Although I have written many articles in the research world, my first publication on honours and awards entitled Australians Awarded, was born out of disappointment. Let me explain. In 2002 I had established a small but highly successful shopfront that serviced the public with medal mounting, framing, research and collectables. Geared around the military and civilian world of awards and decorations, the establishment brought hundreds of emergency service personnel, defence members, government officials and families with historical connections. The business grew as I developed more and more avenues of service, especially into the antiquities valuations for insurance, for assistance to donate to institutions and sometimes for selling. With the increasing desire for investors and collectors, as well as large museums to become custodians of such items as Gallipoli gallantry awards, medals to fighter pilots, officers and special forces, the increase to possess became a huge prospect. The market has been there for over a hundred years, but every now and then, the scramble to own such items of significance flairs. I suspect the increase in the early 2000s was due mainly to the advent and usability of the internet. Suddenly access to anything had become as easy as typing some keys from the comfort of your home.
This aside, the collecting world was strong, but the lack of definitive and structured information wasn’t. This made me begin compiling my own files of whatever detail I could from auctions, sales and collectors, relevant to things like, how many of a particular award were given, what changes did they go through, how were they named and what were they selling for. Little did I know how this was the start of an amazing reference that would one day become the most definitive reference in Australia. But it was the spark that ignited the flame.
One morning, an elderly lady entered my shop. She placed an amazing group of medals on my counter and said she had the electricity bill to pay. These were her late husbands and she had no children to pass them onto, so it was time to sell them. I asked her if she had been anywhere to get an indication and she said to me that she had seen a dealer who offered her $300. It was more than she needed, but she said something was off with the man’s eagerness, so she decided to get my opinion as I had helped a friend of hers about a year prior. The group was a gallantry group to a Z special forces member and I advised her it was worth over 10 thousand. She nearly collapsed. It was then that she said I should write a book on values so that dealers couldn’t rip other people like her off. Borne out of her disappointment with the integrity of the unscrupulous dealer, my flame to assemble a definitive reference with values, was lit.
I began compiling my book and four years later at just on 300 pages, I put it to the market. It sold over 5000 copies and edition two, at a monstrous 800 pages, made it pale into insignificance. Today, I take some time out of every week to add to edition three that will one day adorn many bookshelves and protect untold numbers of the unaware.
The elderly lady? Well, she paid her electricity bill and squirreled away a tidy nest egg to boot. I managed to sell it to a museum for just on 12 000 and had some excellent photos of a rare award to put into the pages of Australians awarded.