Being a lover of older style museums with packed wooden and glass display cabinets, carpets on the floor, low lights and the like, I am particularly attracted to the Colonial Conflicts Gallery of the Australian War Memorial.
Prior to federation on 1 January 1901 Australia comprised a number of separate British colonies all of which had a particularly strong affinity to the Motherland – not that it lost that affinity on federation. The Australian colonies were very much part of Empire.
Europeans settlers first arrived in Australia in 1788 and, while local volunteer forces were established in the Australian colonies in the 1850s, British soldiers provided for Australia’s defence until 1870 (though Royal Navy ships remained in Australia until 1913). As such, a succession of British regiments pursued bushrangers, protected convict settlements, put down rebellions and suppressed Aboriginal resistance to European settlement.
From 1870 colonial forces assumed the former role of British forces in the protection of Australia and were not called upon to serve overseas until the end of the century. The Colonial Conflicts Gallery, tucked away on the lower ground floor, commemorates Australian sacrifices in overseas conflicts up and including the Second Boer War (1899-1902).
Specifically covered in the Colonial Conflicts Gallery are:
The New Zealand Wars (1861-64) – The Taranaki War 1861 and the Invasion of the Waikato 1863-1864.
The Sudan (1885) – A New South Wales Garrison went to the Sudan in 1885, in support of Britain, following the killing of General Charles Gordon who had been sent out to ‘coordinate’ the Egyptian departure from Sudan in accordance with British instructions so to do.
The Second Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) – Australia’s Forgotten War – being soon overshadowed by World War I. The Korean War was subsequently also referred to as a Forgotten War – this time overshadowed by the Vietnam War. The Boer War, in which 16,000 Australians served and in which 606 died is without doubt the primary focus of the Colonial Conflicts Gallery.
Australia’s involvement with the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists – better known as the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900-1901). This was, incidentally, Australia’s first involvement in an Asian conflict. This exhibit contains one of the Memorial’s most macabre relics – a pigtail retrieved from a Boxer execution ground, pictured above. Pigtails were worn by Chinese men as a sign of their subjugation by the Manchu dynasty and were cut off prior to men being executed.
On that rather macabre note I ask you not to overlook this Gallery though many do given the volume of other great things to see within the War Memorial and a lack of time.
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