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Mallee Avenues of Honour 1917 – 1918

Michael Taffe MA, MPHA.

This is one of almost 300 memorial avenues planted across Victoria between 1916 and 1924 most, like this, were planted while The Great War was still in progress. The Avenue of Honour was claimed in 1917 as the “form of memorial is being adopted throughout the country”. And so it was! - and it remains a testimony not only to those who went from here into the unknown (although by 1918 people did know what a hell-hole their boys were going to) but a monument to the people in the Mallee who looked to create a living link with those who were no longer with them, some to return some never to return. That link, thanks to the people here today, almost 100 years later, remains and with the nurturing of the generations s to come should continue into the future.

The movement to plant Avenues of Honour is believed to have started in South Australia in 1915 spreading then to N.S.W. & Victoria. BUT it swept through Victoria as nowhere else and is a testament today of how communities across this state were connected. These avenues alone gave Victoria the claim that it was the only state in Australia that had a war memorial in almost every town before the war had even finished.

The fulfilment of family and community needs following such separations and often deaths means that we fail to appreciate all that is represented in the Avenues of Honour planted throughout Australia during and immediately following WWI.

We must not focus just on those who died as there are many forms of death – especially for a mother’s heart. Of those who left the hardships of the Mallee in 1914, 15, 16 & 1917, many never returned, even if they survived the horrors of Gallipoli or the Western Front. Families were separated and fractured as was unknown in this new country shortly before, a country so full of promise, so full of hope. You who live here know best the later story of settlers having to walk off their farms with a government handout. They left more than their farms!

Through these memorials, those on the home front could express themselves in a way that later OFFICIAL built monuments have never provided for.

Travelling around Victoria over the past ten years, the number and variety of the surviving WW1 avenues surprised me. Often communities are not even aware of the existence of an avenue in their neighbourhood - for honest and innocent reasons. Sometimes an Avenue of Honour remains where there is no longer a town community as at Danyo & Cowangie North or Dobie in the west near Ararat.

The Avenue of Honour movement in Victoria received much of its impetus through the Education Department. Not only was the Eurack Avenue planted for the Education Department’s Arbour Day of 1916 but also the Wandiligong planting and after the war that at Tambo Upper were all a response to this same programme. By June 1918 this now truly state-wide movement had seen some 200 plantings across Victoria. The children at the Cowangie North School held an Arbour Day in June 1918 when they  planted an avenue of honour of twenty eight trees flanking the roadway.[i]

These memorials unlike masonry and stone monuments are not to the credit of an architect or builder or even the local town councils but to the people, the grass root citizens and I commend those responsible for bringing this memorial to the attention of new generations and a wider world.

I recently had the privilege to address an international conference at University of Newcastle and many questions arose from international academics as to the spread of this idea to overseas. You should all be so proud that from these all but forgotten beginnings the people of Victoria and certainly across the Mallee were instrumental in creating this movement.

[i] Pinaroo Border Times, June 21, 1918.


 



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