War commemoration should be done “carefully, and with thought,” according to historian Phil Roberts.
Having recently finished writing a book on Ballarat’s 22 kilometre Avenue of Honour and the Arch of Victory, Avenue of Memories, he knows more than most about the subject.
During his extensive research, he tracked the change from massive statements of victory, like Ballarat’s arch, to the modern Garden of the Grieving Mother, which focused on the horrors of war and those left behind.
Ballarat’s avenue is one of the longest in the world, stretching to Burrumbeet across highway and rail.
More than 3800 trees were planted along the route, one for each soldier, sailor, airman, and nurse who served in World War 1.
They are all still there, despite the changes over the century, and each has a plaque recognising the serviceman in front of it.
Approaching the centenary of armistice, Mr Roberts said there must be a focus on peace and remembering the sacrifices made.
“It’s a very complex area, war commemoration, and you need to temper it, you need to be careful that not too much emphasis is made on the war side,” he said.
“You really need to be working towards peace all the time.”
The story of the avenue began when the Lucas girls, or factory workers at the E. Lucas Company, began planting trees to honour every person from Ballarat who had enlisted.
The planting began in 1917, and took years to complete.
Once finished, attention turned to the beginning of the avenue, and a grand archway was planned.
“The arch is unusual, in that it’s over a major highway,” Mr Roberts explained, adding that money was raised through a women’s football match, one of the first in Victoria.
“7000 people turned up to the game at the Eastern Oval,” he said.
The match was between the Lucas Girls and workers from the Commonwealth Clothing Factory, and was a huge success.
Mr Roberts said it was interesting that it was named the Arch of Victory.
“That term victory, which is still there, is saying the Allies won, (but) as time’s gone on, there’s been a change of thinking about commemoration,” he said.
“You come now, in 2017, to the Garden of the Grieving Mother, and the idea of the grief of war, the horrors of war, is much stronger now.
“The arch precinct now has more of a concentration on peace and grief rather than saying victory, I think it’s important.
“There’s been a change of emphasis over that time, that in itself is part of the story of the avenue.”
The Goldfields area was notable for its large number of avenues of honour, with dozens springing up in the aftermath of the war.
Many withered over the years, but Victoria still has more than half of the avenues in Australia.
The Ballarat avenue was restored in time for the 2015 Centenary of Anzac, and a highway overpass on the way to Burrumbeet provides a surprisingly quiet place for reflection.
Replacing the plaques and sick trees were the priority
“In Ballarat itself, we’ve been able to identify 14 avenues in the immediate vicinity, WW1 avenues,” Mr Roberts said.
“Some, like the one at Ballarat High in the school grounds, didn’t last, some of the trees around here were originally part of avenues - there was one on Creswick Road.
“There’s been more planted than people realised.
“It’s a real asset to the city, and having all of this material recorded will be valuable for the future.”
The book itself details the history of the avenue’s development, and stories of prominent soldiers.
It will be launched tonight at the Mechanics Hall, from 5.45pm.
Anyone interested in attending is asked to phone Debra on 5320 5148 to RSVP.
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