Every person, every place and every event in our past has a story.
This is the story of Les Darcy
In the National Museum of Australia there is a brass locket with hidden treasure inside: a lock of hair and a small photograph. The grinning face in the photograph belongs to Les Darcy, the champion boxer from East Maitland who left Australia during the First World War, amid accusations of cowardice, to pursue his sport in the United States. Darcy died in Memphis in May 1917, his girlfriend Winnie O’Sullivan by his side. Winnie kept the locket with her for the rest of her life and it now resides in the National Museum.
Les Darcy became a folk hero; his story is one of the many hundreds told in the National Museum of Australia.
It is a story in which you feel for the simple sportsman, fronting the thrilled crowds and the indignant politicians. It is a story played out against a big historical event — the war that seems to grow disproportionately bigger in the public imagination the further we get away from it.
It is a story compressed into an object no bigger than a few centimetres.
Winnie O’Sullivan’s locket is like so many objects in the Museum’s collection — the camera that belonged to Menzies, the unsurpassed collection of bark paintings from Australia’s north, the prototype for the first Australian-made Holden car, the heart of Phar Lap. All these objects carry our important stories — Australian stories — through time.
This is the purpose of our National Museum: to tell our stories, to be human, to look at all the complexities and ambiguities of our shared humanity, to declare the importance of understanding our history and lead Australians to embrace or repudiate our past and, in so doing, to shape the present.