War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: I went through the valley of the kings, too, as a matter of fact I met Carter, or had morning tea with Carter, the chap who uncovered the tomb of Tut. And saw a few of the tombs that had been uncovered and a lot had been robbed of course before they were discovered and it made me feel very very humble and very very uneducated and very very, you know, the animal stage, the jungle stage compared to what they were.

Turnbull: Was it a group of you that went up to see Carter’s excavations, was it?

Ellwood: No, two or three of us. I have a photograph somewhere there. It was three of us that went on a holiday trip. They gave us a few days off or something and we ended up to as far as Khartoum and Luxor.

Turnbull: How did you find out about Carter?

Ellwood: You have your guides. We were staying at a Hotel and we had heard of the Valley of the Kings and the tombs that there were to be inspected and of course, we had our guides to explain everything that was going on and to digress for a moment, one thing I can remember quite well we were being, you have a picture in your mind, you’ve heard of the tombs and of the structure of them well on the walls, both sides, they have the hieroglyphics, of course, and this guide was telling us about reading, he may have been pulling our feet too, for all we know, you know, but he was reading this as he went along and explaining the history of the reign of this King and so on and so on and he came to an area an he paused and he said “Any of you people Masons?” and of course we were only kids, and he said “Oh, well, then I won’t read the rest to you”. I’ve never forgotten that, for some reason or another. Its funny how things are impressed on you, that have probably some significance, you know, that isn’t understandable. I can remember that, anyhow, this guide must have mentioned it or we saw the bell tent there, it was only a bell tent, right out in the middle of the desert, in the Valley of the Kings, and we went and introduced ourselves, and Carter was there in his working clothes and he had one or two off-siders with him, I think. He was working on that tomb then at the time. That’s how we met Carter.

Turnbull: What sort of a personality did he strike you as?

Ellwood: Oh, of course we were too young to form any opinion of any value and probably too disinterested, more interested in their own self than in what other things were. We weren’t old enough to be able to appreciate any of those finer things. But now, of course, I regret very much not being older when I went through the Palestine, the Holy Land. I regret very much. I’d have taken more notice and acquired more knowledge of everything, but I just went through it in a cursory manner, you know, like a young fellow, interested in himself only, selfish, sort of.

It seems to be almost impossible that they could be, they should be, and the scientific possibilities and that sort of business to be able to modify and produce that sort of thing and I saw a lot of the jewellery that was made in those days that came from some of those tombs, oh, magnificent stuff, the craftsmanship. Handmade, all handmade.

Turnbull: So this was the first time you were seeing the old civilisation wasn’t it. Did that strike you?

Ellwood: Yes, my word, it did, very much so. To think that there were other civilisations with such a background an so distant and ours was so puny and close, sort of business, so young. I was very impressed with that, very impressed. I’ll never forget what I saw in the Cairo Museum. Never forget it, particularly those people, I couldn’t credit, that people who lived four, three or four thousand years ago standing there in front of me. In their natural colour and everywhere in fact, except that there was no life in them. Its hard to believe. Most of them were puny men, they weren’t tall like we are.

Turnbull: So it did have a very profound effect on you?

Ellwood: To see the magnificent stuff in the rooms and the temples and the masonry and the avenue of lions, some place or the other going up to Luxor. I have photographs of it and Bill’s got them. But to think that all those things were made and were that old and the civilisations three or four thousand years and young fellow, rather puny types of people, coloured people, it made you feel, you know, it made me feel very humble.

Turnbull: Did you ever think what Australia might be like one day?

Ellwood: No, never entered the head.

Turnbull: You never thought about how far Australian civilisation had to progress?

Ellwood: I’m afraid not. I’m afraid at that age you are influenced more by your ego than, you know, …

Turnbull: Mmm, but you ended up thinking about this later, then?

Ellwood: Yes, its come to me later, since then. But its hard to believe, you saw the carvings of people, you know, what do they call them, the statues, and the carving. In one place, I have a photograph of it somewhere, there’s a big, huge, carving of a king sitting on his throne, there were two of them and one had been pushed over and it must have weighed, oh, probably a hundred ton, yet the carving was there, just as well done, or probably better than it could be done today. I’ve got a photo, have you seen that photograph?

Turnbull: Yeah, I can remember it now.

Ellwood: …standing at the base of it. And we were just puny little things and the thing towered above us so much.

Turnbull: Quite incredible feats, aren’t they?

Ellwood: Oh, it made you feel such awe that those things were possible. They’re not done today that I know of.

Turnbull: Oh, its interesting though. In fact…

Ellwood: …civilisation each had its steps and one thing and another. I can remember the Egyptian women with their bare feet carrying loads of stuff on their heads and with their veils and they would be taken short and in the middle of the main street on the footpath they’d simply sit down with their skirts around them and when they’d finished depositing on the footpath what they wanted to get rid of, they’d get up and walk away, leave it behind them.

Turnbull: Sometimes, some of the blokes would see their wives carrying bundles behind them and some of the blokes made them….

Ellwood: (laughs) that often happened…

Turnbull: Did you see that?

Ellwood: They made the old husband get off and put the wife on it, make him carry the bowl, that often happened. The donkeys were about so high and the Gyppo’s, I forget what they wore, they were or what they were, their feet would be almost dragging on the ground, the donkey was that small and the woman, whether she was a wife or not, I don’t know, but she’d be coming behind with a big bundle on her head, you know, and he’d be riding there… they’d push him off and they’d make her get on. It took some doing, they were too frightened to get on and, see the whole thing, women, you know. But the men didn’t like it either… Oh, yes that often happened.

Turnbull: Why did the blokes do that. I mean did they take pity on the women?

Ellwood: Yes. They thought it was actually the wrong thing to do. It was their chivalry sort of business and their respect for women I think. I suppose their own family, the brother and so on. You know. Oh yes. Oh that often happened. These big fat greasy types they were too. Of course I don’t know if they were all Egyptians or Arabs or what they were or not but they were greasy looking well fed types of people you know and the women were more or less slaves.

Turnbull: And that was in Cairo itself, was it?

Ellwood: I saw it in Cairo, yes. And the country. Oh yes.