Built in 1879 to host Victoria's first international exhibition, the Royal Exhibition Building (REB) has played a significant role in the political, cultural, economic and social history of Australia. The collection illustrates significant periods and uses of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens. The best represented events are: 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition (MIE), the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition (MCIE), and the opening of the first federal parliament of Australia in 1901. As well as objects exhibited at the two international exhibitions, the material relating to these events includes official and souvenir guidebooks, plans, photographs, invitations, tickets and souvenirs. The Museum also maintains a REB research archive of over 6000 folders containing copies of documents, newspaper articles, photographs, fliers, and so on.
During World War II, the Royal Exhibition Building (REB, then called simply the Exhibition Building) was occupied by the RAAF and the WAAAF- mostly non-crew aircraftmen and aircraftwomen, trainers and administrators. Decades later, in 1989, works to replace floorboards in the REB uncovered over 270 personal items that had been pushed into holes in the floor during World War II by personnel stationed there, including intimate letters, food and personal effects. These items were never expected or intended to survive, and offer a rare unfiltered record of a time lost to public memory. Some of the items include personal names - of servicemen, families and girlfriends. Twenty-three of those items relate to one person: Royce Phillips, known to some as Roy.
Royce Clifford Phillips was born in Alberton, South Australia, in 1923 and enlisted to serve in the RAAF on 9 December 1941 at Kilkenny, South Australia (service no. 47290), when he was still a teenager. He served as a Leading Aircraftman (AC1, or Aircraftman). He was discharged on 5 March 1946, while stationed at the 6 Service Flying Training School.
The letters and envelopes sent to Royce are dated 1941-42: letters from his father, from his 'Aunty, Uncle and Jim', from 'Aunty Lil' (married to a serviceman named Bronc), and from a girl he was dating, Roma Wright. The letters provide information about Royce's war-time life: he spends time in hospital in late 1941; fails an exam in early 1942 (perhaps due to his hospitalization); goes ice skating and visits a 'lady' friend, to the consternation of his father - 'you have to be very careful with who you mix with over there'(SH 960291).
Roma's letters to Roy reflect her strong feelings towards him - in one she writes 'It was the happiest night I have ever spent in my life' (SH 960309). Roma lived in Clarence St, East Brunswick, probably with other young women, and describes domestic activities and disasters in letters such as SH 960281. She mentions a recent date with Roy, and wants to know when his (military) trucks will travel along Sydney Road so she can see them. She writes: 'Gosh I don't know how many things I've done wrong today (or supposed to have done). I upset a bucket of water all over the kitchen floor, broke the hose, spilt a kettle of boiling water, some one said its because I'm too much in love'. But it was not to last. By 20 February 1942 Royce was seen in the company of another girl (SH 960274).
Roma's fate is not recorded in Roy's letters. A woman named Roma Wright is celebrated in the Argus (25 July 1946, page 8) in a group of debutants, all hairdressers, at the cabaret ball of the Master Ladies Hairdressers' Association in the St Kilda Town Hall. On 30 June 1947, p.7, the Argus reported that a Roma Wright of St Kilda had married Harold Anderson and had sailed to the United States. Another Roma Wright is also a contender: on 3 February 1943 it was reported that a Miss Roma Nellie Wright, now Mrs Leslie Smith, had moved to Dandenong, they welcomed their first child in May 1947.
A private family tree suggests that Royce Clifford Phillips passed away in 1999, aged 75. Further information about his story, and that of Roma Wright is still being sought.
1942 'Father Celebrates Daughter's Wedding At Springvale', The Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927 - 1954), 29 April, p. 6. , viewed 20 May 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article215708584.
1943 'SPRING VALE HAPPENINGS', The Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927 - 1954), 3 February, p. 10. , viewed 20 May 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214307041.
1946 'Hairdressers Cabaret Ball', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 25 July, p. 8. , viewed 20 May 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22328905.
1947 'MUR FRIENDS ENTERTAINED', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 30 June, p. 7. , viewed 20 May 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22436642.
Coleman 'mystery (family) tree', https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/156107501/person/132061108159/story?_phsrc=kJs7&_phstart=successSource, accessed 25/5/2020.