Introduction: The Story of James Maynard

The Great War is often seen as Australia’s first great military conflict and as we mark and mourn the centenary of the Great War in this exhibition. However, we cannot longer see the Great War as our first military intervention, since a long and protracted war of dispossession was fought in this country at an appalling human cost. This country needs a just and lasting resolution of that conflict, and it confers on us all a great obligation today and is something our shameful Prime Minister should take heed of. With this, we would like to start this introduction with an Aboriginal story, an Islander story, one of the many forgotten stories of the Great War. This particular story is available thanks to post-graduates students, Laura James and Bec Wheatley and their One Hundred Stories project from Monash University. This story comes from Cape Baron Island in Bass Strait, just across the water there. In the course of the Great War, around half the eligible men there enlisted. Their names - 21 names in all - are recorded on the island’s war memorial – it’s a simple bronze plaque set upon a pillar of stone. The records don’t tell us why Private James Maynard went to war. Perhaps as with many Indigenous servicemen, it was a quest to secure full citizenship or perhaps like many white diggers, the hope of travel and adventure or more than likely just the hope of earning a decent wage, a regular wage.

James Maynard was wounded twice in action; in 1917 in Passchendaele and in 1918 in the attack on the Hindenburg Line. He was sent home to Australia a deeply damaged man, unlike his brothers; William and Frank never returned to Cape Baron Island. Frank was killed in 1916 and is buried at Pozières. William went missing at the Battle of Bullecourt and is missing still. The body of that boy was never recovered from the killing fields. So from the end of the war right through the 1920s, the mother writes time and time again to the military authorities and what does she say. She is hoping to learn something of William’s fate, she is longing for a photo of his final resting place, craving something to remember him by. This letter was written in that unsteady hand in 1918. That is over a year since her son goes missing. Two pocket books, a penny, a halfpenny, two discs with a name and a cross, and one little painted flower, and five postcards that is all I have got of my poor old Will - the long aftermath of war. Eva Maynard’s letter reminds us that the pain, the grief and unspeakable loss of the Great War was visited upon an entire generation. But of course, the war wasn’t the only way that Aboriginal Islander people lost their children. In the 1930s, this small devastated community was devastated once again as white authorities relocated children including the children of returned servicemen to white families and white institutions on the mainland. Cape Baron Island was a community laid to waste in the aftermath of war. Let us not forget that. We acknowledge Aboriginal people.