After reading Marilyn Lake’s book ‘Limits of Hope’ in early 2013, which is about the WWI soldier settlement scheme, with a focus on Victoria, I was surprised that there still seemed to be little knowledge of this history outside of settlement communities. My husband grew up just outside Mildura, VIC and he began to share with me some of the history of the Red Cliffs ‘blockies’ that he was aware of. Since then I have read extensively about the topic and on life at home in Australia, planning ways to creatively respond and share these stories. It is particularly important to share them in a way that demonstrates the contemporary relevance of reflecting on experience of these people. In June 2014 I undertook an artist residency at The Art Vault in Mildura VIC, and began some more direct research. I visited Red Cliffs, a WWI soldier settlement town. At the opening of my exhibition The Observers held at The Art Vault, I put the call out to those attending mentioning my interest in the settlement history and asking for engagement with locals with these connections. Local, Pam Shugg whose family are from Red Cliffs approached me just after the opening and suggested I come over to see a suitcase she had. The suitcase belonged to her grandmother Myrtle and it contains masses of unread letters that we are in the process of reading and transcribing. The majority of the correspondence is of letters written to her from her husband Ozbert known as 'Ozzie' or 'Oz' who settled on a Red Cliffs block after WWI. Myrtle was working in Melbourne for some years while he established the block and built a house and the letters so far provide a fascinating insight into what life was like in Red Cliffs at that time. The letters span his early courting of Myrtle, heading off to war, 3 years as a prisoner of war in a German camp and his return to Australia and settlement at Red Cliffs. I am so extremely grateful to Pam for going on this journey with me and allowing her grandparents letters to be a part of this project work.
Katy Mutton is a Canberra based, Australian Visual Artist whose practice is informed by an ongoing concern around trauma and warfare and how these relate to our cultural identity and history. For more information on her artwork visit www.katymutton.com