Australian journalist Louise Evans found her late grandmother, Thelma Healy’s little red travel diary written with ‘My Trip’ on the cover. Thelma wrote about her brave solo journey to war-torn Pusan, now Busan, in South Korea where her late son is buried. This heart-warming story led Louise to write the book, Passage to Pusan after collecting family documents and sharing memories and stories along with laughs and tears with the Healy family.
Vince Healy, the first child of Thelma Healy was killed in action during the Korean War in 1951 and was buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, Pusan, South Korea. Vince’s death broke Thelma’s heart and robbed his nine siblings of his much-needed financial and emotional support. Being a poor mother with nine other children to feed, it took Thelma 10 years of backbreaking work to save up enough money to make her 8,000km pilgrimage from Brisbane, Australia to Pusan, South Korea to be spiritually reunited with her golden-haired boy. This story moved deeply the Korean War widow Mrs. Kim Chang Keun when she read about Thelma’s journey in a Korean newspaper. Mrs Kim recognised the grief and suffering of a bereaved mother forever separated from her son and his grave, and vowed to become Vince’s Korean mother. She wrote a letter to Thelma, asking to visit Vince’s grave on her behalf. They became pen pals and shared the sorrow of losing a loved one. Mrs. Kim met the Healy family in Brisbane for the first time in 1989, long after Thelma’s death. The extended Healy and Kim families met a second time in 1999 when Mrs. Kim was invited as a guest of the Australian government to attend Anzac Day ceremonies. Mrs. Kim’s granddaughter, Grace E Kim and Thelma Healy’s granddaughter, Louise Evans met for the first time in 2016 in Sydney, where they both live, following Louise’s publication of the book ‘Passage to Pusan’ which explores the close bond between their grandmothers.
This special relationship of an Australian and Korean family continues and has grown stronger from generation to generation. To share this extraordinary story, the Korean Cultural Centre Australia has created a multi-media project Passage to Pusan, visualising it in a documentary film and an exhibition. And I have been the part of this project as the curator and artist, creating the exhibition. Based on the book with the same title, the exhibition, Passage to Pusan is a creative visual interpretation of the book, family photographs, diaries, letters and memorabilia. Through six photo-media installations, the exhibition tells the story of beautiful relationship between two mothers who lost a loved one, between two families crossing cultural boundaries, and between two nations of Australia and South Korea during the time of hardship.
My Trip 여행 일지
Thelma Healy’s red travel diary opens the story as the first part of the installation in a way, the diary motivated the author to write the book, Passage to Pusan. The story unfolds chronologically like pages on the book, beginning with the Thelma’s diary and ending with her granddaughter’s book. When this enlarged book format work is folded, the pages overlap as multi-layers, connecting the story crossing time and generations. Viewers who never have read the book, would be introduced to the story through this work, comprising of both archival images and recent photographs taken during the author’s visit to Korea in 2017.
Thank You 감사합니다
340 Australian soldiers died from fighting for the democracy in Korea during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Each name of the soldiers is typed one by one with wholehearted appreciation for their sacrifice. All names of soldiers are engraved gently on the Korean traditional paper, ‘Hanji’, which embraces the names with it’s warm texture. To mark the beautiful national relations, the Australian national flower, Golden wattle, is arrayed on the top left and the Korean national flower, Hibiscus Syriacus (무궁화), on the top right.
There are five ceramic boats in this exhibition : Vince Healy, Thelma Healy, Mrs. Kim Chang Keun, Sandgate & Pusan, and Korea.
Each boat tells the story of the journey of these people and their places. Born in Sandgate Australia, Vince died in Korean War and was buried in Pusan where the Korean War widow, Mrs. Kim Chang Keun, laid flowers on his grave on behalf of his mother, Thelma. The boat symbolises a journey: Thelma’s journey to Pusan began by boarding on an ocean liner. Water is the ocean crossing between Australia and Korea. Water is tears shed by sadness of losing family members and happiness of gaining friendship. Water is the medium of connecting two layers of past images that are embeded in the ceramic and present images that are floating on the water. The water in the boat also connects present time, allowing the viewers to reflect themselves on the water.
Relations 인연 has been created with the collaboration of the ceramic artist Somchai Charoen based on the project during the residency in ‘Belmore ITCH’.
There are eight letters : two letters from Vince Healy to his mother Thelma, one from Vince to his siblings, one from Vince to his youngest sister Monica, two letters from Thelma Healy to her children, two letters from Mrs. Kim Chang Keun to Thelma Healy.
The original letters printed on transparent sheets have been layered with the old family photographs printed on Hanji to evoke the emphatic sense of the words through the visual images. Reading through these emotional written conversations, love and caring are present. There is no explanation to add when reading every letter’s ending of Vince with the touching greeting to his baby sister, Monica : “P.S. How are you cheeky Monica?”
For Vince 빙스를 위해
Vince Healy was killed in action at Maehwa Mt. South Korea during Operation Woodbine on 7 March 1951 at the age of 24. Since he was buried at the UN Memorial Cemetery in Pusan South Korea, there have been five significant visits to Vince’s grave.
The first visit was Vince’s brother James Healy on 15 March 1956 when he was serving in the army in South Korea. And 10 years after Vince’s death, her mother Thelma Healy visited her son’s grave on 1 May 1961. After reading the story of Thelma’s pilgrimage to her son’s grave, Korean war widow Mrs. Kim Chang Keun visited Vince’s grave on the behalf of Thelma. On 24 October 2011, Vince’s sister Geraldine and her son, Colonel Patrick Evans, visited Vince’s grave when they were invited by the South Korean Government as part of the commemorations for 60th anniversary of the Korean War. On 17 May 2017, Louise Evans, Vince’s niece, Geraldine’s daughter and author of the book ‘Passage to Pusan’, visited Vince’s grave. Here those visits have been arrayed next to each other to connect the families crossing time and also to indicate them as continuous events rather than a separate one. There were much more than five visits. Mrs. Kim Chang Keun visited Vince’s grave on his birthday and UN Memorial Ceremony Day every year except when she was sick in bed until she passed away in 2014. And there are unknown Korean visitors, appreciating Vince’s sacrifice for the land where they stand and live peacefully. We kneel at Vince’s grave. We kneel at the Australian soldiers’ graves.
Love & Peace 사랑과 평화
We lay a white chrysanthemum on each grave of an Australian soldier who died while fighting during the Korean War to wish their peace and to console their bereaved families. We appreciate their sacrifice for democracy and peace. The white chrysanthemum symbolises appreciation and sincerity and Koreans use them as condolence garlands in funerals where they share the sorrow of losing loved and respected ones. Mrs. Kim Chang Keun also laid white chrysanthemums on Vince’s grave with love and appreciation.
The Korean peninsula has been divided in two with the 38 parallel line and the long armistice agreement since 1953. I hope there would be no more innocent victims under the name of war. I hope the world filled with peace and selfless love.
Exhibition : 23 June ~ 1 September 2017, Korean Cultural Centre Sydney Australia