The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, also based in Geneva, was created in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War. The third part of the movement consists of 190 national societies such as Australia’s.
Australian Red Cross was originally formed as a branch of the British Red Cross Society. Its foundational President, the dynamic Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, was the wife of the Governor-General. Her detailed knowledge of the Red Cross came from her involvement in forming the Scottish branch five years earlier. The national headquarters was in Melbourne — the location of the federal government in 1914 — with each state establishing its own largely autonomous division.
As I have done, many people will now be able to use the records to trace stories of their family members or uncover new information about their local community, stories that for too long have been hidden from our history. They will be able to make personal connections with major events that have had an impact on NSW.
The Red Cross had an extensive network of branches across the state, and minute books of these branches (many now closed) form an integral part of the collection.
Through its 100 years, Australian Red Cross has attracted a diversity of people to volunteer for its cause in a variety of ways. The VADs continued their work in peacetime, providing a volunteer army to respond to a range of natural disasters, from the 1950s floods in the Hunter Valley to Cyclone Tracy in 1974. VADs and other Red Cross branch members were on hand to assist the Red Cross Blood Bank through the NSW Red Cross Transfusion Service across NSW. The VADs were closed down in December 2009 after 95 years of service.
From the earliest days of the organisation, the Junior Red Cross was another important program. NSW and Canada Red Cross share the accolades for founding this global organisation of children, which by 1935 boasted over 15 million members in 51 countries. The Junior Red Cross taught young Australians about active citizenship, fundraising and engaging with children from other countries and cultures. It also focused on health and first aid.
One of the highlights of the collection is the light it shines on many less well-known individuals from NSW who have made a huge contribution to the state. Eleanor MacKinnon is one such individual. The Junior Red Cross was her idea and she provided energetic leadership until her untimely death in 1936.
A wonderful wordsmith, MacKinnon founded and edited for many years the Red Cross Record and Junior Red Cross Record. Her small collection of papers held by the Library complements the newly acquired collection. It includes her correspondence with friends such as Billy Hughes, in whose electorate she lived, and whose politics she shared.