Australian historian transforms living room into war museum

  • 05/19/2019


First soldiers killed in WWI remembered 100 years on

Brad Manera is a historian for the Anzac Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park.


But he has also set up a museum of his own – in his living room.


Life-like models of soldiers crouch behind the couch, and shelves full of hats, clothing, medals and black-and-white photographs overflow into the spare rooms of his townhouse in the inner west Sydney suburb of Newtown.


Mr Manera says he started collecting relics from the wars as a way of honouring family members who served in the war.


“I can explore their lives through the documents that are left behind,” he said.

Mr Manera grew up in Australia in the 1960s, when many of the veterans from the first and second World Wars were still alive.


“These people had stories and experiences of a world beyond Australia,” he said.


“The houses were full of stuff: old photographs that reminded them of their parents or where they had been in their lives.

“So it gave me an appreciation for objects. I just really enjoyed having things around.”

Mr Manero hosts groups of students on trips to battlefields overseas. He says the experience can be eye-opening.

One student paid a visit to her great-grandfather’s grave in the Somme Valley in France.

The teenager had grown up with stories about her great-grandfather told by her elderly grandmother.


“And I guess that coloured her impressions because when she was finally standing there at the headstone, and the man’s age is 27, suddenly she realised [that] war isn’t about old men on Anzac Day.

“…They represent the loss of the youth of our nation.”


In 1914, Australia was a young nation, having federated just over a decade earlier in 1901. However, loyalty to the mother-country remained strong.


When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Australia was quick to pledge support.


Shortly before he was elected prime minister, Andrew Fisher vowed to “defend (Britain) to the last man and the last shilling.”


By the end of 1918, some 60,000 Australians had been killed.


“The war reached into every home in Australia during the great war. And for a generation afterwards there were people dying of war-caused injuries.

“People [were] living with the traumas of what they have lived through on the on the Western front,” he said.


Mr Manero says it is also important to acknowledge that some stories have gone untold, and that Australian history needs to be constantly revised.


“We grow up with this notion that Australian soldiers all had surnames like Smith or Jones (and) that they were all about 6 foot tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, but it wasn’t like that.


“We are discovering more and more [about the] Aboriginal Australians who served and, indeed, were decorated for their service and tragically gave their lives as members of the Australian Imperial Force.”

Brad Manera speaks to Brianna Roberts about the multicultural history of Australia’s Defence Force


Mr Manera says interest in the Anzac legend remains strong. Demand to visit Gallipoli for the 2015 commemoration of the Anzac landings was so high, a ballot was held in Australia and New Zealand for tickets.


“Australians are flocking to Gallipoli, to France and Belgium. The groups are getting younger and younger, and they want to visit cemeteries, they want to visit battlefields.

“They want to get closer and to investigate that part of Australian history that really formed the way we see ourselves.”


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