On February 7, 1920, over 100 years ago, a shortish, well-built 54-year-old Englishman, with the obligatory short moustache of the time, picked up a trowel and laid a scrape of mortar to set a foundation stone.
He was standing on a dirt road in the middle of empty paddocks. Behind him was the City of Ballarat, which had sent 3,912 young men from its districts to fight in Turkey and Europe.
Over 500 of them were killed, a fact known to the Englishman, who as an officer was responsible for the formation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - ANZAC.
Field Marshal William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood, GCB, GCSI, GCMG, GCVO, CIE, DSO, to give his full title, was on a tour of Australia.. He was immensely popular and lauded. Far from the stereotype of the ineffectual British officer, he won the admiration of the Commonwealth troops he was leading at Gallipoli for his willingness to go into the trenches and listen to the soldiers, to blithely swim with them in the waters of the strait each evening..
Birdwood was a professional soldier, but he also admired the bravery of those volunteers on the ill-fated peninsula campaign, Indians and British as well as ANZACs. He undertook the 1920 tour with a love of the country; later he (unsuccessfully) sought the role of Governor-General.
He was in Ballarat at the invitation of the state and federal governments to lay the foundation stone of the Arch of Victory, the memorial to Ballarat's fallen and those who served.
It was the starting point for the 23-kilometre (14-mile) Avenue of Honour, completed after the planting of the avenue's almost 4000 trees.
The Arch of Victory was opened on June 2, 1920, just four months after Birdwood laid the foundation stone, by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. It and the Avenue of Honour were the product of inspiration at the city's Lucas Clothing Mill. Its female employees, led by Mrs W. D. Thompson, had suggested the memorial three years earlier, and it was begun on King George V's birthday, June 4.
Funded by the lingerie factory, the plantings were completed exactly one year prior to the opening of the arch, and cost £2,000, raised by the over over 500 women employed at the factory. The trees were planted in rotation and sturdy picket fence guards were placed around each.
According to the Heritage Council of Victoria: 'The planting, done by staff of the Lucas factory with the support of local farmers included 23 species of trees, mostly exotic deciduous species planted in single lines along either side of the road at regular spacings of 10-12 metres.
'Each species was usually planted in blocks of about 25 trees on either side of the road. The trees were numbered and allocated to individuals as close as possible to their order of enlistment, beginning at the Ballarat end.
'Plaques were originally attached to each timber tree guard giving the individual's name, the unit in which he or she enlisted and their number in the avenue. In 1934 these were replaced by permanent bronze plaques at the base of each tree, of which more than 80 per cent are still in place.'
The Lucas workers raised a further £2,600 to build the Arch of Victory as an entrance to the Avenue of Honour; Selkirks Brickworks donated 70,000 bricks for the construction.
A design competition for the Arch was won by by Ballarat At School principal H.H. Smith; however the Lucas workers overturned that decision, choosing a design by two Melbourne architecture students, Deane B. White, a pupil of architect Fred S. Mackay and R. Ellis, a pupil of architect P. C. Kirk.
The decision caused some upset: one letter writer to The Courier saying the Lucas Girls had 'capsized the adjudication... it is sheer effrontery on their part to pose as art critics in globo...'
Their choice stood however, and a team of 13 local bricklayers, plasterers and carpenters went to work, completing the Arch by June. In pouring rain at the dedication, the Prince cut the ribbon, starting with a pair of malfunctioning gold scissors before using a more functional pair to finish the job. For his efforts he was presented with a silken pair of pyjamas, demurely referred to as a 'sleeping suit' by the newspapers.
The Prince was, the papers reported, 'embarrassed' by the gift, but made a speech thanking the Lucas Girls both for it and their efforts.