Aust digger's death inspires Korea exhibit

An Australian soldier's death in the Korean War and his mother's journey to find his grave have inspired a book, a documentary and a new exhibition.

Australian soldier Vince Healy and his mother Thelma Healy

An Australian mother's journey to find her son's grave in South Korea has inspired an exhibition. (AAP)

Australian soldier Vince Healy died fighting to keep South Korea free but his sacrifice created an enduring legacy that inspired a book, a documentary and an exhibition that opens this week.

Though largely forgotten, the Korean War (1950-53) claimed the lives of 339 Australians.

Among them was 24-year-old Sergeant Healy of 3 RAR, killed in action on March 7, 1951.

Until three years ago this was little more than a family story to Vince's niece, journalist Louise Evans.

Evans knew her grandmother Thelma Healy had taken an amazing solo journey from Brisbane in 1961 to find her son's grave in Korea, scrimping for years for the fare.

But Evans had no idea that Korean War widow Kim Chang Keun - who read about Thelma's epic journey in a Seoul newspaper - had taken on the role of Vince's Korean "mother", journeying 325km every year to lay flowers on his grave.

Evans only came to understand the full story in 2014 when an aunt handed over Thelma's travel diary from her journey to Pusan (modern-day Busan).

"When I put it down I thought, 'This is a fantastic story. There's a book in here'," Evans says.

Passage To Pusan, which took Evans two years to research and write, was published in January 2016.

It caught the attention of the Korean Cultural Centre Australia (KCCA), the cultural arm of the South Korean government, and director Sinyoung An.

As a result, a Passage to Pusan exhibition, created by photo artist Soyoun Kim, opens at the KCCA in Sydney on Monday June 26 for a two-month season. It will then transfer to Canberra, Brisbane and Korea.

Later this year will also see the release of a Passage to Pusan documentary, funded by the KCCA with assistance from the Australia-Korea Foundation and filmed by Arirang TV, South Korea's English-language broadcaster.

It will be screened at the Korean Film Festival in every Australian capital in August-September.

The book also started a friendship between Evans and Mrs Kim's granddaughter Gracie.

"The two granddaughters are now friends," Evans says. "Our late grandmothers would love it."

2 min read
Published 26 June 2017 at 12:00pm
Source: AAP