South Australia during the war years 1914–18

Media release: Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Australian poet Henry Lawson was well aware that a World War I soldier's homecoming was not the end of his troubles.

In an introduction to Violet Verses published by the Adelaide Cheer Up Society in 1917, he wrote 'these men are coming back … battered and broken and some with shattered nerves from the hell they went through … coming back many of them to broken faith, lost jobs and billets … coming home to mean, sordid, paltry hopelessness and to a reversed homesickness for perhaps the other and lesser hell in the trenches'.

'Violet Verses was just one of the literary and artistic works submitted for copyright protection during the war years,' says Dr Sara King from the National Archives in Adelaide, who is giving a free public talk On the home front this Friday evening 9 May.

'Records in the National Archives show how much overseas events affected what was going on at home,' she said. 'The creative pursuits preserved in our copyright records are part of the collection but I'll also be discussing enemy interns and how they were treated here in South Australia, the conscription referendum, and technological advances such as the Trans Australia Railway, powered flight and the novelty of airmail.'

Dr King will reveal the story of wealthy businessman H Teesdale Smith, who had the Adelaide tramways contract, and who donated 2,300 pounds to the War Office in London to purchase a 'fighter aeroplane', provided his nephew could be trained to pilot it.

She will also cover noteworthy weather events, recorded by the South Australian meteorological office. They included Adelaide's heat wave of 100.7 degrees F on 25 March 1916, 'the hottest day recorded so late in summer'. Later in 1916, South Australia had 'the wettest June on record …'

Eyewitness accounts of lighthouse keepers have also been preserved in the National Archives. One account from the head keeper at Port Willoughby in 1917 reported on the shipwreck of four-masted schooner Kona which came to grief on a nearby reef. Only five minutes after the crew's lifeboat cleared the sinking schooner, 'the ship listed right over and the deckload of timber was floating away. If the boat had been any later getting away, she could not help being smashed to pieces'.

On the home front: South Australia during the war years 1914–18 at Adelaide City Library, from 6 to 7pm on Friday 9 May, is part of About Time: South Australia's History Festival 2014.  Bookings are essential for the free talk on (08) 8204 8787.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019