Directed Study Blog Post 3
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been searching archival records for information about Oaklands Estate and the families who lived there. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, in the 1940s part of the estate was acquired by the government to build the Warradale Army Barracks. During my search for documents I learnt that this military presence went back much further—it dated back as far as 1914 when the then owner of the property Thomas Currie Taite leased a portion of his property to the Army for use as a camp ground for the soldiers. Reading about this military presence got me thinking about how war affected the people of society who had owned Oaklands Estate. I wondered if any of them had gone on to become soldiers or been drafted into the war effort. Following this thought I began a search for connections between the estate and the World Wars and I came across an article which caught me by surprise: this article told the story of a man named Tom Derrick.
Tom was born at Oaklands Estate on the 20th of March 1914, his parents worked in the service of the Taite family; he was in fact named after Thomas Taite, the ‘squire’ of Oaklands Estate. He wasn’t the child of the fortunate family who owned the plentiful estate but he spent his toddling years at the property, and reportedly spent his childhood watching the soldiers training at the military campgrounds adjoining the property. His family left the estate and, as Tom grew up, he tried his hand at a number of professions: he worked as a carpenter, and a baker’s assistant, during the Depression his father helped him to build a bicycle from spare parts and he rode from Port Adelaide to Berri to seek work on the fruit blocks. He reportedly never had any interest in military matters, had no desire to join the defence forces, to be a soldier.
In 1940, with the onset of the Second World War, Tom signed up to the second 46th battalion and joined the Australians who shipped off to war. I don’t know why he decided to go to war; maybe he wanted to protect his family back home, perhaps he was simply answering the call to serve his country, or maybe he remembered those days in his youth of watching the soldiers train at Oaklands.
In June of 1945 Tom Derrick was declared a casualty of war. He was killed at the head of the charge to protect his fellow soldiers.
This story really spoke to me: here was a man who had grown up in the splendour of the estate at Oaklands but who had shared none of its riches. Just a typical Aussie who struggled through life but managed to find happiness. A man who gave his life in the service of his country. It’s so rare to find a story about an average Australian associated with a site like Oaklands, documented history is usually about the rich or the famous, so to find this story about a working family’s son was really something special.
Army News, Darwin NT, 6 June 1945: Page 4