Members may recall seeing an old photo of a statue of a WWI Digger on a white plinth in the centre of the award-winning garden at the Tramsheds.

When the City commissioned a landscape plan for the new 3.8 ha park stretching from Wigram Rd to the Tramsheds, the consultants attempted to commemorate the old garden, and proposed a large sculpted rose to substitute for the missing Digger. But was the Digger really missing? According to historian Max Solling, when the Tramsheds was closed in 1958 and its services replaced by the Leichhardt Bus Depot, the Memorial went with them.

Jan and I headed off to the Depot and found the Digger standing on a replacement brick plinth tucked away outside an office at the back of the Depot. We wangled an interview with the Depot Manager, and told her about the Memorial’s history and where it really belonged. She believed it was still used at Anzac Day ceremonies by the Depot workers and drivers.

Armed with this information and photos we made a submission to the City that the Memorial should be reinstalled at Harold Park, rather than the proposed rose (response to amended DA, 12 March 2014). Consequently the City appears to have contacted the Bus Depot, and was informed that RSL members there wished to keep the Digger.

Clearly it was time to bring in the big guns, so we approached Ted McKeown to see if we could influence the RSL through the Society’s main contact, Rod Holtham, an active and well-known veteran who is President of the Combined Services RSL sub-branch and who also played an important role on the Society’s WWI Commemorative Exhibition in October, 2015 (begun 2012). The RSL soon made it clear that they wanted the Digger returned to its original position at the Tramsheds.

With the support of Councillors, the Society succeeded in persuading the City to commit to restoring the Digger and returning the Statue to its original position (2 June 2014). Ted and Rod pursued the matter, and the City finally committed itself to restoration of both Digger and plinth. More recent contact with Eva Rodriguez confirmed the City proposed to complete the restoration by 11 November, 2018, for the 100th Anniversary.

There are several unusual aspects to this Memorial. First, it was funded by workers at the Tramsheds to commemorate their co-workers who were killed at Gallipoli. Second, it was commissioned and completed in 1916, far too early to commemorate casualties on the Western Front, as suggested by the ABC report. It appears to be the second memorial in Australia, predated only by the Memorial in Loyalty Square, Balmain. Third, it portrays a young Digger in summer kit of open neck, short sleeve shirt and shorts, and this increases its impression of youth and vigour.

Here are the other details from the ABC report on 25 August 2018:

The memorial was commissioned by staff at the Rozelle tramsheds in Sydney in 1916, and it was cast in cement by Irish-Australian sculptor Edwin McGowan. It was the first in Australia to depict a digger and the first to be installed at a workplace.

‘What’s interesting is that he [the statue] was paid for not by the government but by the comrades, mates of the tramshed workers’. Julian Bickersteth, whose company is carrying out the restoration work, said. ‘He’s really important in the history of war memorials here in Sydney.’

Specialist conservator Annick Vuissoz works carefully to restore the statue. (Image: Ursula Malone, ABC News)