Half a metre below the hallowed grounds of the Blaxland/Glenbrook RSL sub-branch memorial land, half a kilogram of soil was carefully collected by the NSW Upper House government whip Natasha Maclaren-Jones and the community as part of an Anzac commemoration.
The site was dug out by government surveyor Joseph Cosentino on Monday November 27, one of hundreds of sites he will visit over the next eight months from Wollongong to Wyong and all over Sydney to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, with the soil eventually displayed in a new Hall of Service memorial at Hyde Park to honour servicemen and women from the Great War.
Twenty six soldiers enlisted for service in the Glenbrook and Blaxland area during the First World War.
“They gave up everything when they enlisted to fight,” RSL sub-branch president John Wakefield told the assembled guests who included local, state and federal MPs, business people, students and teachers from Blaxland and Glenbrook Public Schools and St Finbars, and numerous RSL members, including war veteran Ron Aussel, aged 101, who was born during the First World War and was part of the defence against the Japanese in the second.
Each student had a chance to collect the soil. Blaxland Public School captain Charlotte Bailey told the assembled group that some of the Anzacs had “only been teenagers, they were incredibly brave”.
The soil (and the GPS code marking where it has come from) will go through a special treatment process – to ensure nothing grows in it. It will find its final home on the wall at the Hall of Service, an extension of the Anzac Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park at the end of next year with almost 1700 other sites.
During the First World War, it was not possible for the bodies of fallen soldiers to be returned for burial on home soil. First World War battle site cemeteries remain places of commemoration today and their soil samples will be embedded into the floor of the memorial.
The project was designed by contemporary artist Fiona Hall. When commissioned Ms Hall said: "Many of these sites are engraved in our national psyche: they are signifiers of the service and sacrifice of our military personnel and are names that have shaped and defined our sense of nationhood today."
Locations have been compiled by the Office for Veterans Affairs from the AIF Project database of First World War enlistees. Sixteen sites have been nominated in the Blue Mountains, with most of the soil samples set for collection in the next few months.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is still hoping to hear from the communities of Blaxland, Faulconbridge, Valley Heights, Wentworth Falls and Leura, but otherwise government surveyors, like Mr Cosentino, will collect the soil there.
This is a joint project between the NSW Office for Veterans Affairs, the Department of Finance, Services and Information – Spatial Services and the Geographical Names Board of NSW.
The project will mark the end of commemorations of the Centenary of Anzac next year.