Sto­ries be­hind the cloth­ing

The Tatura Guardian - - People - By Tara Whitsed The

Restric­tive hob­ble dresses, long hem­lines and sober colours — a true re­flec­tion of fash­ion’s demise from Ed­war­dian to war-time style — will be on show in Mooroopna this month.

But it is the sto­ries of the women be­hind the out­fits at the Women of Em­pire 1914-19 ex­hi­bi­tion which are the re­mark­able part of the trav­el­ling dis­play.

Cu­ra­tor Keith Baver­stock said he and wife Fiona started the ex­hi­bi­tion in 2015 af­ter be­ing in­volved in the his­tor­i­cal cos­tume and vin­tage in­dus­tries.

‘‘ Women of Em­pire 1914-1919 takes us into the lives of about 30 of the women of Aus­tralia and New Zealand whose lives were trans­formed by their ex­pe­ri­ences in the First World War,’’ Mr Baver­stock said.

With about 134 pieces, Mr Baver­stock said the col­lec­tion ranged from uni­forms and gowns to a flower picked by a wounded Aus­tralian sol­dier and sent to his wife back home.

‘‘It’s the only ex­hi­bi­tion in the world that tells women’s sto­ries that had some kind of in­volve­ment with the First World War,’’ he said.

Mr Baver­stock said women’s roles dur­ing this time took many forms with those with med­i­cal train­ing — doc­tors, nurses, masseuses — join­ing the men on war­ships, at Gal­lipoli, in Egypt and on the Western Front.

‘‘Women with guts and de­ter­mi­na­tion drove am­bu­lances and be­came cooks and or­der­lies, Red Cross aides or mo­tor­cy­cle mes­sen­gers,’’ he said.

Af­ter first ap­pear­ing at the Na­tional Wool Mu­seum in Gee­long, Mr Baver­stock said the ex­hi­bi­tion had ap­peared in­many ci­ties and it was time to take it to re­gional ar­eas.

‘‘I’m a so­cial his­to­rian my­self,’’ he said.

‘‘We hear all the tales of the fan­tas­tic men dur­ing the war, but we don’t hear a lot about the women.’’

Mr Baver­stock said these tales of the women of­ten touched vis­i­tors to the ex­hi­bi­tion.

‘‘Peo­ple en­joy the sto­ries; you of­ten see them leav­ing with tears in their eyes,’’ he said.

It was the tale of Jane Sam that has stuck with Mr Baver­stock the most from the women he and Mrs Baver­stock call ‘‘our ladies’’.

‘‘She was a street pros­ti­tute at age 11,’’ he said.

‘‘She was in­car­cer­ated in her teens and ended up in one of the worst pris­ons in NSW.

‘‘She ended up mar­ry­ing a Chi­na­man, which was an ab­so­lute no-no in those days.

‘‘She bore seven or nine sons and ended up be­ing the mother of heroes.

‘‘Five of the men signed up for war and col­lected mil­i­tary medals.

‘‘I thought it was mar­vel­lous how a woman like that be­came the mother of heroes.’’

Mr Baver­stock said the re­sponse to the ex­hi­bi­tion had been so fan­tas­tic, work had started on a sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion — The Home­com­ing — which will tell the tales of women at the end of the Great War.

‘‘It will be seen in Aus­tralia and New Zealand in the sec­ond half of next year,’’ he said.

There would also be the chance for guests to con­trib­ute to the Let­ter to the Fallen project, which in­vites peo­ple to write a let­ter to an un­known sol­dier in France.

‘‘It is hoped to have 60 000 let­ters by Novem­ber 2018,’’ he said.



Spe­cial show­ing: World War I. cu­ra­tor Keith Baver­stock with an out­fit worn by Vida Gold­stein, an early fem­i­nist who fought against con­scrip­tion dur­ing

Picture: Holly Curtis

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