By Russell Bennett
What started as just an embryo of an idea years ago has gone on to become Emerald’s lasting tribute to 32 fallen World War I soldiers from the area, and earlier this month a documentary was unveiled chronicling all the work that had gone into the creation of Anzac Walk and Anzac Place.
The site neighbouring the Emerald RSL was officially opened by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in March 2015 and has since gone on to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of all of those who call the area home.
Earlier this month, a documentary – produced by Avonsleigh pair Christine Weller and Matt Francis – was launched to a packed theatre at the Gemco Playhouse.
A host of dignitaries attended the Saturday 1 July event including Cardinia Mayor Brett Owen and fellow Ranges Ward councillor Leticia Wilmot, as well as representatives from the RSL and local community groups.
“No doubt this project is an amazing community project – Anzac Walk and Anzac Place,” Cr Owen said.
“It’s had the support of three tiers of government – the Cardinia Shire being one of them – and the RSL, community members, and supporters.
“It was a special day back in March 2015. My ward colleague Leticia Wilmot was the mayor at the time and it was a fantastic day for Emerald and the Cardinia Shire. It was a massive day – I remember it very fondly.”
The film about Emerald’s historic project documents the journey from beginning to end – celebrating just what can be achieved when those in a small, tight-knit community band together.
“We’re pleased to support this video through our Community Wellbeing Support grant,” Cr Owen said.
“This film will be promoted across our community and the wider community. It’ll be promoted among our schools so our school children can learn about the history of the project and why it came about.
“It’ll be great for tourism – for Emerald and the hills community – and it’ll be great to inform our community about those 32 soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The walk itself promotes community wellbeing and getting people active, and learning about our history.”
Emerald RSL president Peter Maloney said he had the utmost respect for all of those who were involved in each stage of the project.
“It’s been three or four years since that little embryo of an idea happened,” he said.
“There are so many people to thank that we just can’t do it.
“We’ve come a long way from the embryo of an idea to replace Heroes Avenue, which was dismantled in the early 1950s.
“You can imagine that it was built in the early 1920s after all the men came back from the First World War and 30 years later they pulled it down.
“You can imagine that a lot of people wouldn’t have been too thrilled with that, however at the time the RSL was thinking on its feet and managed to salvage 31 of the 32 plaques that were on those trees. They ended up in the RSL, where they are today.”
Mr Maloney said the RSL acknowledged the key role that Cardinia Shire Council, and in particular Kevin Alexander, played in the project.
An unbelievable set of circumstances that were shrouded in coincidence led Ms Weller and Mr Francis to get involved in the project.
At the launch of the film, Ms Weller spoke of the significance of its music and lyrics – specifically Eric Bogle’s classic And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.
“Music and lyrics have the power to take you on a journey and move you emotionally,” she said.
“When we were looking for a song that epitomised the story of the 32 young men that Anzac Walk and Anzac Place was created to honour, there was only one song.
“It’s a song I’ve heard at every dawn service I’ve ever been to.
“Its lyrics take you on a journey – the same journey our 32 young men had taken so many years ago.
“I feel their excitement at the expectation of the adventure they’re about to embark on. I feel their dismay and horror as they realise the reality and devastation of war. I feel their despair as their mates die around them. I feel their pain at knowing they may never see their home or loved ones again.
“It reduces me to tears when I think of the futility of it all. But this song’s lyrics have the power to make me all the more determined to never forget them.
“Every time I hear Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda I remember them. I’m sure we all do.”
Descendants of some of ‘the 32’ were in the audience for the premiere screening of the documentary, which is now available for sale at the Emerald newsagency.