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. Exhibition ‘Passage to Pusan’ is the photo-media interpretation of the book by Louise Evans of the same title, creating a visual language in communion with the book, family photographs, diaries, letters and memorabilia. The book tells the beautiful relationship between two mothers who lost a loved one, between two families crossing cultural boundaries, between two nations of Australia and South Korea during the time of hardship. These layers of the story and the relationships have been linked as one through six creative installations.
‘My Trip 여행 일지’
Thelma Healy’s red travel diary opens the story as the first part of the installation, in the same way as the author Louise Evans began her book ‘Passage to Pusan’ with this diary. The story unfolds chronologically like the book’s printed pages displayed on the wall and the story is layered when it is folded in the form of a book. This visual storytelling book rejects the boundary of a beginning and an ending of the story, and tells the story with connections and continuity like the folded pages of the book.
‘Thank You 감사합니다’
340 Australian soldiers died 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 embraced gently on the Korean traditional paper, ‘Hanji’ 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 places. Born in Sandgate Australia, Vince died fighting for democracy in Korea 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 five boats are all on a journey together creating beautiful relationships. The boat symbolises that journey. Thelma’s journey to Pusan began by boarding an ocean liner. The layers of images are the layers of these stories, connecting time and space. Water is the medium of connecting these layers of the stories. Water is the tears. Water is the ocean crossing between Australia and Korea. The floating images on the water of the boat 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 have been layered with the old family photographs to evoke the emphatic sense of the words with the visual image. 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. We hope there would be no more innocent victims in the name of war. We hope the world will be filled with peace and selfless love.
The exhibition is planning to travel to Canberra, Brisbane and South Korea.