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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Trent Parke, Sergeant Joseph Felix Ber­gin, from se­ries World War I Av­enue of Hon­our (2014) (printed 2016). Col­lec­tion Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial. On dis­play, Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial, Can­berra, un­til Jan­uary 29. “He fell in my arms and lived about five min­utes. He was hit by a piece of shell in the right kid­ney. This hap­pened about 8 o’clock in the evening … I knew him well and he was work­ing in Ballarat Vic­to­ria prior to en­list­ing.”

Not much is known about Sergeant Joseph Felix Ber­gin. He was 24 when he en­listed for the Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force on Au­gust 18, 1914. And he died nearly four years later in a trench on the West­ern Front dur­ing the Bat­tle of Haze­brouck near Nieppe For­est, on April 16, 1918. Ber­gin may not be a house­hold name but he is part of Aus­tralia’s his­tory, re­mem­bered by the AIF mates who wit­nessed his death.

Ber­gin is com­mem­o­rated in the Ballarat Av­enue of Hon­our. From 1917, 3801 trees were planted in the Vic­to­rian town, with each tree rep­re­sent­ing a man or woman from Ballarat who en­listed in the AIF.

That Av­enue of Hon­our still stands and it is the sub­ject of 22 poignant im­ages by Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­pher Trent Parke. The se­ries, World War I Av­enue of Hon­our, was orig­i­nally shown in Bruges, Bel­gium, but is now on dis­play at the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial in Can­berra.

In 2014, Parke, who is the only Aus­tralian ac­cred­ited as a full mem­ber of the pres­ti­gious Mag­num Pho­tos agency, was in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tion: The First World War Now. Pre­sented by Mag­num in Bruges, the ex­hi­bi­tion marked 100 years since the Ger­man in­va­sion of that city. As Parke’s contribution to the ex­hi­bi­tion, he chose pho­to­graph the Ballarat Av­enue of Hon­our.

Parke says he was drawn to the Av­enue of Hon­our be­cause it is a liv­ing me­mo­rial. He started by pho­tograph­ing the trees, then trawled the Na­tional Ar­chives and the Red Cross files to find in­for­ma­tion about the fate of the in­di­vid­u­als com­mem­o­rated.

“It was one of the most in­cred­i­bly emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve ever had,” he says. “It is un­fath­omable re­ally the sto­ries that hap­pened to these peo­ple.”

Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial cu­ra­tor Magda Keaney says of the pho­to­graph of the tree that rep­re­sents Ber­gin: “Some­times Trent saw per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics in the tree and this soldier was killed by a wound to the stom­ach and kid­ney. In this case you have that co­in­ci­dence of a gouge in the tree where the tree it­self looks like it is dy­ing. It is quite a lit­eral de­pic­tion of the in­jury.”

Keaney says these sto­ries may be more than 100 years old but they are still “pow­er­ful and sad”. “I think that is what makes this work so com­pelling, that Trent Parke has been able to evoke that.” to

Dig­i­tal pig­ment print, 50.5cm x 42cm

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