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
Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 8:59 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.

Kris Milne Kris Milne 10:34 am 17 Jun 20

I tend to agree, im certainly not saying that the preservation of Military legacy should be ignored, however, the pricetag seems a little extraordinary given the current rates of Veteran suicide and Welfare issues that cloud the veteran community.

    Diana Mary Napier Diana Mary Napier 5:56 pm 22 Jun 20

    Open Mitchell archives, build a light rail stop between the AWM Archives and the green shed and bobs your uncle.

Kris Milne Kris Milne 11:06 am 17 Jun 20

Perhaps some of that money could be used to host Veteran Welfare summits at the War memorial where nominated (Veteran) delegates have the ability to attend from all states and territories to discuss the current trends and situations that face todays veterans?

Jon Billows Jon Billows 11:16 am 17 Jun 20

Perhaps some veterans organizations should be better at lobbying for funds. The awm job is to display this material as well as honor the fallen. Awm is not a welfare organization and thier funding shoudnt be compared to one.

Money spent on so many things by government should be more highly scrutinized than the awm. It's just a cheap target for people trying to score political points

Liz Hughes Liz Hughes 12:36 pm 17 Jun 20

Absolutely agree. It’s purpose is as a memorial not a museum (or legacy for Brendan Nelson). This needs to be stopped and the money divided up for all the national institutions who have had to provide efficiency measures (unlike the AWM) and veterans who struggle to get appropriate support.

Bronwyn Mitchell Bronwyn Mitchell 1:59 pm 17 Jun 20

If you add the money to be spent on this plus the money on the memorial in France, alot could be done for our veterans instead.

Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 2:07 pm 17 Jun 20

I would like to see that half a billion to towards a museum or monument/gathering place for First Nations within the Parliamentary Triangle. Putting the only recognition of Indigenous people in a facility at the National Museum was always a reflection of the Howard Government rather than anything else. As a white person it is not for me to say; but the whole area in front of MOAD incorporating the tent embassy sounds good.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 9:52 pm 17 Jun 20

    Kriso Hadskini I like your thinking!

    Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 9:54 am 18 Jun 20

    Amanda Evans Yes, I used to work at MOAD and I could see it so clearly in front there. The school children who I taught at MOAD had so many questions about the embassy and I did my best, but it is not my story to tell, they deserve a place here for the story to be told...at a minimum.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:59 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.

David Perkins David Perkins 3:25 pm 17 Jun 20

It is a disgrace that the Memorial is to become a Disneyland for War.

Matt White Matt White 4:08 pm 17 Jun 20

The project provides construction and ongoing jobs here in Canberra to preserve heritage and improve an educational institution for all Australians. There is much more expenditure every year that is arguably wasted on other things that have far less benefits than this, including some modern defence expenditure and industry subsidies that only benefit a few private individuals or corporations. As for veterans affairs and other national institutions, it’s not one thing or the other - they are separate issues to this project and of course should be adequately funded. These prominent Australians ought to find a better cause to put their valuable time and effort into.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 9:58 pm 17 Jun 20

    Matt White the AWM remembers those who've paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who served in War very well just as it is now.

    It seems to me the only people who want to turn it into a theme park never actually served in War themselves.

    BTW, the proposed building actually could likely diminish the heritage of the place.

    Matt White Matt White 10:16 pm 17 Jun 20

    Amanda many of us have family members on the wall of honour. They’re not doing anything to the heritage parts of the building and none of it has anything to do with a theme park. They are essentially expanding the newest section at the back of the building to allow for more of their existing material to be exhibited and to commemorate more of the recent campaigns that our military have been a part of.

Col Strand Col Strand 4:56 pm 17 Jun 20

Absolutely

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:07 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 Napier Diana Mary Napier 4:53 pm 18 Jun 20

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

MERC600 MERC600 5:08 pm 17 Jun 20

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 Retro Capital Retro 5:09 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?

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

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.

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

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:16 pm 17 Jun 20

Are the cancel culture warriors on to this yet?

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.

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??

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