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Our gift to the nation

A treasure trove of Australian history is being safeguarded for future generations with the gifting of our archives to the University of Melbourne.

Thursday May 19, 2016

Australian Red Cross volunteers during WWII
Red Cross volunteers cared for returned servicemen during WWII at the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital in Queensland. Photo: Australian Red Cross

We're donating a huge collection of items from the last 100 years in three instalments. The second transfer of archival boxes - within which are countless precious stories of Australians helping one another and supporting communities overseas - has just been completed.

Objects with stories to tell

Australian Red Cross Archivist Moira Drew says boxes hold many gems, such as storpedoettes - "padded tubes with parachute attached, developed in the 1950s and used for dropping blood supplies from aeroplanes".

"There is always something to learn from the archives," she says. "Did you know during World War One Australian Red Cross sent launch drivers to Mesopotamia to assist the British Red Cross, ferrying goods and personnel on the Tigris River? Or that Red Cross was involved in the very early days of occupational therapy, music therapy and social work education in Australia?"

The boxes hold treasures and curios ranging from WWII index cards listing enquiries about prisoners of war, to old magazines, to vinyl records used in music therapy programs.

Five years to transfer a century of history

Handing over, cataloguing, curating and digitising these photographs, documents and objects is a mammoth task, which is why Red Cross and the University of Melbourne are teaming up to complete the process over a five-year period. The first transfer of Red Cross archives was in 2014.

Red Cross was formed in Australia in 1914 in the early days of WWI. Starting out as a small group of women focused on war relief, we grew rapidly to include people from all walks of life wanting to make a difference.

"The consistent theme that comes through in our archives is the enormous contribution made by supporters over the years, largely unsung champions, responding to needs in a myriad ways," says Moira.

Something for everyone

Children joined Junior Red Cross to support other children around the world doing it tough and build an ethos of community service. Nearly half a million people came together during WWII to support soldiers and prisoners of war, making Red Cross the largest charitable organisation in Australia.

Our programs are all driven by volunteers, making the story of Red Cross the story of thousands of everyday Australians.

We're calling the donation of these archives our 'gift to the nation' because of the richness and value to Australia. Find out more about the history of Australian Red Cross.