AS local residents we are all very familiar with the excellent display of war memorabilia that is featured at the entrance of the Bombala RSL Club.
From medals through to photographs, hats and even cross stitched samplers, the display has long been a point of interest for locals and visitors alike.
The Bombala RSL Sub-Branch has always been a proud keeper of these and other historical items, but readers will have no doubt heard that one particular piece has just recently excited great interest.
In the 1920s, famed artist, Hilda Rix Nicholas gifted the Bombala RSL Sub-Branch with a striking drawing of a WWI soldier, which was gratefully accepted and hung within the club.
On realising the value of the piece in recent times, the Sub-Branch members unanimously decided to contact the Australian War Memorial so it could be passed on for public display, ensuring the entire country could appreciate it.
The story of the drawing’s discovery, and the Bombala RSL’s generosity in sharing it with the War Memorial, was told in the following article by Sally Pryor in the August 20 Canberra Times -
Bombala’s young solder marches to memorial
For the past 80 years, a young man in uniform, rendered in pen and ink, has been putting people at ease at the Bombala RSL.
Roughly framed and gently faded, the picture resembles something you might find on the walls of your grandparents' living room.
But when a curator at the Australian War Memorial got wind that the drawing was by Hilda Rix Nicholas, the Bombala members suddenly realised they had been holding on to a national treasure.
The artist had given the work to the RSL after she moved to nearby Delegate in 1928, where she settled with her second husband and built a French provincial-style studio in the middle of a sheep paddock.
More than eight decades later, the RSL has donated the drawing to the memorial, where it can be seen and appreciated by generations to come.
The work was discovered when memorial curator Alex Torrens, as part of her research into Nicholas' wartime work, travelled to the RSL to photograph the work for the memorial's records.
The head of art at the memorial, Ryan Johnston, said the image had been more significant than expected, as the man in the drawing looked to be the same model used on one of the artist's major works in the collection.
He said it was likely these early works had been a kind of therapy for Nicholas, who had lost her mother and sister during the war, as well as her first husband, who was killed in action within weeks of their marriage.
“This became kind of a therapeutic thing, where all of her models were returned servicemen,” he said.
“But they were all unemployed at the time as well, so she was sort of helping them at the same point as depicting them, so I think there is kind of a therapeutic angle to this work.”
Bombala RSL president Rob Letts said although the man in the drawing had never been identified, and members would not have known the artist's background, the image was significant because many had relatives who had fought in the First World War.
“He represents that era,” he said.
“He links back to all those terrible times in history. He's a very Aussie, strong bloke, looks as though he's been there and done that.”
He said the decision to donate the work had been unanimous among members. “We realised that most of us didn't know very much about it, and it was sitting on our wall and we weren't appreciating what we had there,” he said.
“It had to go to a better place.”
Mr Johnston said the work was a timely acquisition, particularly as there was recently a major exhibition of Nicholas' works at the National Portrait Gallery.
''It's very rare to find works by her from the First World War that remain in private or non-public collections, so it's a very major acquisition in that respect, and just such a fantastic story as well,'' he said.
He said while it was difficult to determine the value of the work, it would likely fetch at least $10,000 at auction.
Photographs courtesy of Jeffrey Chan, Canberra Times.