"No specific commitment" from Federal Government on funding for VC winner memorial

The push for a memorial marking the South Windsor grave of Australia's first Victoria Cross recipient, Frederick Whirlpool, is continuing despite a continued lack of funding.

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman said there was yet to be a funding commitment from the Federal Government for the memorial, despite support from Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson.

Flashback: Susan Templeman, Mary Lyons-Buckett and Alan Leek standing next to John Smith's grave, the only person to attend Mr Whirpool's funeral, in February.

Flashback: Susan Templeman, Mary Lyons-Buckett and Alan Leek standing next to John Smith's grave, the only person to attend Mr Whirpool's funeral, in February.

"Unfortunately, to date there has been no specific commitment by the Federal Government to providing a funding source for the planned memorial," she said in response to a request from the Gazette. "I think it's an important piece of Hawkesbury history to mark, and will continue to liaise with the minister's office."

Interest in Whirlpool was sparked after biographer Alan Leek launched his book Frederick Whirlpool VC: Australia's Hidden Victoria Cross last year.

More widely known by his birth-name, Humphrey James, Whirlpool had been a teacher at Lower Macdonald and Pitt Town before moving to McGraths Hill. The Windsor and Richmond Gazette - the precursor to today's Hawkesbury Gazette - first alerted the public to Whirlpool's mysterious life on June 24, 1899, describing him as 'an eccentric old gentleman' who had died at his hut just short of his 68th birthday.

The Gazette was told Private Whirlpool had been awarded the Victoria Cross on June 20, 1861, for his gallantry during the Indian Mutiny.

It was the first VC pinned to a man in an Australian uniform, Mr Leek said.

Whirlpool was buried at the Presbyterian cemetery, and John Dick Smith was the only mourner present, Mr Leek said. No headstone has ever marked his grave.

Mr Leek has worked with Ms Templeman, the Hawkesbury Historical Society, and Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett to push for the memorial.

Mr Nelson - who wrote the foreword for Mr Leek's book - had been "very supportive" throughout the process, "but the War Memorial does not have funds for these purposes," Ms Templeman said.

Mr Leek is due to address Hawkesbury City Council's Heritage Advisory Committee on the issue on October 31.

"While the memorial fits with the existing use of the cemetery, heritage issues have been uppermost in my committee's mind," he said.

"For this reason we would like to see a memorial that is in keeping with the time that Whirlpool was buried there and be as resistant to damage as possible. To that end a plinth and obelisk in keeping with three others in the cemetery was deemed appropriate.

"Recent examples of vandalism of service memorials are sadly, all too common and we want to avoid, as much as we can, this possibility. The defacement of Private Luke Worsley's memorial in Howe Park and the destruction of five WWII gravestones at Nowra Cemetery in September this year are examples to be avoided.

"It is imperative that we gain the full approval of council in order to move forward. We will continue to seek funding.

"It is particularly fitting that once approval is gained, we can make application to The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association in London, who will consider grant applications.

"Such a grant would not meet our needs as the association is a charity itself, but the imprimatur of such an august body is important ... It is hoped that such support will drive others to follow suit.

"Frederick Whirlpool VC ... lived in the Hawkesbury for 40 of his 68 years and the fact that he had lain in an unmarked grave for 120 years is unacceptable."