16 June 2020

Prominent Australians sign submission opposing War Memorial expansion

| Ian Bushnell
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The Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial: its character will be destroyed, the submission says. Photo: File.

The $498 million expansion of the Australian War Memorial cannot be justified and the money should be spent on veterans and their families, and other national institutions, according to a submission signed by 82 prominent people to a parliamentary inquiry into the project.

The submission from the Heritage Guardians says the extension will destroy the Memorial’s character and criticises the ”excessive veneration” of the Anzac story.

Among the signatories are historians, former senior bureaucrats, including Tony Blunn and former Defence secretary Paul Barrett, journalists and authors such as Tom Keanelly and Don Watson, and former senior memorial figures including former director Steve Gower. Some have made separate submissions.

”The Memorial should be revered, but Australia has many stories,” the submission says. “Excessive veneration of the Anzac story denies the richness of our history, as presented in our many cultural institutions.”

It says those other institutions have suffered more damage from efficiency dividends than the Memorial, which has been treated generously by successive governments.

It takes issue with the notion that the memorial needs more space to display recent conflicts and to heal veterans.

”Responsibility for veterans’ welfare belongs not with the Memorial but with Defence and Veterans’ Affairs. The Memorial’s ambition to provide a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for veterans trivialises the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and suggests that memorials can play such a role – a claim for which there is scant evidence,” the submission says.

It says much of the extension will be taken up with a grandiose foyer and space to display military hardware, at the same time destroying the Memorial’s character, affecting its heritage status, and requiring the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall.

Displaying decommissioned planes and helicopters do little to promote an understanding of Australia’s wars, while providing a tourist attraction, the submission says.

It urges the Memorial to make hard decisions about what it displays or not as do other institutions, rather than pushing for more space.

It also criticises the planned ”direct feed” of current Defence activities as totally inappropriate in a war memorial.

Re-imagined War Memorial

An artist’s impression of a section of the re-imagined War Memorial. Image: AWM.

The submission notes the project’s fast-tracking, with a minimum of public consultation and lack of transparency ahead of necessary approvals.

In a separate submission, former director Steve Gower calls the proposal ”ill-developed” and ”inadequately advised”, and proposes a less costly alternative.

He also expresses alarm at the way some have claimed the Anzac story as the principal Australian narrative above all others.

”This is no more than an emotional and jingoistic misrepresentation to justify huge sums of money to ‘safeguard the future’ and undertake ‘generational change’,” he says.

The former director says Anzac Hall should be retained, the atrium or glazed space scrapped and that there be no column removal and related major excavations in and around the Memorial’s Main Building.

Mr Gower says institutions cannot keep expanding forever and warns against all conflict being treated equally, stressing that the world wars remain at the core the memorial’s mission.

He also argues there must be sufficient justification to display military hardware, pointing to planes that did not see much war action, not simply because they are no longer in service.

He suggests that all non-gallery functions be moved to an extended Bean building so the resulting space, estimated to be 3000 square metres, can be utilised.

Architect Richard Johnson’s 4,000 square metre design for a new display space should be revived and could be located where the Memorial’s preferred option has a carpark on the north-west of the site.

He says the new storage building at Mitchell could be used for large objects, such as most aircraft and other big items, and a previous Canberra Airport suggestion should be assessed.

This approach would be much more cost-effective and acceptable to the community, he says.

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The proposal is turning the solemn memorial into a entertainment venue based on a war museum. The primary value is the memorial and the remembrance of those who served. The display of planes and hardware should be removed and placed in a future offsite war museum. Return the current memorial to a quiet place of contemplation and commemoration, and not turn it into a theme park museum.

Capital Retro11:47 am 18 Jun 20

“There is a real danger that this wonderful memorial will become more like a fun park.”

Well, Weston Park has become a memorial park for some people who have no connection with Canberra and the National Arboretum has become a theme park for causes which have nothing to do with trees. Let’s not get started with public art.

This is Canberra.

HiddenDragon7:16 pm 17 Jun 20

Are the cancel culture warriors on to this yet?

Capital Retro5:09 pm 17 Jun 20

“I would like to see that half a billion to towards a museum or monument/gathering place for First Nations”

Which nations other that Australia are you referring to Kriso Hadskini?

I rather suspect that if you went through letters to the Editor back in 1936, and followed it through till the memorial was opened in 1941, you would see similar letters of protest that you see today about monies being spent.
Meanwhile hasn’t the Memorial been such a success.

I suspect that if someone , say in 2080, looks at letters to the Ed about protests about the Memorial expenditure in 2020, people will still say ” hasn’t the Memorial been such a success.””

Capital Retro5:07 pm 17 Jun 20

Steve Gower was indeed a former director of the AWM, for 16 years, finishing his term 11 years ago. The then Governor General Ms Quentin Bryce commented that he “had brought it (AWM) to full flower and made it relevant to new generations”.

He was relevant to his time but now it is time for the current administration to relate to the current generation.

Diana Mary Napier4:53 pm 18 Jun 20

He was the director before Nelson, before Anderson. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of THE memorial.

Capital Retro2:59 pm 17 Jun 20

It’s time the AWM charged entrance fees for tourists, after all it is a tourist attraction much more than a war memorial. Veterans and active servicemen and servicewomen admitted free.

Self appointed experts and prominent people (I’ve only heard of a few of them and they are all lefties) should stay out of it.

Diana Mary Napier7:01 pm 17 Jun 20

And families

Stephen Saunders8:59 am 17 Jun 20

Go to the German capital, the memorials say some truths about their past. Come to Canberra, a $500m memorial says no war and no slavery.

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