When Melissa Smith started working at the Australian War Memorial, she had no idea she would solve a family mystery.
While the digital producer knew her great-grandfather, William “Deucem” Smith, was considered to be one of the finest shearers of the 20th century, little was known about his brother who served during the First World War.
“It wasn’t until Deucem was inducted into the Australian Shearer’s Hall of Fame in 2005 that we realised his brother had even served during the First World War,” Melissa said.
“It was when my father, Warren, saw his photograph at the Hall of Fame in Hay that we first found out. The picture was of Deucem and his brother, and his brother was wearing a soldier’s uniform, but we didn’t even know what his name was … All we had was the name ‘Smith’ … And that’s how it all started.”
Her great-grandfather, Deucem, was a Muruwari man from Bourke who worked as a shearer throughout New South Wales and southern Queensland between 1912 and 1947. He got his nickname in 1912 when he declared that he would “deuce” or out-shear “all the back-bent, bag-booted jumbuck barbers” at the Dunlop shearing shed at Darling. He made good on his claim, shearing as many as 290 sheep a day, and managed to shear 1,430 sheep in one week while nursing a broken thumb.
“His skill with the shears was legendary,” Melissa said. “A street in Canberra is named in his honour and a plaque that celebrates his achievements was unveiled at the Government House Lookout overlooking the heritage-listed Yarralumla Woolshed in which he often worked, but we didn’t know anything about his brother.”
She mentioned the story to the Memorial’s Indigenous Liaison Officer Michael Bell and Curator Garth O’Connell, and within a day they had identified him as Private Edward “Teddy” Smith who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916 at the age of 21.