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Disrespect and impudence at one of Australia’s most sacred sites

By Alexandra Craig 29 July 2014 44

australian-war-memorial

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.

Australian War Memorial

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.

(Photo of ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ courtesy of the Australian War Memorial website)


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44 Responses to
Disrespect and impudence at one of Australia’s most sacred sites
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dungfungus 2:08 pm 01 Aug 14

dianak said :

I’m just a visitor on this site and had to comment on a few things. I totally agree with this article, even my overseas visitors found it disrespectul that other tourists were wearing hats, stepping too close to the Tomb and leaving footprints and also taking photos like it was some kind of Disney attraction.

They didn’t think for a minute to make an attempt at silencing themselves for others to appreciate the space. I suppose the AWM forgot to put signs up on common etiquette and behaviour around memorials, especially one so important, in fear of breaching political correctness. Sad to see Australian institutions pandering to the mighty tourist dollar and not even attempting to give our dead some respect.

As I have said before on this thread, the AWM has capitulated to political and cultural correctness so don’t hold your breath waiting for a sign to be placed there.
The AWM would do well to construct an adjacent memorial to the passing of common etiquette and behaviour.

dianak 1:47 pm 01 Aug 14

I’m just a visitor on this site and had to comment on a few things. I totally agree with this article, even my overseas visitors found it disrespectul that other tourists were wearing hats, stepping too close to the Tomb and leaving footprints and also taking photos like it was some kind of Disney attraction.

They didn’t think for a minute to make an attempt at silencing themselves for others to appreciate the space. I suppose the AWM forgot to put signs up on common etiquette and behaviour around memorials, especially one so important, in fear of breaching political correctness. Sad to see Australian institutions pandering to the mighty tourist dollar and not even attempting to give our dead some respect.

dungfungus 1:24 pm 01 Aug 14

Holden Caulfield said :

Okay so it’s not the fault of Advance Australia Fair at all, but the Chardonnay Socialists who are to blame for people walking on the tomb? 😉

I guess I deserved that one.

Holden Caulfield 11:42 am 01 Aug 14

Okay so it’s not the fault of Advance Australia Fair at all, but the Chardonnay Socialists who are to blame for people walking on the tomb? 😉

dungfungus 9:09 am 01 Aug 14

Holden Caulfield said :

dungfungus said :

Holden Caulfield said :

dungfungus said :

All this probably went out the window when Whitlam changed our national anthem.

Oh boy, wowee!

Is there a problem with that?

If you’re using the change to Advance Australia Fair simply as a reference to a point in time, probably not.

But if you’re attempting to draw a link that the fact we no longer sing God Save the Queen as our national anthem to support your claims that society’s standards have slipped, then yes, I think it’s a problem.

It was the timing that I was alluding and changing of the national anthem was just one of many changes that comrade Whitlam initiated. I found a good summary on the internet that I broadly agree with. The second change is more relevant for this thread, especially abolishing conscription.
Firstly, he marked a change from a long and seemingly invincible rule in Australia by conservatives with its towering figure of Sir Robert Menzies.
Secondly, he and his associates made a large number of significant changes in a short time. This was invigorating and encouraging for some and challenging and threatening for others.
Thirdly, he was a significant presence – tall, intelligent, arrogant and an imposing orator. For many Australians, the words “Men and women of Australia” can only ever be heard in the mind’s ear in the imperious tones of Whitlam.
Fourthly, and possibly most significantly, he marked a sea change for the Labor Party and created a whole new range of supporters to the (mildly) socialist cause – the chardonnay socialist.

Holden Caulfield 4:53 pm 31 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

Holden Caulfield said :

dungfungus said :

All this probably went out the window when Whitlam changed our national anthem.

Oh boy, wowee!

Is there a problem with that?

If you’re using the change to Advance Australia Fair simply as a reference to a point in time, probably not.

But if you’re attempting to draw a link that the fact we no longer sing God Save the Queen as our national anthem to support your claims that society’s standards have slipped, then yes, I think it’s a problem.

Mark of Sydney 4:40 pm 31 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

Holden Caulfield said :

dungfungus said :

All this probably went out the window when Whitlam changed our national anthem.

Oh boy, wowee!

Is there a problem with that?

I was resisting commenting on your claim that things went out the window when Gough Whitlam replaced ‘God Save the Queen’ with ‘Advance Australia Fair’, but if you insist.

