The Australian War Memorial would not be unfamiliar to most Australians, especially Canberrans. We have all been there on at least one occasion, some of us who aren’t Canberra natives most likely would have visited on our Year 6 excursion to Canberra. Perhaps some of us visited with elderly grandparents or other family members who wished to pay their respects. The Australian War Memorial is a national icon, recently named the number one landmark in Australia, and was number seventeen on the worldwide list as voted on TripAdvisor.
The first time I ever visited the Australian War Memorial was in 2002, on a school visit to Canberra. My classmates and I were all very solemn and even a little bit spooked by how eerie and sombre the Memorial can be at times. We visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay our respects and our little sneaker-clad feet tiptoed in as quietly as possible. Our teachers had given us very stern instructions to not even speak a word while we were in there – I have memories of holding my breath for as long as I could because I thought that maybe even breathing loudly would be disrespectful.
As we cautiously approached the Tomb, daring not to even blink, my school friends and I could see that there were footprints all over it. Even as an 11 year old I was surprised, curious and a little bit disgusted at this sight. Who did these footprints belong to? Who would have the nerve to walk over the top of anyone’s tomb, let alone the tomb of a soldier that fought and died for the freedom and beautiful standard of living that we enjoy today, almost 100 years on.
Fast forward to 2014 where I am now living in Canberra and visiting the War Memorial on a weekend. The footprints still remain on the tomb. Presumably these are not the exact same footprints that were there 12 years ago, but there are still dirty, muddy footprints all over an incredibly sacred site. Who are the individuals that think it is acceptable to do this and why has the tomb itself not been cordoned off so people do not have the access to trample across it? I know that we should not have to resort to cordoning off the area around the Tomb just because of disrespectful and rude behaviour by the absolute minority, but I think it is completely impertinent that this has been allowed to continue.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents the many young men who left their families to fight for their country, as well as the wonderful female nurses who aided for the sick and wounded, who never returned home. These brave Australians deserve a lasting monument. A monument that is respected by all, deserving an eternal dignity to those who fought and fell.
What can the Australian War Memorial do about this? Aside from cordoning off the area, the only other apparent option is to have a security guard or Memorial official onsite during business hours to keep watch. However, given that the Memorial is funded by the Government and by donations from the general public, I know some may suggest that a full-time wage for a security guard would not be financially tenable.
However, if a crowd fund was created in order to allow for a security guard to keep a close watch on the tomb during business hours I would be the first in line to contribute.