The small Victorian country town best remembered as the birthplace of the long-serving Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies has a distinctive war memorial.
The war passed quietly in the Mallee. Phil Taylor’s Shire History (Karkarooc 1896–1995, 1996) recounts: ‘German spies occupying a dugout just north of Jeparit’, but war stories in newspapers generally followed the fortunes of local boys who were serving their country abroad. Apart from the impact of casualties, felt as deeply here as anywhere else, the war passed quietly in Jeparit without incursions from ‘dugouts just north’ of the town.
When hostilities ceased and the cost was counted, many in the community felt the need to establish a lasting memorial to those who had gone to fight for King and Country. It is not clear how the shape and symbols of the projected monument were determined.
At Jeparit, the figure of a woman, head bowed and holding a palm frond which droops towards her feet, stands on a pedestal which carries the names of those being honoured. The connotations of both the woman’s pose and the palm were then, and remain, powerful. The palm, waved by the denizens of Jerusalem upon Christ’s triumphant entry into that town, conventionally signifies victory.
In Jeparit’s monument, then, a women with her head solemnly bowed holds the potent symbol of victory but her body language displays her dreadful loss. She is the archetypal wife, mother, sister and sweetheart, lamenting and celebrating simultaneously; the palm, triumphant as it might be as a generic symbol, is seen here wilting under the burden of her grief.
Ken Inglis’s Sacred Places, which focuses on Australian war memorials, has a special section concerning female figures on Australian monuments. ‘Realistic’ women are not common, certainly not as common as male soldiers either in active poses such as thrusting a bayonet (Double Bay) or hurling a bomb (Broken Hill) or more usually standing to attention or with head bowed, leaning on a reversed rifle.
‘Realistic female figures are ... rarer than allegorical figures’ Inglis wrote (p. 174). In fact, Jeparit’s monument appears to be unique.
Karkarooc: A History of the Mallee Shire 1896–1995, Phil Taylor, Shire of Karkarook, 1996 particularly Chapter 5 ‘On the Altar of Patriotism’.
Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Ken Inglis, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University, 1998. Passim.
Explore Victoria Website: http://www.wimmeramalleetourism.com.au/our-towns/jeparit-victoria