'Off to the Great War': Woolloomooloo, 1915
Peter Stanley takes a closer look at photographs from the library's Pictures Collection that reflect life during the First World War
1 June 2015
This post was originally written for the regular feature In the Frame in The National library of Australia Magazine
In 1915, more men volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force than in any other year. July was the peak month, with over 36,000 men enlisting—one-tenth of the total number who served in the war.
Herbert Fishwick’s photograph depicts a volunteer walking past the big waterside sheds at Woolloomooloo—today probably waterfront apartments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars—just before he embarks on the transport that will carry him to Egypt, then Gallipoli or Britain and the Western Front.
None of the individuals in the photograph is named, but they stand for the almost 100,000 men who left that year for the war and for those who farewelled them.
The volunteer carries his kitbag on his shoulder. One of the two young women—his sisters, perhaps, or even daughters—carries his rolled-up overcoat, with his service cap dangling from it; he’s preferred to wear his slouch hat. The woman on the far right could be his mother or wife. The women wear white; this may be autumn or spring. The young ones are buoyant. Only the older woman seems to be ambivalent about farewelling him. She might one day be wearing black.
If this is early to mid-1915, the subjects of this photograph have not yet seen the full extent of casualties on Gallipoli. In July 1915, the first wounded from Gallipoli will arrive home, also at the wharves of Woolloomooloo.
The photographer, Herbert H. Fishwick, was born in Britain and became well known in the commercial field in New South Wales and beyond, working for The Sydney Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald. He recorded a wide range of subjects, including the Southern Alps (Fishwick was a pioneer skier and kept skiing into middle age); aerial photographs of towns; boxing matches; landscape scenes—and sheep. The Pastoral Review and Graziers' Record noted when he died that ‘in the realms of the stud Merino sheep breeding industry he excelled … outstanding amongst these experts in animal photography’. The National Library holds over a thousand of Fishwick’s images.
See the boys larking about—embarkation for them meant a more interesting day out. The lad on the right is about to be yanked out of the frame, but he has been captured forever—a bystander innocent, for now, of the war that will come to dominate his country and, perhaps, his life.