New Zealand born Cyril Ballard enlisted in the A.I.F in Sydney in 1916, aged 28. He was a records clerk, living quietly in the Northern Beaches suburb of Narrabeen with his wife Harriet and two children. Lance Corporal Ballard served in France as a machine gunner. His military record shows that he was hospitalized on several occasions suffering from scabies, trench fever and the effects of mustard gas. He was medically discharged in 1919 after falling ill with pneumonia. In the years ahead he struggled, as so many did, with shell-shock.
A CRY FOR HELP
In 1927 Cyril Ballard applied to the Workers’ Compensation Commission for £25 in lost wages. He was employed by the Main Roads Board and said that working many hours of overtime had led to a nervous collapse and time off work. The Commission denied any liability, stating that his breakdown was most likely due to the effects of his war service. The condition we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was then little understood, The judge, in handing down his decision to refuse compensation, commented that Ballard’s work in the records branch was ‘quite simple and involved no particular strain.’ (Labor Weekly, March 30 1927)
In the end Cyril was unable to work full-time. He received a small pension and earned a little more working with his son, making boxes. Unfortunately, business declined as the Great Depression deepened, putting him under even more stress. By late summer 1934 he was seeing a psychiatrist regularly in Macquarie Street, usually accompanied by his wife. One day he decided to go to his city appointment alone, and Harriet waved him off from the front door.
Whether he actually saw the doctor that day was not reported, but he failed to return home. Days and weeks passed and he made no contact with his distraught family. Cyril was officially listed as missing, and as time went by, presumed dead. Had he taken his own life? Harriet refused to contemplate such a thing, and never stopped believing that her beloved husband would return.
THE CALL OF HOME
Just before Christmas extraordinary news was reported from Adelaide;
THERE WAS A STIR IN THE NATIONAL ART GALLERY HERE TODAY WHEN A MAN STANDING TRANSFIXED BEFORE AN OIL PAINTING OF NARRABEEN LAKES BEGAN TO DISTURB THE CUSTOMARY SILENCE OF THE GREAT CHAMBER WITH A SERIES OF DISJOINTED AND ALMOST INCOHERANT SENTENCES.
‘I know that place. It’s where I live. My God, where are my wife and family? Where have I been?….where am I?‘
Cyril experienced a flood of recollection as he gazed at the painting and the familiar image of Narrabeen Lake with the cliffs rising behind. The picture was by New South Wales artist Sydney Long (1871-1955) and titled The Blue Lagoon.
I wonder whether Mr Long was made aware of the transformative power of his image?
Cyril was rushed to Creswick Memorial Hospital for treatment. As he recovered, he had a remarkable story to tell, He had wandered through three states; ‘I now remember being in Melbourne with two other ‘hoboes’ – for that is what I had apparently become. I don’t know how I got there.‘ (Sun, December 16 1934) Fortunately someone in Melbourne took him to the labour exchange. Goodness knows what he told them about his background, but work was found for him on a sheep station at Edenhope, near the South Australian border. It was a completely alien environment for a man so used to city life. Not surprisingly he left, making his way to Adelaide, and into the art gallery.
Harriet was overjoyed when she heard the news, and as amazed as everyone else to find that her husband had travelled so far. When he left for his doctor’s appointment he only had ten shillings in his pocket.
Cyril’s war record shows that even after this experience he never gave up trying to find suitable employment. In 1937 he applied for a copy of his lost discharge papers when applying for a position with the Federal Public Service.
We can only hope that he was able to settle down and enjoy life with his family. He died in 1966, aged 79.
My since thanks to Heather Brooks from the Art Gallery of South Australia for tracking down a very special painting.