June 17, 2019
Wondai Regional Art Gallery is looking back on aspects of Australia’s contribution to World War I this month.
The Gallery is hosting a travelling exhibition from the Australian National Maritime Museum, ‘War At Sea’, which chronicles the involvement of the Royal Australian Navy in the 1914-18 war.
The pop-up exhibition is part of a national tour and provides a rare insight into a little-known aspect of Australia’s World War I war effort.
Its appearance at the Wondai Gallery is the only time it will be seen in the region.
It is the first travelling exhibition the gallery has hosted from the Maritime Museum.
Gallery president Elaine Madill said she had been negotiating with the Museum for several months to host ‘War At Sea’, which will usher in Wondai’s annual Reserve Forces Day commemorations on July 7.
The travelling exhibition is being complemented by locally produced artworks with a reflection and remembrance theme, including several from the South Burnett Regional Council’s permanent collection.
And for a quirky touch, the front gallery is hosting a locally owned collection of teddy bears dressed up in wartime uniforms.
This month’s exhibition is also being supported with a collection of original poetry inspired by the Anzac tradition from poet and author Kay Gorring.
She is the sister of Tingoora artist Robyn Dower, with whom she has collaborated on a number of past exhibitions.
Kay has won several prizes for her poetry, including being judged overall winner at the highly regarded Ipswich Poetry Feast.
She read one of her poems, ‘The Pact’, to the audience on the opening night:
It was quiet that shift, I was on my last rounds,
There was only the hum of the normal ward sounds.
“Will you listen? Now listen,” an old man had said
as I walked by the end of his hospital bed.
“Do you hear what I hear? It’s a glorious sound.
It’s the thunder of hooves as they strike at the ground.”
I looked back at the man in that bed where he lay
but I knew he was dying and slipping away.
He is rambling I’d thought as I turned his light down,
just another poor soul in a hospital gown.
It was then that he took a firm hold of my hand
and he told me there’s something I must understand.
That tonight he was keeping a pact he’d once made
to a mate he had known in the Light Horse brigade.
There were tears in his eyes so I sat by his bed
and I’ll never forget what it was that he said.
“All my mates they were charging alongside of me
when a bomb had exploded we just didn’t see.
For a moment I thought that the time had been stilled
but my mates and their horses they had all been killed.
Now my horse had stood near me despite his own fear
with his blood running red and the enemy near.
With my foot in the stirrup, he’d made for the line
and he got me back safely that war horse of mine.
So I couldn’t just leave him alone to his fate
and I spoke one more time to my gallant old mate.
Now that horse he had courage, I felt I had none,
but I knew from his bleeding what had to be done.
Then I took up my rifle with trembling hands
while my curses rang loud on those far away sands
and I cried for my mate as I whispered goodbye
and I begged him to come back when it’s my time to die.
So I have to be ready, the time’s edging near,
I can hear he is coming with saddle and gear.
Then we’ll turn on our heels and we’ll make for the sky
and he’ll carry me safely to heaven on high.
Will you listen, now listen, to what I have said
for my soul will be leaving this wretched sick bed.
Then you’ll hear what I hear, it’s a glorious sound,
it’s the thunder of hooves as they strike at the ground.”
Then his hand it just loosened and fell to his side
and I sat there awhile as I quietly cried,
’til the air had grown cold and my hair stood on end
and the curtains they shimmered and time seemed to bend.
I would swear that I saw a horse pawing the ground
with that man in the saddle and turning it round.
He was soon joined by others, the noise was a roar
and I knew that all things weren’t the same as before.
On such wonder I gazed as these ghosts all appeared.
The man tightened the reins and that mighty horse reared.
It was then that I heard it, a glorious sound,
the proud thunder of hooves as they charged heaven bound.
This poem and several others inspired by it, including “The Stockman’s Choice” and “We Were Mates”, are available at the Gallery this month in a limited edition booklet for $10.
[Photos: Cr Ros Heit]