State Library of Victoria appeals for funds to conserve Walter and Helena Cass collection
They thrived during a time of global warfare and economic depression.
Walter Cass was a decorated World War I soldier. His wife Helena was a Canadian army nurse who became a pioneering journalist.
The physical remnants of their remarkable lives are boxed up at the State Library of Victoria.
But now, the library has launched an appeal to raise $100,000 to sort through and conserve the items, unlocking the stories within them and making them accessible to researchers and members of the public.
Couple met in Fremantle
There are thousands of photographs, letters and other items, which the library acquired a few years ago.
Together the objects tell the story of how the couple met in 1909 when Helena Holmes’s holiday cruise stopped off at the West Australian port of Fremantle.
Walter Cass, already a veteran of the Boer War, went on to fight with distinction at the Gallipoli landing and the battle of Fromelles.
Brigadier Cass was injured and sent to England for treatment, where he was reunited with his love interest.
The couple married in 1916 and returned to Australia where military training roles saw the couple live in Adelaide, Hobart and Brisbane before settling in Melbourne.
Walter Cass led the funeral procession for Sir John Monash in 1931. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Walter led funeral procession for Monash
Librarian Shona Dewar said Brigadier Cass, as commandant of the Victoria Barracks, arranged the 1931 funeral for one of Australia’s greatest military leaders, Sir John Monash, before his own death about a month later.
“The fact that he was appointed to organise Monash’s funeral gives you some indication of his importance,” Ms Dewar said.
Helena Cass was left to raise the couple’s only child Angela and forged a successful career in journalism.
Mrs Cass’s granddaughter Diana Cousens said it was a significant feat for a single mother in the 1930s.
“She was a successful journalist and she continued writing for three decades,” Dr Cousens said.
“It was quite an unusual thing for a woman in the 30s, 40s and 50s to be a successful journalist.”
Walter and Helena Cass’s granddaughter Diana Cousens said there were few female journalists in her grandmother’s era. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Helena a pioneering female journalist
Helena Cass wrote for publications including The Age, The Advertiser of Adelaide and Harper’s Magazine, as well as broadcasting on the ABC and BBC.
Shona Dewar said Mrs Cass’s writing covered a wide range of subjects.
“She would write about Anzac Day and its meaning and royalty seemed to be an interest and royal chapels in England,” she said.
“Sicily seemed to appeal, in particular, so very wide-ranging, she wasn’t just confined to the women’s pages in the paper.”
Mrs Cass went on a speaking tour of the United States and England in the late 1930s, providing information about Australian life.
State Library of Victoria librarian Shona Dewar said some of the items in the collection need specialist conservation work. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Diana Cousens’s childhood memories of her grandmother are of a woman who was friendly but “very grand” and at times “a little aloof”.
“I remember her cooking for me, for example, and I remember her going off in 1965 to the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing,” she said.
Mrs Cass died later that year.
Shona Dewar said while the Walter and Helena Cass collection is safely housed at the library, it needs sorting out.
“A lot of the materials need specialist housing… and some specialist conservation work,” she said.
Some of the items from the Walter and Helena Cass collection, including examples of Helena Cass’s journalism and her nursing uniform.
(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Library hoping to raise $100,000 for conservation work
“It’s something that is perhaps a little too large for our ordinary resources to cope with, so we would like to raise some money especially to be able to give it the attention that it deserves.”
The library is hoping to raise $100,000 to fund the conservation process, which could take 18 months.
That would allow the collection to be searched, allowing researchers and other members of the public to access the materials.
Library chief executive Kate Torney said the items provided a fascinating insight into both their lives and world events.
“The extraordinary story of Walter and Helena Cass is one that deserves to be told,” she said.
“They were remarkable individuals.”
Those wanting to donate to the appeal have until the end of June.
A 1931 note from Helena Cass’s diary in which she recounts telling her daughter Angela that her father had died. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)