Guest blogger: Rose Wright, Arts Program teacher, Maryborough Special School
Imagine you are a shy student teacher out for your first classroom placement—in a special school, no less— and walking into the late stages of a whole-school WW1 commemorative production. It is comparable to —a century before—those arrivals at Gallipoli in late 1915, with the grim stories of the veterans and the hands sticking from the trench walls. This production was based on this theme, and the story of such arrivals, and was named thus: “1915, The Ordinary Soldier”. Even as you are grappling with the challenges of teaching in a special-needs setting, you are assaulted with demands for costuming, for music, for this prop or that prop, to collect suitable background footage of the era. In your own personal Gallipoli, you struggle to understand how this mess—as indeed it seemed—happened, much as the late arrivals at Gallipoli struggled.
“1915, The Ordinary Soldier” happened due to our benevolent government wishing to spread around money to commemorate the Anzacs with the centenary of the First World War. For an ill-funded special school, that money, and its educational theme, were attractive. Thus they applied for the grant, the arts teacher—with the only dedicated special school arts program in Queensland—Rose Wright, and the music teacher, Dave McLeod from the Maryborough Special School. They did not expect—much as the British in the Great War—the immense task they brought upon themselves, with a full fifteen thousand dollars in funding. It had to involve the whole school—with all the many different needs of the students— it had to be educational and it had to be about the Anzacs. It was like sending the Light Horse against the Maxims; it was insanity.
It is a struggle, at the best of times, to teach young people about the horrors and the sheer stupidity behind the Great War; imagine doing it with students with learning-difficulties. How do you explain how Australia ended up in that mess? Now imagine trying to put together an Auslan Sign-Language version of the song And the Band played Waltzing Matilda and then teaching a class to perform it on stage at Maryborough’s own Brolga Theatre. Yes, this special school ANZAC production was going on stage in a full-sized concert theatre. There were choirs and re-enactors; whole scenes were laid out; and all of it following the story of the average Australian soldier. From Egypt to the Christmas Truce, from recruitment to Gallipoli, through the ravages of the Western Front and Palestine: you can only imagine the joyous relief when everyone was on stage singing John Lennon’s War is Over.
“1915, The Ordinary Soldier” was no celebration of heroism but a depiction of what Australia’s soldiers went through in the First World War. Did the students learn something from it, about Australia’s history, as was the intention? They did.
Now, consider this. As is asked in many lessons about the Great War: Could you do it?
All images supplied.
Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program: 1915: the ordinary soldier
Special School dedicates new performance to ANZAC legend: Fraser Coast Chronicle story
Niles Elvery, Senior Project Officer, Q ANZAC 100, State Library of Queensland.