The Price of Identity

war 1

The officially opening of the Bulli Woonona War Memorial 1924

By MICK ROBERTS ©

I BELIEVE he would have been there for sure – not in the official party, or as a dignitary, but more likely standing to the back, watching as the Bulli Woonona War Memorial was unveiled in 1924.

The cenotaph – which once sat on the corner of Hopetoun Street and the Princes Highway – bears the name of my great uncle, Jens Orvad. He was the son of a Danish immigrant; he was a coal miner at Coledale whose life was cut short in the name of forging an Australian identity.

Jim Orvad's name on the Bulli Woonona Memorial at Slacky Flat, Bulli.

Jim Orvad’s name on the Bulli Woonona Memorial at Slacky Flat, Bulli.

In a community that favoured Jack over John, Bill over William, Jens was better known as James, so I will refer to him as Jim in this story. He didn’t single handily change history. Except for the fact he fought on the battle fields in Turkey and France, his life wasn’t overly remarkable, and he didn’t leave any major stamp on life – he never married, and he had no children. Jim did, however, participate in something important. He took part in Australian history, for which he paid the ultimate price, and for which he should be respected and remembered.

On a monument at Slacky Flat, Bulli – where the cenotaph has been relocated – you can find his misspelt name.

Three days after his name was officially immortalised in lead, within a marble tablet, Jim was found dead, lying on the grass near Bulli’s Sandon Point boat sheds. He was 47 – one of the victims of forging an identity.

Jim was born in 1877, the same year his Danish father, Jents Peter Oluf Orvad opened a pub in Bulli. Jim was just 14 when his dad died.

As a young man he would have helped, along with his brothers, sisters and mother, run the Denmark Hotel. He was one of the children who sat and watched for the coaches descending the Bulli Pass from the pub’s lookout tower, yelling a warning to his parents to prepare, as their customers’ arrived. A student of the nearby Bulli Public School, Jim hardly differed to other teenagers in the coal mining village. His older brother, John was revered in Bulli as a hero of the Boer war – he had medals, and had gained respectability.

There’s little doubt, younger brother Jim looked up to him.

John Orvad's grave stone in France

John Orvad’s grave stone in France

Born in 1873, John Orvad enlisted in the Second NSW Mounted Rifle Company’s 8th Regiment in 1899 to fight in South Africa. After a distinguished military career, he returned to Bulli in 1902. The Illawarra Mercury reported in January that he was given a banquet at the Railway Hotel on his return. Jim was at the impressionable age of 28 when John died just three years later at the age of 32 in 1905.

In his early 30s, Jim was said to like a drink, and he copped a few fines for drunkenness. He wasn’t married, and no doubt, he was looking for a direction – a way forward in his life. Then in 1914 came a way out – the Great War. The adventures of the European battle fields, in contrast to fighting a war for an empire, I reckon, was JIm’s motivation for signing-up for battle in October 1914.

On enlistment, Jim was five feet seven inches (167 cms) tall and weighed 10 stone six pounds (67kgs). He had blue eyes, and had a fair complexion. The Bulli coal miner was signed to H Company, in the 13th Battalion infantry, training for five months in Egypt before heading to ANZAC Cove on Gallipoli. He was wounded on May 3 1915, suffering a number of injuries, including rheumatic fever, shell shock, and the effects of mustard gas.

The South Coast Times reported on July 16 1915 that Private Jim Orvad had written to his brother Nicholas, telling him he was in a Birmingham hospital. He described the fighting as “incredible”, and the heroic actions of the Australian soldiers.  Jim was discharged as a “complete invalid” in August 1915, and while sailing home, another Orvad – his nephew – was on his way to Europe.

John’s father, John senior was the late brother of Jim – the Boer War veteran. John Junior was 19 when he signed-up  to fight in the Great War in January 1916.

Jim wasn’t back in Australia long. He arrived in Melbourne in June 1916, and by December had re-enlisted in the Railway Unit. By July 1917 Private Sapper Jim Orvad was on the battle fields of France once again, before he was injured and discharged.

Meanwhile, after numerous battle injuries, Jim’s nephew, John was killed in action on May 26 1918 in France. He was buried at Le-Peuplier Military Cemetery on May 17 1918 – the same month his uncle, Jim was discharged.

The Bulli Woonona Cenotaph at Slacky Flat Bulli 2015

The Bulli Woonona Cenotaph at Slacky Flat Bulli 2015

At the age of 41, Jim was back in Sydney and living in an inner-Sydney boarding house. He was awarded the British Medal, (issue number 7281), and Victory Medal (7148) before – a shattered man – making his way back home to Bulli, where he continued to enjoy his ‘glass’ and fishing with mates from a boat that was kept at the Bulli boat sheds.

In October 1918 Jim was entertained with a few other returned servicemen at Woonona’s Princess Theatre.

