It’s strange what one stumbles across when diving into the archives. As we highlighted in a previous blog post, What to call the war, not everything is neatly labelled ‘war’, and one of the challenges facing QSA archivists, in particular when commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War, has been finding those items hidden in the strangest of places.
A perfect example is this amazing poster inviting people to attend the QLD Public Service Patriotic Carnival in 1915. Most people, when looking for First World War related records, would choose to search in the records of such agencies as the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Governor, even the Police. Would you ever think to look in the records of the Survey Office? Probably not. Yet this poster was discovered in a Survey Office series entitled ‘Miscellaneous Maps and Plans’.
While it is striking as a digital image, what is lost is the impact of the size: the poster is nearly two metres long. One can easily imagine it as a billboard, perhaps outside the ‘Gabba?
In addition to the sheer visual appeal and the surprise of its discovery, the more you examine the poster the more interesting details emerge. The date for example, 31st July 1915, the Gallipoli Campaign had seen incredible losses in April of that year and the clarion call of the poster, ‘to assist our wounded soldiers’, resonates with the fears and sacrifices made in the ongoing conflict.
The picture itself is interesting – just what are they doing? Luckily, a search on TROVE helped solve this mystery. According to an article in the Queenslander (Saturday 7 August 1915, p. 39), the festival included a fancy dress football match, gymnastic display, basketball match, display of boomerang and spear throwing and a number of stalls including a shooting gallery. While not part of the ‘big story’ of the war, one of the interesting sidelines of identifying war-related records in our collection is the diversity of civic events, processions and other activities carried out for recruitment or fund-raising purposes on the Home Front.
Those familiar with archival research will know it can be like opening Pandora’s Box, with so many tangents, byways and possible red herrings to explore. Take the reference in the Queenslander article to the inclusion of a marine display featuring ‘live ceratodus’ (lung fish). Interestingly true, but hardly warranting much thought, then we discovered a letter from Mr Illidge in the Chief Secretaries Correspondence files – dated 30th December 1914 – offering his ceratodus collection to the Queensland Museum. Were ceratodus all the rage in 1915?
Thankfully, though we cannot solve the mystery of the ceratodus, we can at least explain how this incredible art work made it into the records of the Survey Office. The carnival was put on by the public service, and from the newspaper article it is clear that many different departments were involved in the event. However the creators of the poster, A.R. McKellar and H Arrell both worked at the Survey Office, presumably as artists or draftsmen. We also hold a series of maps of Brisbane and suburbs drawn and printed by A. R. McKellar on behalf of the Surveyor-General’s Office, Brisbane, in 1895. It’s incredible to think that twenty years later the map maker’s talents would be put towards a greater cause.