Within private militaria collections around Australian housed in man caves, bars and garages are hundreds of thousands of items with a story to tell.
Add to this the many Defence, Government, RSL and Association museums containing militaria across Australian and you are talking about a mass of historical artifacts of all forms.
The word “Militaria” seems to have made its debut in 1960, now having an accepted definition along the lines of:
Militaria (plural noun)
Collected or collectable items of historical military interest such as uniforms, medals, weapons, badges etc. Etymology military + ia (“things - plural”)
For those in Australia collecting militaria / military collectables, it can mean a great many things to them depending upon what they collect and what brought them to their hobby.
Some folks are ex-military, some got their interest from relatives who were and others just have a passion for the history or the engineering and mechanics involved with the weapons or the vehicles.
Some people are even drawn to it by the particular style, art or craftsmanship around military medals, badges or uniforms. These could be from numerous nations and periods of history or people may focus on a particularly narrow time period or nationality.
Those collecting across different genre tend not to be cast in too bad a light, just loveable hobbyists and at worst perhaps branded eccentrics.
For those who might collect German WW2 / Third Reich era militaria however, whether deserved or not, they may be cast in a darker light. The late Motorhead musician Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister famously said to a music journalist probing him on his massive collection of Third Reich militaria “I Only Collect The Stuff, I Didn't Collect The Ideas”.
It’s important to respect the militaria collector’s reasons and intent for collecting their genre of military history unless you know otherwise, as often the knowledge and especially the gear simply does not come easily.
More often it’s the sum of many years worth of interest, research (either formal or informal) in the history and back-story attached to each item, and of the campaigns, armies and troops related to them.
As for trends in Militaria Australia, well I imagine that the very first Aussie soldiers sent to South Africa in the Boar war had amongst them those set to collect souvenirs and make Trench Art. This is evident from items in collections and museums around the country.
In the early days of Australian Militaria collecting it would have been the soldiers themselves, and their immediate relatives acquiring such items for the most part.
During and after World War One however, the sheer volume of Australian soldiers and families touched by the war resulted in a proportionally higher volume of militaria being acquired and preserved in Australian homes.
To have described it as a widespread hobby at that time might have been a stretch. The hobby of actively collecting militaria in Australia was a few years off.
The Second World war saw another generation of Australians engaged in large numbers on active service, and with them came another wave of Axis and Allied militaria into Australian households, and also now a growing number of dedicated War Museums.
As the Sons and Grandsons of these soldiers developed an interest in their exploits, items were passed down as collections and some starting expanding the hobby to collect uniforms, medals, helmets, weapons etc along more specialised lines.
Suburban “Disposal Stores” in the 60’s and 70’s had items considered to be surplus, that would not be treasured as militaria (WW1 and WW2 helmets, bayonets, uniforms etc). Many a childhood collector would spend wide-eyed hours in such stores parting with the pocket money for treasures that may still even reside in their collections today.
As items from the World wars became more scarce, then more specialized militaria dealers and stores arose upon the demand for harder to find items.
Auction houses and large militaria and gun shows also prospered from an increase in the hobby of collecting militaria as a field in its own right.
During the 1980’s and 90’s large scale gun shows and militaria fairs seemed at their height, with changes in Australian gun laws stifling the ‘gun’ side of things, and thus reducing the frequency and size of the bigger shows.
The advent of the internet, online stores and eBay has dramatically opened up the avenues via which the Australian militaria collector can research, price and source their military collectables.
No matter what you collect, the internet now enables you to track it down with far greater ease than the old days of trawling the disposal stores, antique stores, shows and swap meets.
So the trend for online wheeling and dealing in militaria seems set to perhaps not fully replace the shops and shows, it is certainly giving the collector a day to day opportunity to access a world of militaria at their fingertips.