The Ballarat Avenue at 22 kilometres is the longest Avenue of Honour in Australia and one of the earliest known memorial avenues to have been planted in Victoria. It represents an egalitarian approach to the commemoration of service personnel where service rank was not a consideration.
Ballarat recently became home to a unique memorial of national significance when the Governor General officially opened the Garden of the Grieving Mother and unveiled its centre piece statue.
The Garden of the Grieving Mother was conceived and designed to complement the adjacent Arch and Avenue of Honour, by drawing attention to the experience of the families left to worry at home while the soldiers and nurses of the Avenue were serving on the other side of the world. The statue was created by Australia’s pre-eminent commemorative sculptor, Peter Corlett OAM.
The Grieving Mother statue now stands as a permanent memorial to the mothers and families at home who experienced the grief and deep anxiety that is the consequence of war, irrespective of the colour or style of uniform being worn at the battle front.
The project was assisted by major grants from both the Commonwealth and State governments, while the Arch of Victory/Avenue of Honour Committee and the City of Ballarat made substantial contributions. The citizens of Ballarat and the business community rallied to a community appeal which raised the remaining funds required to complete the project.
The Avenue of Honour began in May 1917 when Mrs ‘Tillie’ Thomson, a Director of the local textile company E. Lucas & Co, began implementing the idea that trees should be planted in honour of the brave service men and women from Ballarat that enlisted their services in the First Australian Imperial Forces for World War One. This idea was enthusiastically taken up by the employees of the company, and within a month approximately 500 staff, who became known locally as the ‘Lucas Girls’ began planting the Avenue along the Ballarat-Burrumbeet Road.
The first planting took place on 3 June 1917 and comprised 1,000 trees. Work on the Avenue was organised by a committee set up from the Ballarat A.N.A. and Progress Association along with Mrs Thomson, while practical advice and assistance was given by many local gardeners and the Council staff. Although the ‘Lucas Girls’ did the actual planting, local farmers helped by delivering wagon loads of tree guards to the site, while fathers and uncles were enlisted to help dig holes for the new trees.
Two years later, the final planting took place on the 16 August 1919. A total of 3,771 trees now extend over a distance of approximately 22 kilometres along the Ballarat- Burrumbeet Road just to the west of the City. The total cost of the Avenue was a little over £2,000, which was met by the proceeds from various fund raising activities. Having completed the Avenue of Honour, the ‘Lucas Girls’ then set to work to provide a suitable grand entry – the Arch of Victory – which was officially opened by the Prince of Wales on 3rd June 1920. The Arch underwent major restoration works in 2011.
Over time, several other ‘memorials’ have also been added to the Avenue. These included two captured
The Ballarat Avenue of Honour is a significant cultural landscape of national importance and has been classified by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), the Australian Heritage Commission and more recently by Heritage Victoria. The Avenue is the longest and one of the earliest known memorial tree planting of its type, and it represents an egalitarian approach to the commemoration of service personnel where service rank was not a consideration.
Ballarat saw itself as an exemplar of the global movement originating in the mid 1800s to bring nature into cities in the form of parks, avenues and boulevards. Australians, and in particular Victorians, embraced the idea of planting Avenues of Honour more enthusiastically than any other country in the world. A National Survey of War Memorials in 1920-21 indicates that at least 121 Avenues of Honour were planted throughout Australia in response to the First World War. Of these 92 were in Victoria, the majority occurring in the Central Highlands Region.
It is also thought that the concentration of Avenues of Honour in the Central Highlands Region of Victoria The Ballarat Arch of Victory & Avenue of Honour 5 can probably be attributed to the Avenue at Ballarat. Established amidst much interest and enthusiasm, the Ballarat Avenue of Honour was grand in conception and form, and no other Avenue involved so many people or fundraising activities, cost so much, or consisted of so many trees.
Originally 23 different species of trees were planted in the Avenue. These were mostly the traditional ‘European’ or exotic deciduous species popular at the time, including several different types of Ash, Oak, Maple, Alder, Birch, Lime, Poplar and Elm. Each species was usually planted in blocks of about 50 trees (25 either side), however towards the Weatherboard end of the Avenue a slight change was made and two different species were used alternately and planted in blocks of around 100 trees.
Many of the original species used in the Avenue did not flourish and were soon replaced with mostly Elms and Poplars.