Today, Jim more than likely would have been diagnosed as suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – then he had ‘nerves’. My great uncle was found dead on Sandon Point in 1924 – just a few days after his name was immortalised on a memorial – he is one of the consequences of creating Australian identity.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday April 29 1924:

BULLI WAR MEMORIAL. BULLI, Monday. In the presence of a large number of residents and visitors, Mr. J. S. Kirton, formerly president of the Bulli Shire Council, unveiled a monument to the memory of 242 men of the Bulli-Woonona district, who served in the war, The memorial, which is erected on the corner of Hopetown [Hopetoun] -street and the Prince’s Highway, on land donated by Mr. George Clark, is a Dorie freestone column, surmounted by an urn. The names of the 40 men who were killed or died upon active service are inscribed on a marble tablet on the front of the pedestal, and the names of those who also served are placed upon the tablets on the other sides. The proceedings were conducted by Councillor M’Naughton (President of the Bulli Shire). The memorial cost £400, which has been raised owing to the efforts of the War Memorial Committee. He announced that the widow of every soldier who had fallen was presented with a cottage, which had been erected by the Voluntary Workers’ Committee.

The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday May 16 1924:

MAGISTERIAL INQUIRY. At a magisterial inquiry conducted by Mr. McMahon, S.M., at Bulli on Tuesday into the death of John [Jim] Jacob Orvad, a finding was returned of death of natural causes. It will be remembered that Orvad started fishing off Sandon Point, Bulli, one day last month with two friends, and as he became ill he was put a shore, where he lay down, but was afterwards found dead.

Bulli-Woonona Honour Roll.
* Died for his country.
A. Artis, C. Anderson, L. Annes – Barlogio, *J. Baker, E. Baker, H Baker, J. Baker, E. Bourke, E. Bovis, *W. Brown, J. Brown, A. Brown, J Brady, J. Burrows, A. Beverage, W. Bishop, V. Bishop, A. Barrett, J. Bell, R. Bray, F. Brodie, W. Baxter, A. Barker, R. Bennett, T. Birks, T. Barton, W. Bayne, *A. Cochrane, H. Clarke, T. Coulton, L. Chandler, T Colliss, H. Clarke, J. Crane, W. Chapman, *W. Cleary, T. Carrick, J. Carrick, L. Cameron, J. Cummings, T. Clarke, L. Clarke, G. Chamberlain, T. Critcher, F. Critcher, H. Critcher, *J. Croft, H. Gorney, L. Cracknell, C. Christiansen, W. Christiansen, G. Dalstrom, J. Davidson, Jas. Davidson, W. Davies, A. Davis, A. Davis, J. Dear, J. Dennis, W. Dennis, J. Downie, W. Downie, A. Downie, R. Driscoll, T. Evans, W. Evans, A. Edmunds, T. Edwards, J Foster, J. Fowler, C. Fowler, J. Fletcher, E. Fletcher, D Fletcher, A. Fletcher, R. Frew, L. Frew, C. Frew, W. Fuller, J. Griffen, D. Goble, J. Gallagher, W. Graham, H. Graham, A. Graham, C. Graham, G. Gribbon, A. Greenhalgh; E. Haines, J. Hargraves, A. Hargraves, C. Hause, P. Head, W. Herring, C Heninger, W. Hetherington, H. Henderson, H. Hoy, A. Hume, E. Hunter, A. Hunter, R. Hunter, T. Hill, A. Hill, O. Heard, H. Herdman, J. Harris, H. Hayes, R. Jeeksen, J. Jacks, T. S. Jones, J. Jones, S. Jones, B. Jonas, H. Jones, R. Johnston, J. Johnstone, H. Kimbrey, J. Knight, B. Kirton, S. Lacey, G. Lacey, G. Lewis, A. Leeming, C. Longhurst, F. Martin, T. Mawer, S. Marsh, S.Marsh, G. F. Mason, F. Mant, S. Meehan, E. Meredith, L. Meredith, R. Madgwick, W. Morris, E. Morris, J. Moore, R. Millard, O. Murray, R Murray, Dr. McPherson, D. McDonald, C. McKinnon, T. McMurtrie, J. B. Nicholson, D. Nichol, W. Nelson, J. Newton, P. Nobes, A. Nobes, A. Narbeth, E. Narbeth, T. Narbeth, W. G. Owen, J. Owens, J. Orvad, Dr. Palmer, J. Parker, R. Patmore, H. Phipps, C. Pritchard, A. Pritchard, E. Perkins, E. Polglaise, H. Polglaise, E. Quinn, H. Rees, W. Rees, W. J. R. Richardson, Nurse Richardson, V. Richardson, H. Richardson, Kem Rixon, K. Rixon, J. Riordan, W. Riordan, H. Roberts, W. Salisbury, J. J. Salisbury, J. C Salisbury, J. Sheather, P. Sheather, R. Schofield,
W. Schofield, J. Smith, J. R Smith, J. Smith, T. Stone, F. Shaw, C. Shaw, H. Starr, J. Sandfier, E. Stewart, J. Seery, R. Smith, B. Sheppard, R. Stubbs, G. Schadel. B. Tregoning, E. Tregoning, O. Taylor, A. Tresidder, R. Tresidder, B, Thomas, H. Thomas, W. Thurman, C. Tolhurst, P. Tucker, R Turner, B C. Upton, H. Upton, A. Veigel, W. Waters, A. Waters, J. Watson, W. West, C Walker, W. Williams, J. Williams, W. Williams, W. Welsh, O. Weipport, J. Wonson, R Woods, W. Washbourne, F. Westwood, G. Woods, T. Watson.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015

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