Hatch Gallery, 14 Ivanhoe Pde Ivanhoe Tues-Sat 10.00 a.m -5.00 p.m, until 30 May 2015. Free entry
An inordinate number of your taxpayer dollars have been directed towards the commemoration of Gallipoli and there have been many enticements to community groups to participate at a local level in the centenary. Banyule City Council put up its hand and its display will be open until 30 May- so only a couple more weeks to view it.
The HATCH Gallery is a fairly new venture located in a small hall behind the iconic Heidelberg Town Hall in (perversely) Ivanhoe. It is on two levels, as is this exhibition. The ground floor features a travelling exhibition mounted through the Australian War Memorial of the photographs of Sir Charles Ryan, while upstairs is a more localized display of artefacts and stories of local men who enlisted.
Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan (1853-1926) was a scion of many early Port Phillip pioneers. His father was Charles Ryan, who along with Peter Snodgrass were part of the ‘Gallant Five’ who helped capture the Plenty Valley Bushrangers. His maternal grandfather was Joseph Cotton; his uncle, Albert Le Soeuf was the pioneer director of Melbourne Zoo and his sister was the artist Mrs Ellis Rowan. After starting medicine at the University of Melbourne, he finally qualified through the University of Edinburgh. While touring Europe and undertaking postgraduate qualifications, he saw an advertisement for medical officers to work for the Turkish government. He worked in a medical capacity with the Turkish armies in the Turko-Serbian war of 1876 and the Russo-Turkish campaign of 1877-78. He would have only been quite young, and this serves as a reminder to us that the Balkans and Ottoman regions were heavily contested long before World War I. On return to Australia he was appointed an honorary surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where, among other patients, he had the care of Ned Kelly to ensure that he faced trial after the Glenrowan siege. When WWI broke out, he volunteered for the position of Assistant Director of the AIF Medical Service, aged sixty. He took with him his camera and the black and white images in this display are the result.
Perhaps because of his administrative and hence logistic role, many of these photographs show the supplies stacked along the small beach at Anzac Cove. It hadn’t particularly occurred to me that the task of supplying the troops continued during the months that the troops were there. He took photographs of the men in the trenches and swimming at Anzac Cove- it was certainly no Bondi Beach. In many of the photographs, men were sleeping in the trenches in broad daylight. This reminded me of the comment that Peter Cundall made at the ANZAC Eve commemoration I attended that soldiers often slept because of both physical and emotional exhaustion. One of the photographs depicts Lt Col Robert ‘Dad’ Owen, who had fought in the Sudan in 1885 with the NSW contingent and now led the 3rd Battalion at Gallipoli. His son fought in the same battalion and died in Belgium in 1917.
On 24 May 1915 after particularly heavy fighting, the corpses were piling up, rapidly putrifying in the sun. A truce was called and, against orders, Ryan took him camera with him to photograph the bodies. There is a story that he was challenged by Turkish officers who saw his Turkish medals from his youth, but they were mollified and then intrigued when Ryan conversed with them in Turkish (I assume), regaling them with stories of the war that their fathers and grandfathers had fought.
These truce photographs are disturbing a hundred years later, and would have been even more so at the time, had they become public. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve often seen so many photographs of dead bodies and there is certainly none of the nationalistic ra-ra that makes me uncomfortable about much Anzac commemoration. You can read historian Frank Bongiorno’s speech in opening this travelling exhibition in Canberra in 2014 here.
Upstairs there is a small theaterette that has a rolling, silent loop of photographic images of the war (although I must confess to feeling somewhat sated by the display downstairs). Another room contains artefacts donated by local families whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought during the war with biographical panels alongside.
This is a well-laid out exhibition that combines the national with the very local. It hasn’t really received a great deal of publicity, and given that it closes soon, you’ll need to visit soon to catch it.