A NEWCASTLE labour of love to restore what could be Australia’s oldest national flag on display has been celebrated in the National Trust Heritage Awards.
Dr Patricia Gillard and her colleagues joined forces after the historic 1917 Birdwood Flag was found in pieces and helped bring it back to life for its centenary, plus ensured it was displayed once more in Christ Church Cathedral.
She said the Birdwood Heritage Committee – which includes the Dean of Newcastle, Dr Rosemary Barnard, retired Major Roland Millbank and Dr Amir Mogadam – was “surprised and thrilled” its work had been shortlisted in the awards’ interior and objects category.
The winner will be announced on Friday.
“This project has been really deeply ground in the community, both in 1916-1917 and a century later in 2016-2017,” Dr Gillard said.
“We’re up against two million-dollar projects by architects and we sit in there as a quirky, moving sort of project – that’s what makes this so special.
“We’re thrilled, we don’t assume we’ll get the prize but we’ll just be happy to be there.”
A public appeal – bolstered by the sale of flowers organised by the Newcastle Field Force Fund and its secretary Dora Sparke – funded the creation of the flag, which was intended to fly at the headquarters of General William Birdwood, Commander of the Australian Imperial Force.
It was presented to him in Belgium in 1917.
Dr Gillard said at the time, the country was divided about whether it should continue to use the Union Jack as its national flag, or have its own.
“It would seem that Dora was determined that our fighting men should have an Australian flag and that sense of identity as Australian.”
A red ensign was used by the people, while public buildings flew the now-official blue ensign.
After the war, General Birdwood personally returned the flag to Ms Sparke and it was hung in the cathedral.
Then-Dean of Newcastle Stephen Williams found the flag’s silk fragments in a shoebox inside a safe in 2013.
Communication researcher Dr Gillard helped form the committee at the end of 2014.
The group received more than $99,000 in grants and engaged International Conservation Services Sydney’s Skye Firth and Gail Hamilton to work with fragments so fragile they could not be glued or stitched.
Instead, they lay a sheet of tulle, arranged the puzzle of fragments into place and then covered it with another layer of tulle.
Running stitches were used to connect the layers of tulle around - but did not pierce - each fragment.
“There’s no backing behind the blue fragments so you see emptiness and get a sense part of it is missing, so it is a troubling flag and a reminder that everyone has a role to play in public life.”