The National Trust Heritage Awards honour projects and people that have excelled in their field. “Lives on the Line” came first in the “Education and Interpretation” category and was described by the National Trust judges as ” …accessible, poignant and beautiful”.
It was a great team effort and a hugely satisfying public art project, a real honour to work beside Ann Frederick and the team at Transport Heritage & Sydney Trains. The beautiful short film about the project, made by project co-creator Steve Fearnley, is here:
Lives on the Line is 46 metres long. Over three specific sections the work represents the 8447 NSW Railway men who fought in WWI. By far the biggest section was made collaboratively in community workshops which took place over 8 months. Our best estimate is that around 4500 people took part.
This work has many levels and will mean different things and perhaps trigger emotions in those who discover it. It is our hope that the work is an uplifting tribute that honours the important stories of commitment by the Railway men over these centenary years of WWI
For those who actively took part in making the objects in the central part of the work, I hope they are proud to see what all those thousands of gathered pieces of the one story has become.
For me the most enduring moments were those when the objects being discussed and made in the art workshops provoked personal recollections. Children who responded with great maturity and perception, or with proud proclamations like “My pop was in the War” or, pointing to the familiar Rising Sun insignia: “My grandma has one of those, it belonged to her dad, who was killed.” Whist it was great fun to make the pieces, it was also a serious business- I know that many of these objects were made with the image of an honoured forebear held in heart and in mind. Those stories shared through the tactile medium of clay won’t be forgotten quickly.
The objects that were made in those many workshops are small everyday personal items- buttons and badges and buckles, fragments lost from uniforms or pockets, trapped in the mud of battlefields and still being uncovered 100 years on. Each object is a small parcel of meaning; these are the inanimate witnesses of great courage and camaraderie, of fear, of suffering and of death.
This part of the work references physical man; that which exists in the earthly realm; here is our collective body. Together these thousands of pieces continue the conversation that was started 100 years ago, when the NSW Railwaymen first went to war.
In the section of the work closest to the forecourt windows , 303 red and purple stoneware tiles interpret the colour patch worn by the Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company. The signatures of those men who were part of the company in 1917 have been reproduced and engraved by hand across the length of this section on the work. In his essay, Trevor Edmonds goes into greater detail about the hugely significant role the A-B-G-R-O-C played in the war on the Western Front. This part of the work has a deeper level of meaning: here we reference the intellect, the mind of man.
In the last section of the work, 1210 starlight points of blue light- the number of Railway men who died as a result of the war- shine from within 6 linear metres of punctured steel sheet. The deeper level of meaning is that this is the part of man which endures yet we cannot touch- here is the ethereal or spirit body.
I know I speak for Stephen as well as the others on our team: we are honoured and proud to have helped create this tribute to the Railwaymen who fought in WWI
The extraordinary level of community participation would not have occurred without the vision and dedication of Ann Frederick. Ann has barracked for and believed in this project from the beginning. The finished work that now lives in the main hall at Trainworks, is I think a beautiful and poignant work; however the greatest outcome of this project is the community outreach; the one- on-one sharing of story that connects each and everyone of us.
Thank you to Susan Conroy from Southern Tablelands Arts- who tirelessly champions the important role artists have to play in telling significant local stories in diverse and meaningful ways.
And thank you to the commissioning organisations, Transport Heritage NSW and Sydney Trains for having the vision to support this enduring ANZAC centenary artwork.