Now on tour!
This online gallery is an abridged version of the Windows into Wartime exhibition, which was at the Western Sydney Records Centre from 17 October 2016 to 24 August 2017. It is now closed.
Home front insights through the lens of NSW government photographers
Windows into Wartime engages with a selection of images produced by the NSW Government Printing Office Photographic Branch during and immediately after the First World War. As society mobilised on the home front in support of Australia’s military effort overseas, government photographers were on the ground in Sydney and across NSW shooting the image. They photographed a raft of activities and produced an extraordinary body of work that not only documented, but promoted and shaped how the people of NSW responded to the impact and upheaval caused by the ‘Great’ War. The exhibition combines historical images with research and thematic interpretation to provide insights, or ‘windows’, into the NSW home front during the First World War.
Raising ‘bouncing’ babies was a focus of early wartime public health efforts. As Australian war casualties mounted, the imperative to ensure that children survived into adulthood intensified.
The waste of healthy young lives in the Great War is a colossal calamity which the Empire must face and attempt to remedy with all available means. Added to this waste of adult lives there is the fact that vast areas of the Commonwealth need a far larger population of workers … The problem of the next generation rests primarily on a reduction of infantile death and infantile disease, and the rearing of strong Australian children. ‘Infantile Mortality’, Medical Journal of Australia, 30 June 1917, p. 553.
‘Real’ men—the young, strong and patriotic—were urged to volunteer for service and the NSW government played an important role in recruiting for the Australian Imperial Force in the 2nd Military District, which encompassed much of NSW.
This country is proud of you as it is of all its brave volunteer soldiers. Premier Holman in ‘Waratahs: Entry into city’, Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 18 December 1915, p. 14.
Women were the backbone of the Red Cross volunteer movement in Australia as it served an important fundraising and support role for soldiers and their families.
I am most anxious that the splendid work which is being done by the ladies and gents of this State should be fully recognised in England. I consider they are doing a grand work and I feel proud to be associated with such as band of workers. Lady Edeline Strickland, State Divisional President, Australian Branch of the British Red Cross. Letter to Premier Holman from Lady Edeline Strickland, 13 October 1914, NRS 12060 [9/4697] letter 15/956.
Repatriation projects to settle returning soldiers on the land to support them in purpose and livelihood were implemented through various government and non-government schemes including at Frenchs Forest in Sydney.
Not every man can go. But 99 per cent of those remaining can do something serviceable for the men who have gone and returned. And what better than to provide the returned fighters with cheap and comfortable homes? ‘Cheap Comfortable Homes’, Construction and Local Government Journal, Monday 12 March 1917, pp. 6-7.
School children in cities, suburbs and towns across NSW contributed to the war effort. They staged concerts and carnival-like patriotic displays to raise funds, knitting socks for soldiers and made useful items for the Red Cross.
Often in the past we have seen magnificent displays by the children of our public schools on the Sydney Cricket Ground, but never anything quite so grand and so soul-stirring as to that which we saw yesterday – the living representation of the Empire and her Allies. It will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it. ‘A Living Union Jack; Display by ten thousand children’, Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 15 October 1914, p. 5.
The need to protect the population from the pneumonic—or ‘Spanish’—influenza pandemic that took hold across the globe following the War swept the government into action to combat the spread of the disease in NSW.
A danger greater than war faces the State of New South Wales and threatens the lives of all. Premier Holman, ‘To the People of New South Wales’, letter, Government Gazette, Monday 3 February 1919, SRNSW, NRS 906, [5/5348.1], 19/44289.
During the First World War, the NSW Government Printing Office under the direction of Overseer Augustine Dyer served an important role on the NSW home front. Its photographers—or ‘operators’ as they were then called—documented a range of activities including meetings of public officials, recruitment marches and campaigns, arms manufacturing, State-run enterprises, returning soldiers, patriotic events, volunteer movements and large gatherings that took place around particular issues such as conscription.
The thousands of images produced by the NSW Government Printing Office Photographic Branch during the First World War exist as a collection of original glass plate negatives under the custodianship of NSW State Archives. These remarkable photographs—some digitised and reproduced for this exhibition—are now being rediscovered by a generation of Australians whose understanding of the Great War depends upon the records and accounts authored by those who experienced this tumultuous global event first hand.