Prominent Australians sign submission opposing War Memorial expansion

Ian Bushnell 16 June 2020 50
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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50 Responses to Prominent Australians sign submission opposing War Memorial expansion
gazmos gazmos 5:53 am 21 Jun 20

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.

Gerry Steer Gerry Steer 10:29 pm 18 Jun 20

Agreed, the money should go into the welfare of our veterans, not into a monument for war. Absurd use of public funds.

Robert Honeybone Snr Robert Honeybone Snr 6:58 pm 18 Jun 20

In these times where we have high unemployment this is what is needed for people looking for work

Elizabeth Fredericks Elizabeth Fredericks 1:46 pm 18 Jun 20

Totally opposed to the building of “Brendan’s folly”

Christopher Goyne Christopher Goyne 1:28 pm 18 Jun 20


Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:47 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.

Deirdre Russack Deirdre Russack 9:51 am 18 Jun 20

It is the Australian War Memorial not some Disneyland War Extravaganza. A place to commemorate the fallen and to display the history. It is a significant tourist attraction but to spend that much money making a bigger tourist attraction is abhorrent. Look after the veterans instead.

Julia Ross Julia Ross 8:44 am 18 Jun 20

From what I can gather from the plans, a building only 12 or so years old has to be demolished, the entry moved and a major loss of parking. The entry is iconic, every visitor wants to have their photo with Anzac avenue and the 2 parliament houses behind. There is a real danger that this wonderful memorial will become more like a fun park.

Ursula Gamal Ursula Gamal 8:25 am 18 Jun 20

Waste of our money...

Rob Long Rob Long 6:21 am 18 Jun 20

Nelson wrecked the AWM and this is more of his wasting money

    Robyn Ahlstedt Robyn Ahlstedt 7:54 am 18 Jun 20

    Rob Long Dr Nelson did more for the war memorial than anyone since Bean and Treloar. It brings more visitors to Canberra than anywhere else which means tourist $$. The expansion is necessary to honour all service personnel since 2WW, including those currently serving as recent conflicts have very little gallery space.

    Alistair Scott Alistair Scott 10:35 am 18 Jun 20

    Rob Long I think that’s a stretch mate Mr Nelson is a true patriot of this Country and did a lot for the memorial. The expansion I’m against it’s not fitting for purpose but having a shot a Mr Nelson just means you’re ignorant of his contribution and achievement as the curator. Read up mate

    Alistair Scott Alistair Scott 12:00 pm 18 Jun 20

    Yep that’s what I thought

Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 8:50 pm 17 Jun 20

A rolling khaki election

Janeen Stella Williams Janeen Stella Williams 8:44 pm 17 Jun 20

I totally oppose this ridiculous spend on the war memorial .

Paul Dowden Paul Dowden 8:27 pm 17 Jun 20

The Australian government spent more on WW1 commemorations than New Zealand, UK, France, Germany and Canada COMBINED - not including this expansion. At some point this massive overspend has to stop.

Victoria Edmonds Victoria Edmonds 8:05 pm 17 Jun 20

Meanwhile the National Library the National Film and Sound Archives and other national cultural institutions all continue to shrink due to lack of funding and support.😢 Digitization and preservation of historical materials has all but ceased due to lack of funds.

Alex Colrain Alex Colrain 7:30 pm 17 Jun 20

82 prominent Australians and I bet not one veteran. The fact of the matter is, we have been in numerous wars since the inception of the AWM and it needs to keep expanding and innovating in the loving memory for every single person that not only didn’t come home, but for those that did and now live with constant scars. Ask those veterans and I would guarantee they wouldn’t mind the money being spent and see the AWM as their holy place.

There is always going to be ‘other’ and ‘better’ areas that money could be spent on according to the armchair bandits.

Accept it and move on!

    David Stephens David Stephens 9:19 am 18 Jun 20

    Look at the list, includes Major General Steve Gower, ex Director of AWM

    Alex Colrain Alex Colrain 11:32 am 18 Jun 20

    he was happy when additional funding was sourced in 2011 and he was the AWM director but not now - perplexing.

    And which only 5% of the collection on display, why don’t we expand it so all can see and commemorate our war time history??

Carol Gainey Carol Gainey 7:18 pm 17 Jun 20

The War Memorial is a memorial to those who fought and died for our nation. It is not a memorial to war or to Brendon Nelson. The War Memorial is fine as it is. This money could be better spent on current veterans and other national institutions crying out for funding.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:16 pm 17 Jun 20

Are the cancel culture warriors on to this yet?

Darcy Ryan Darcy Ryan 7:10 pm 17 Jun 20

I’d be happy to see the national gallery privatised to fund works at the AWM

Vickie Kibblewhite Vickie Kibblewhite 6:07 pm 17 Jun 20

So much for the prominent Australians - what about the general public - or the armed forces? Don't they have a say or is it only the "money" people that have their say.

    Kristen Saep Kristen Saep 6:52 pm 17 Jun 20

    Vickie Kibblewhite you sure do have a say! Elections are exactly that, and nothing is stopping you from contacting your local member to express your concerns!

    Diana Mary Napier Diana Mary Napier 6:57 pm 17 Jun 20

    Vickie Kibblewhite follow the promin ent people on HONESTY HISTORY. READ it carefully. It is the only site which has followed exactly what has happened. ÀWM is making errors . News papers have been silent. Ask yourself why. Look at who owns the media. Then look at AWM council.

Nick Medveczky Nick Medveczky 5:55 pm 17 Jun 20

turning a memorial into a Disneyesque theme park promoting warfare

    Diana Mary Napier Diana Mary Napier 7:03 pm 17 Jun 20

    Nick Medveczky it's the ferris wheel on the side I object to

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