A landscape painting of the city of Rouen by Arthur Streeton

First World War

Learning resources for secondary History and History Extension students

Our historic photograph collection documents the lives of Australians before, during and after the First World War at home and overseas. We have curated a selection of images for use in teaching and learning. 

These photographs are a valuable source of primary evidence and can be approached individually, in small groupings or as a set. We have developed some questions and prompts to get you started.
  • We have more portraits in our collection than any other kind of photograph to do with WW1. Why you you think soldiers had their photographs taken before leaving for the front?
  • Over 3000 Australian women served as nurses overseas during WW1, what kinds of challenges do you think they faced and where would you go looking for evidence for their experiences?
  • What kinds of new roles do you think women took on at home and in the workplace? 
  • Different ranks and sections of the Army had different uniform requirements, this is one way we can learn more about these photographs. Make a list of all the different kinds of uniforms you can see in the photographs, and then research them.
  • Compare all the photographs from the front, what are some of the descriptive words that come to mind? How well do you think the photographs reflect the experiences of the soldiers?
  • Many of our portraits are annotated with "The Warren" - a stately home in Marrickville, NSW which was repurposed as an artillery training camp. See what information you can find out about The Warren, local history societies are a good place to start.
  • The Roll of Honour and the landscape painting, Rouen by Arthur Streeton, featured at the top of the page were presented together to honour the staff and students who enlisted in the army in 1914. Why do you think they picked this peaceful scene and why this city? 
  • During the war Arthur Streeton took on the role of official war artist, while the photographer Frank Hurley was an official war photographer. Why do you think the government would fund recording the war in this way? What kinds of bias and context do we need to take into account when using this material?

WW1 and the Pacific

Often WW1 is thought of as an event which only occurred in Europe and the Middle East, fitting neatly between the years 1914 and 1918. Of course the reality is that the conflict was global, affecting many countries and territories for years after Armistice. The photographic print below was taken after the end of the war and is of the town of Rabaul, in what is now Papua New Guinea. Australia’s first military campaign of the war was not in Gallipoli, but in September 1914 when Australian troops attacked the German colony then called German New Guinea, with the German governor in Rabaul surrendering soon after. This was Australia’s first military action as an independent nation. After the war and the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations authorised Australia to administer the colony which would have a profound effect on the development of the modern nation of Papua New Guinea.

  • What impact did European, and then Australian, colonial occupation have upon Papua New Guinea?
  • Why do you think the story of Australia’s military action in the Pacific during WW1 is not better known?
Photographic Print, William J. Jackson, Rabaul Capital of New Guinea, East New Britain province, Papua New Guinea, 1929

Photographic Print,  Rabaul Capital of New Guinea, Photographer: William J. Jackson, East New Britain province, Papua New Guinea, 1929  


Extension Activity

'This is the way that our Australians work at their guns, the [sic] always strip to the waist, as they may have to work for an hour they stop when the guns get too hot to fire...'
Vince, 1916
Postcard with image of Australian soldiers manning a large gun

Postcard, Hot work by Australian gunners, Photographer: Unknown, France, 1916

Historians often work directly with primary sources; this 1916 postcard brings together a photograph of Australian soldiers at war with a personal account of the war by an Australian soldier called Vince. Start by transcribing Vince's letter, then compare the letter with the photograph.

What can the letter tell us that the image can't? 

Portrait of a WW1 soldier in uniform with slouch hat

Portrait of  W. McGrath, Photographer: Kerry and Co, Sydney, 1916 (detail)

This resource brings together just a small selection of our historic photographs; discover more by searching the collection or accessing the help guide.

Featured image (top of the page): Arthur Streeton, Rouen, 1912