Technology keeps veteran stories alive

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22 February 2022

Students from St Patrick’s Primary School, Kilmore, have won the Award for Creative Use of Technology at the annual Anzac Day Schools’ Awards.

In early March 2021, St Patrick’s Primary School put out a call to the community through local paper The North Central Review seeking the support of local veterans willing to participate in a STEAM commemoration project. The school’s STEAM leader met with members of the Kilmore-Wallan RSL sub-branch, explaining the project and seeking assistance.

The ultimate aim of this project was for the school to honour local heroes and preserve important local history for generations to come. ‘Commemorate our local veterans and share their stories’ was the design brief given to students. The entirety of this project was student-driven. They interviewed and photographed a total of 28 local veterans ranging from WWII to Afghanistan, gathering their stories and capturing their essence through photography. With COVID-19 lockdowns, the project timeline was continually revised, but the students remained determined that the Commemorative Mural would be unveiled at the school’s Remembrance Day ceremony in 2021.

Students visited their local aged care facility, Willowmeade, where they interviewed resident veterans. The students’ ‘Portraits of a Veteran’ were exhibited in the Ballarat International Foto Biennale and were on display in the main street of Ballarat over the June school holiday period.

Each veteran now has an engraved plaque containing their name, service details and a QR code. The QR code takes visitors to the veteran’s portrait and allows them to hear their story. Students designed a mural to house their plaques. Central to the mural is the Australian Service Medal representing all defence services: army, navy and air force. The mural contains the words ‘But for the grace of God, go I’: a quote that resonated with the students. The plaques paying tribute to the veterans have been integrated into the mural.

Taking this commemoration beyond the school community has resulted in the mural and tributes being duplicated, with a replica to be placed on the front of the Kilmore-Wallan RSL. Members of the community were invited to paint the mural, with some of the local veterans putting their hands up to help. This project has included students from Year 4 to Year 6, a secondary student from Assumption College, Kilmore, parents, teachers, learning support officers, school leaders and the 28 local veterans. The students gained so much from the project, most importantly, they have been able to gather stories directly from primary sources: the heroes themselves.

‘I have not even spoken to my own children about this and here I am sharing my story’, said one of the veterans involved in the project. ‘I am so proud of myself. Two years ago I would never have been able to do this.’

The mural at St Patrick’s Primary School was officially revealed at a whole-school Remembrance Day liturgy in 2021. All veterans involved in the project were invited to attend. The story will not end here.