the organisation over its history.

This project was truly a team effort, involving all four members of Way Back When, and was certainly a project that touched all of us deeply. It was a great privilege to tell such an inspiring and important story, and to work with an incredibly passionate and dedicated community.

For more photos of the launch, click here

Fiona Poulton