By Kath Gannaway
Mount Evelyn author, researcher and historian, Anthony McAleer, has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honour List 2018 for service to the community, and to military history.
Through his involvement with Mt Evelyn and Lilydale RSLs, as a committee member on the Seville War Memorial Committee, author of several books on local and military history, and through numerous talks with school and other groups, he has shone a light on the personal stories and bigger picture of Yarra Ranges’ military history.
For the 1997 Yarra Ranges Shire Citizen of the Year, and recipient of the Centenary of Federation Award, the OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia) is overwhelmingly a great honour, and also a ‘big tick’ for a labour of love which has delivered, and is continuing to deliver, significant recognition of a very local military history.
“It certainly gives a big tick to some of the stuff I’ve been able to achieve over the years, and not just the written histories,” Anthony said of the award.
“It’s also the material collected for archives, the memorials we’ve created, the ceremonies, working with schools and other groups, and this is recognition that it’s appreciated.”
His community volunteering and researching military history started around 1990 with involvement with Lilydale RSL and Lilydale & District Historical Society. He has been secretary of Mount Evelyn RSL since 2002 and is editor and producer of their monthly newsletter, and is a member of the Mount Evelyn History Group.
His work with Museums Victoria as team leader and tour guide at the Immigration Museum further fuels his passion for Australian history on a daily basis.
“I’ve always had an interest in Australian history, and especially Australian military history and that sparked my curiosity around what happened locally – how did that broader heritage affect the area that I’m living in, and what part did this area play in Australia’s military history.
“I started to scratch away and it and it was just extraordinary,” he said.
“I read the Ralph Goode diaries and his story was remarkable, but also revealed some of the local people who went off to war and were thrown into incredible situations under incredible circumstances.”
Anthony said that as someone who had come from a generation who didn’t experience large-scale war – he was one-year-old when an uncle went to Vietnam – he felt the need to pass the stories on to his own generation, and to future generations.
“For us to look at people who had gone through those exerpeicnes that were so different to our own, that’s where I thought they certainly deserve to be recognised,” he said.
“I remember I was only in my 20s when I interviewed a WWI veteran who was 17 when he enlisted and went through the Western Front.
“I was gobsmacked at what he went through.”
Currently Anthony is interviewing Vietnam veterans who live in the Yarra Valley for a book on their experiences.
“For a lot of these guys it’s the first time they’ve actually talked about their experiences and the stories that are coming out of this are extraordinary, everything from quite graphic through to the mundane, the funny and the serious.
“20 years ago I was running around interviewing WWII veterans. A lot of them were the same age as these Vietnam vets are now and they were just starting to open up even then.”
Overwhelmingly it’s clear that the real honour of being so involved in researching, recording and commemorating the local stories of Australia’s military history is the opportunity to meet generations of people who served their country.
“The saying I think is quite fitting is ‘ordinary people who went through extraordinary experiences’ and that’s so true for a lot of these people.
“You wouldn’t know, he’s just the nice old man who lives down the street, but to realise what he has been through in service to this nation; performed these amazing deeds and in extraordinary circumstances … I’ve got to meet some extraordinary people whose stories I will retell until it’s time for me to disappear.”
Of the OAM, Anthony said he is looking forward to sharing the news with his family.
“You can’t do these things without the support of your family and I’m very lucky to have a wife who loves gardening so my time doesn’t have to be spent there.”
No doubt his colleagues in all the organisations in which Anthony serves the Yarra Valley community will also be standing in line to shake his hand and congratulate him on what is an ongoing ‘labour of love’.
‘Seventeen Year Old Soldier-Jim Baddeley Recalls His Great War’, 2016.
‘La Terra Promessa-Italians in The Yarra Valley prior to 1945’, 2015.
‘A Stretcher Bearer’s War-The Story of Ralph Goode MBE’, 2014.
‘The Last Light Horseman-The Joe Clark Story’, 2012.
‘The Shire of Lilydale and its Military Heritage-Vol 2: The First World War’, 1995.
‘The Shire of Lilydale and its Military Heritage-Vol 1: The Colonial Years’, 1994.