Exhibition to mark US Marines' stay in Ballarat 70 years ago

BALLARAT residents generously opened their homes and their hearts when thousands of US Marines and servicemen came to the city to rest and recuperate during World War II.

The Ballarat Gold Museum will hold an exhibition in November to mark the 70th anniversary of the US Marines’ stay, exploring the family connections and relationships built and their impact on Ballarat’s economic and cultural life.

Museum curator Roger Trudgeon said the visits by 15,000 Marines and other US servicemen throughout 1942 and 1943 had a huge impact on Ballarat families and produced ongoing relationships spanning generations and continents.

“Those American sons were really well looked after by those families in Ballarat,” Mr Trudgeon said.

“A lot of those Americans who were here didn’t make it home because they were killed in action. This was their last happy time because they were lost to war.”

Curator and research director Rachel Jenzon interviewed Ballarat families and ex-servicemen in the US in the 1990s about the cross-cultural exchange.

Now, she is seeking more information about the visit by the Marines, who were accommodated with either local families or in a tent camp at Victoria Park.

Research assistant Alexandra Dixon said for the majority of people in Ballarat at the time, it was their first experience with foreign visitors when they invited the Marines into their homes.

“The US Marines learnt a lot about Australia and the people in Ballarat learnt a lot about the US way of living.”

She said many of the Marines were still boys of 18 or 19 and it was their first time away from home and their first experience of the horrors of war.

Staying with Ballarat families, they had access to home-cooked meals and a safe place to rest, she said.

The researchers are seeking Ballarat families with any information or photos from this time for possible inclusion in the exhibition.

People with information, documents or photos can contact Alexandra Dixon on 0439 946 007 or adix@student.monash.edu.