In 1929 Australian artist Daphne Mayo set to work on Queensland’s state memorial. The monument took the shape of a circular colonnade, a ring of Doric columns modelled on an ancient temple in Greece. Mayo’s memorial was set beneath it—a tribute by the women of Queensland to their men who marched to war. In Mayo’s memorial they are marching still. The bar relief shows a procession of warriors, their heads tilted slightly down in stoic resolution, a horse-drawn gun carriage central to their train. The image is sombre, almost funereal; they are ‘marching as to war but also to a burial’. And, ironically perhaps for the women’s memorial, it is overwhelmingly masculine. Daphne Mayo had suggested a design highlighting women’s war effort at home and overseas. The committee opted instead for a tribute to branches of the armed services—and the single figure of a nurse can barely be seen.
Carving the memorial was a physical and an emotional labour for Daphne. Physically she was never very strong and she suffered with chronic asthma. Frail and exhausted, Daphne would rise early in the morning hoping to escape the heat of Brisbane’s sun.
But it was not just the heat that was taxing. Daphne carved her figures with devotion; mindful that in the faces of those soldiers, sailors and airmen, mothers, wives and sweethearts would see the men they’d lost. And leading the procession is her own brother Richard, a lad who went to war at twenty-two, served in Egypt and died of war-related causes six years after the fighting had ended. Daphne had cut her own grief into stone.