Listening to a moving poem at an ANZAC Day service in 2014 on the Central Coast planted the seed in Leasha Craig’s mind.
She had been hearing a recital of television and radio presenter Jim Brown’s poem – ‘An ANZAC on the Wall.’
As her partner Jack Pike tells it, the piece moved her so deeply that she spent the rest of the day thinking about an appropriate way to honour Australia’s war veterans.
The result is the Australian Spirit NSW Touring Exhibition which has been running for four years, visiting regional areas and imparting the stories of service personnel. On Monday it came to Goulburn for one day only.
Ms Craig, an accomplished artist in her own right and the co-founder of Art Studios Cooperative, has brought together artists and poets for the project which has been running for four years.
The display tells the stories of 75 Central Coast veterans from World War Two, Vietnam, Korea, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and other campaigns. The Goulburn exhibition featured 23 artworks.
“Our objective was to raise public awareness and support for the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families,” Ms Craig said..
“These are living stories that need to be told and I hope that we have given creative justice to the services and recognition to the sacrifices made by both our veterans and their families for our country.”
She reached out to veterans’ organisations like RSL Sub Branches and Legacy to find the subjects. Each artist and poet then sat down with a veteran and heard their story. For her and others, it proved a cathartic experience.
“I definitely have more awareness of their sacrifice and the effect on their families, which is often forgotten, and the need for support for contemporary veterans,” Ms Craig said.
Artist Karen Bloomfield worked with four subjects over four years, including Vietnam veteran Mal Hundt, who served in the 12th Field regiment RAR. Her charcoal and ink work is titled ‘10,000 Eyes, Six Bullets.’
“He landed at Support Base Coral and thought they were quite safe but five days in there was a massive campaign. Fifty metres away there was long elephant grass and they were being watched,” she said.
He took six bullets, was operated on but two were left in his body. He was later awarded a Purple Heart.
Ms Bloomfield said every veteran was different.
“I’ve learnt so much,” she said.
“It’s really opened my eyes on why people become soldiers in the first place and I realised they didn’t always go in with their eyes open.”
By listening and being non-judgmental, she was able to get them to open up. In turn, families would tell her they’d never heard these stories before.
The story of a World War Two veteran seemed all too happy to her until he started speaking about the bombing of Hiroshima. He was only 17 at the time. The ex-soldier told her of people draped in rags emerging from the devastation.
“At that point his expression changed and that is what I captured,” she said.
Ms Craig told The Post the exhibition had been well received and hoped the concept would catch on in other regional areas, like Goulburn.
It concludes at the Central Coast Entertainment Grounds on November 10 with an event uniting numerous veterans’ organisations.
A book has also been produced from the exercise.
Goulburn RSL Sub Branch secretary Mal Ritchie praised its “excellent quality” and the hard work that had gone into not only getting veterans to open up but coordinating the display.