With only days to go, the Signature program team at State Library are busily preparing for the opening of the Distant Lines: Queensland voices of the First World War exhibition on Saturday 4 April. Featured in State Library’s two gallery spaces – the slq gallery and the Philip Bacon gallery – Distant Lines explores Queensland’s experience of WW1 on the battlefields and on the homefront.
Stories from the war front are chronicled through the experiences of 25 service men and women from Queensland. Central to the 25 soldiers featured in Distant Lines are the diaries they kept, the letters they wrote to loved ones back at home, the photographs taken and the many and varied objects kept in trunks or boxes and handed down through family members over the years. Many of these items may have travelled around the world from Gallipoli, the Western Front and the Middle East and back again. These documents and objects are like worm holes in time. Touched by the hands of those who were there and fashioned by a harsh unforgiving environment, the objects and mementoes of battle transport you back to a different world. They help to make real the soldiers’ narratives recounted through the poignant diaries and letters available to visitors via the purpose built touch screens in the exhibition. They are stories of mateship and excitement, bewilderment in a strange, foreign land, boredom as they wait for something to happen or the weather to change. Ultimately and tragically, the stories turn to the devastation of war and like most stories, some have happy endings and others do not.
The Philip Bacon Gallery on level 4 focuses on life at home in Queensland during the war years. The social upheaval and changes sparked by war were felt widely and intimately by families across Queensland. At home, propaganda peddled the noble cause of war and shouted at us to beware the ‘Hun’ and evil Germans in our own backyard. The work of the Red Cross and the stories of the comfort fund offer a welcoming counter to the hardship of the soldiers. The home front component of the exhibition also reveals a society divided by the conscription debate, which played out quite uniquely in Queensland and beautifully illustrated here by the story of Government censor J.J. Stable.
Music was so much a part of family and life at home in the early 20th century and this is tellingly reflected in the rally tunes that were created specifically for ‘our boys’. How many pianos played “God Bring Daddy Safely Home” or “They Lie Sleeping in Gallipoli Tonight?”
Digital stories covering an assortment of topics and created especially for the Anzac centenary and Distant Lines, can be found in venues around SLQ. Be sure to watch these mini-documentaries when you can as they help fill in the gaps and tell the extended story.
Distant Lines also complements the display on level 1 Info zone and the WW1 themed Treasures Wall also located on level 4. Distant Lines: Queensland voices of the First World War continues until 15 November 2015.
Chrissi Theodosiou, Coordinator Q ANZAC 100 Research Hub