Archival research is one of the best things about being a historian. Although it usually involves inhumane levels of reading on microfilm, every now and again we get to don gloves and rifle through piles of old letters. Most of the archival material I’ve looked at for NSW and the Great War is old and little-used so remains in its original bundles. And sometimes those bundles contain tiny, overlooked objects.
These are badges, made as samples by WJ Amor of Amor Ltd, Newcastle, for Australia Day on 26 April 1918. They were tucked into one of the Colonial Secretary’s Special Bundles (NRS 906, Australia Day Red Cross Appeal, 5/5341.1) and were in amongst letters about race meetings, fund-raising and other issues that mattered on the day when the whole country stopped to raise money for the Australian Red Cross Society to help Australian soldiers. When I found them I was very excited – an excitement shared by my colleagues in State Records NSW, which owns these little treasures.
During the Great War ‘Australia Day’ was a day of pageantry and fund-raising that had nothing to do with the arrival of the First Fleet. Dreamed up by a Manly woman, Mrs Ellen Wharton-Kirke, who had four sons at the front and wanted to raise money for the Australian Red Cross Society, the concept was taken over by the NSW Government, who got expatriate American theatre entrepreneur Hugh Ward to organise it. It ended up being a nationwide event, was a roaring success, and became a feature of the fund-raising calendar from 1915 to 1918.