Listen: Dr Kerry Neale in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
The Australian War Memorial’s latest special exhibition, ‘After the war’, explores the impact of all conflicts over the past 100 years.
Stories make items special
Developed as part of the Memorial’s commemorations of the Armistice that ended the First World War, the exhibition explores the personal and social consequences of war over the past 100 years. It features a wide range of objects, works of art, letters, and documents predominately drawn from the Memorial’s own collection. Assistant curator of the exhibition Dr Kerry Neale gave Open House some insights into some of the ordinary the objects that have special stories and meaning.
Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said ‘After the war’ is an emotionally powerful exhibition that deals with complex themes, such as the cost of victory and the aftermath of war for individuals and for the nation.”
Stories of hope, loss and love
“These are personal stories of hope, loss, and love. This exhibition is remarkable in its raw honesty about the impact of war, and it poses some vital questions: how do you celebrate a victory at the cost of so many lives? How does a mother rejoice in a victory in which she lost her sons? How do servicemen and servicewomen resume a normal life after witnessing the brutality of war? What is the true, hidden cost of war?”
“As the commemorations of the First World War conclude, this exhibition invites visitors to immerse themselves in these confronting themes which, sadly, seem to repeat themselves again and again, over time,” Dr Nelson said.
‘After the war’ depicts harrowing and heartfelt stories, including those of Augustus Keown, who was the first double amputee to try an adapted car after the First World War; Bombadier James Braithwaite, who was one of only six Australians to survive the infamous Sandakan “death marches” in the Second World War; and the family of David “Poppy” Pearce, the second Australian soldier killed on operations in Afghanistan.
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Need to commemorate
Assistant curator of the exhibition Dr Kerry Neale says that while the end of the First World War did not bring lasting peace, it brought a need to commemorate and reflect on the cost of victory.
Rejoicing & Remembrance Armistice Day, Vida Lahey Charcoal, watercolour on paper, 1924. Photo Credit: Australian War Memorial.
Beginning with an ending
“The Memorial’s ‘After the war’ exhibition examines the aftermath of all wars in which Australia has been involved since the First World War. It is unusual in that it begins with an ending. The fighting on the Western Front had stopped by 11 November 1918, but Australians still had to deal with the consequences of the war ,” Dr Neale told Open House.
Lives touched by war
“The repercussions of conflict and its impact on our nation are far too immense to cover fully in any single exhibition. However, we can tell personal stories of hope, loss, and love from generations of ordinary Australians whose lives have been touched by war.” she says.
A very special biscuit tin
On Open House, Dr Neale told the moving story behind a sealed tin of ANZAC biscuits. The tin contains Anzac biscuits baked by Lance Corporal Terence ‘Terry’ Edward Hendle’s mother, Adelaide Hendle, and were sent to him in Vietnam.
He received the biscuits on the day he was mortally wounded – 29 November 1966. Hendle died of his wounds in the early hours of the following morning, while on the operating table.
The biscuits were returned to Hendle’s mother who never opened the tin. In the years following, Mrs Hendle moved house 32 times and always made sure that ‘Terry’s biccies’ were carried on her lap with great care in the car on the way to her new home.
The exhibition is currently open to the public and will run for 12 months.
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