Arts students bring the story of WWI Australian soldiers to light in new exhibition

Two Arts students have been involved in a project that explores the different ways trauma impacted soldiers and their families when they returned home after World War I (WWI).

Entitled ‘Return; the way back home’, the exhibition honours the legacy of Sir John Monash, who was commissioned to oversee the repatriation of the surviving Australian soldiers and their dependents.

History students Alicia Brown (pictured left) and H. Ali Husseini (right) helped curate two of the cases in the exhibition as part of their Work Integrated Learning (WIL).

Ms Brown explored the gender relationship post-war and the impact of returning soldiers back into their family lives.

'I wanted to research women who were hidden by history … There wasn’t much in the archives on women’s voices – I had to do a lot of explanation as not many women were speaking out during that time,' Ms Brown said.

'I amended their voicelessness by using newspaper clippings on domestic violence that were sympathetic towards the soldier, not the women’s experiences.

'Domestic violence rose dramatically when men came home – PTSD saw a spike in domestic violence across the board. Women’s suffering post-war was made insignificant through biased reporting.'

Student H. Ali Husseini also took part in the project.

'I tried to uncover elements of history that haven’t been talked about a lot in popular memory for the ANZACs. The ANZACs were quite religiously motivated to participate in WWI, and religion was part of the war experience,' Mr Husseini said.

'When I curated my case, I discovered that soldiers’ tags listed their burial rites. The tag I included in my case was engraved with COE, for Church of England. This showed that the soldier, if he died, needed to be buried according to the Church of England’s rites, by a minister of his faith.

'I found prayer books produced by the government – these were in high demand, and some soldiers couldn’t get a hold of them.'

Mr Husseini said it was a rewarding experience.

'I could go into the special collections area and pick out objects from the collections myself where most people can’t usually go … I interacted with a lot of material from 100 years ago or more. It was all so personal, and I felt very privileged.'

The exhibition curator, Dr Anne Holloway, said it was a fantastic opportunity for students to showcase their skills.

'I’ve found that students bring a lot to the curation of our exhibitions. They bring in contemporary ideas and research – and having a diverse set of perspectives is really important in terms of research and storytelling.'

Ms Brown said the project helped shape her understanding of future employment opportunities.

'When I came into the WIL program I had no idea what history actually had to offer, and this project made me see that there are heaps of roads you can go down in terms of a career.'

The exhibition is at The Gallery, Sir Louis Matheson Library, until 22 June, 2020.

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Work Integrated Learning