Jacka Park, in the centre of Wedderburn was named after Albert Jacka, although it is also often referred to as “Soldiers Memorial Park”.
We have been fortunate in obtaining some information on the history of Albert Jacka from Nick Creed, a history teacher with a strong interest in the life of Albert Jacka.
Albert Jacka was born to Nathaniel and Elisabeth Jacka on the 10th of January, 1893. His parents were prominent citizens in Wedderburn, with his father working as a farmer, road contractor and carter. His childhood was spent around the goldfields, and he received his only official education at the local Wedderburn primary school. All reports of Jacka at this time suggest a shy young man, but he was no pushover. His brother, William, often noted how Albert would enter into fist-fights regularly, with much success! Jacka was also an elite athlete, competing in district and state cycling, boxing and Australian Rules. When he was in his teens, Jacka worked for his father, until taking up a position in Bendigo. He had gained work with the Victorian State Forests’ Department, which later saw him move back to Wedderburn.
In 1914, at the age of 21, Jacka enlisted for the Great War with his brother Bill and other members of the local Wedderburn community. Jacka served with distinction at Gallipoli with the bulk of the 14th Battalion AIF. This Battalion was formed almost exclusively from Victoria, and many of the men fighting alongside Jacka would have also grown up in the rural Victoria. It was to be known by members of the First AIF as “Jacka’s mob”. From the outset of the campaign, Jacka showed outstanding leadership qualities and tactical nous. He quickly rose to the rank of Lance Corporal, and in May 1915, at Courtney’s post he performed the action that was to earn him the first Victoria Cross awarded to Australian in the Great War. At Courtney’s post, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting on the peninsula, Jacka single-handedly captured a trench after killing or routing all of its occupants. He then held the position alone for fifteen minutes.
Jacka continued serving his country with valour and distinction throughout the war, and was later involved in what some historians have regarded as the greatest individual act of bravery conducted during the war. With only seven other men, he re-took a hill overrun by a German battalion. During this action he was wounded 7 times, being shot through thrice. Eventually, however, his wounds put him out of service, and he was invalided to England. It was here that he took up the position of Sports Officer, having risen through the ranks over the course of the war from Lance-Corporal to Captain. He was later rated by Official Historian CEW Bean as “perhaps Australia’s greatest fighting soldier” who fought in the Great War.
When Jacka returned to Melbourne after the war, he devoted as much of his energy into his business ventures as he did into his military career. He initially entered into business with an electricity firm, but it suffered during the depression and by the end of the 1920’s Jacka was almost destitute. After trying his hand as a salesperson, Jacka threw himself wholeheartedly into the position of Mayor of St Kilda. It was in this role that his magnificent leadership qualities were yet again evident, as Jacka did much to provide for his city’s homeless. Jacka was a respected and well loved mayor, just as he was as a soldier. However, as a result of the stresses of his work and the severity of his war wounds, Jacka died on the 17th of January, 1932, aged 39. Lying on his death bed, his last words were said to be “I’m still fighting, dad”
Jacka’s attitude and bearing throughout his life show the traits of a rural upbringing; tough, resilient, and above all resourceful. It was these characteristics that served him well in war and peace, as Albert Jacka stands tall as one of Wedderburn’s most famous sons.
Sources and extra reading:
Buesst, N. & R. Cooper., Jacka V.C. [videorecording] (South Melbourne: Australian Film Institute), 1980
Grant, Ian, Jacka, VC: Australia’s finest fighting soldier (South Melbourne: Macmillan Australia & AWM), 1989.
Rule, Edgar John, Jacka’s mob: A narrative of the Great War. Compiled & ed. by Johnson, C. & Barnes, A. (Prahran: Military Melbourne) 1999.
Wanliss, Newton, The history of the Fourteenth Battalion, A.I.F. (Melbourne: The Arrow Printery), 1929.
Wigmore, L., They Dared Mightily, 2nd ed. Revised and condensed by J. Williams and A. Staunton, (Canberra: AWM), 1986