My father was a POW on the Burma-Thai Railway, as was my uncle. My uncle didn’t come back, my father did, minus a limb. After experiencing the fall of the British Empire at Singapore and witnessing the appalling manifestation of the English class system in the way that the British officers treated their men (especially compared with the heroic self-sacrifice of Australian officers), he had little respect for the British monarchy. He was a conservative man and not by inclination a Labor voter, but had no disagreement with Whitlam on that change.

dungfungus 1:46 pm 31 Jul 14

Holden Caulfield said :

dungfungus said :

All this probably went out the window when Whitlam changed our national anthem.

Oh boy, wowee!

Is there a problem with that?

Holden Caulfield 12:22 pm 31 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

All this probably went out the window when Whitlam changed our national anthem.

Oh boy, wowee!

dungfungus 10:43 am 31 Jul 14

Postalgeek said :

I understand your sentiment, dungfungus, and while I personally would remove a hat, such practice has become an anachronism in modern Australia.

The war memorial as a whole is changing.

They’ve now spent money refurbishing a cafe built only a couple of years ago and renamed it Poppy’s, named after a troop cafe named after a soldier killed in action. With no disrespect intended for the soldier and the sacrifice of his family, naming a cafe at the Australian war memorial after one soldier seems to me to be wholly inappropriate and populist, driven by a politician’s mentality.

Which soldier KIA gets something named after them and which soldier doesn’t? It seems to be completely at odds with the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/prime-minister-tony-abbott-opens-new-cafe-at-australian-war-memorial-20140724-zwc6m.html

Yes, I thought that was a bit tacky too.

Postalgeek 9:51 am 31 Jul 14

I understand your sentiment, dungfungus, and while I personally would remove a hat, such practice has become an anachronism in modern Australia.

The war memorial as a whole is changing.

They’ve now spent money refurbishing a cafe built only a couple of years ago and renamed it Poppy’s, named after a troop cafe named after a soldier killed in action. With no disrespect intended for the soldier and the sacrifice of his family, naming a cafe at the Australian war memorial after one soldier seems to me to be wholly inappropriate and populist, driven by a politician’s mentality.

Which soldier KIA gets something named after them and which soldier doesn’t? It seems to be completely at odds with the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/prime-minister-tony-abbott-opens-new-cafe-at-australian-war-memorial-20140724-zwc6m.html

dungfungus 7:43 am 31 Jul 14

thatsnotme said :

dungfungus said :

On normal occasions all people should remove their headware as a sign of respect.
How hard is that?

More difficult than you’d expect, obviously.

The simple fact is, that the removal of headware as a sign of respect is a tradition that most young people would be unaware of. And most likely, their parents – although understanding that it should be done – wouldn’t be able to explain to their kids why.

I haven’t been to the AWM for many years now, so perhaps this is already in place, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable for signage to be placed outside of the tomb explaining – in various languages – the etiquette required to visit it.

I also don’t think it’s unreasonable for schools to teach this type of thing. When I was younger, I was an Air Force cadet, so learned all about flags, customs and ceremonies – not only as they apply to the Air Force, but Australia as a whole. Surely that should be part of the curriculum?

After reading your comment I am starting to realize how much things have changed.
I was also an air cadet and later drafted into national service so I am also disciplined in what was considered correct etiquette then – but that was 50 years ago.
All this probably went out the window when Whitlam changed our national anthem.
It’s really too late to put a sign outside the Tomb entrance as the AWM has already capitulated to politcal and cultural correctness as reflected in the comments of the AWM attendant I alluded to in an earlier comment.
I agree that Australian cultural customs should be studied in school curriculums but there is Buckley’s chance of that happening.
It would also be commonsense for Blainey’s “The Tyranny of Distance” to be compulsory reading.
Sadly, Australia is not the place it used to be.

Mumof2 10:48 pm 30 Jul 14

I recently took my 4 yr old boy to the war memorial, and visited the tomb of the unknown solder. Having explained as best as I could what it was all about, how special and important the tomb was for our nation, the first thing he did was step on the ledge to take a closer look. I quickly stopped him from walking on the tomb itself and explained that we weren’t allowed to do that. So, I’m certain it was probably another little person trying to get a better look.

justin heywood 10:39 pm 30 Jul 14

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

….No soldier died protecting our freedom in ww1.

For starters comic boy, you are neglecting the sailors who died on the Sydney while it chased down the German ship Emden at Cocos Is. The Emden had captured or sunk at least 20 civilian ships virtually in our backyard, and according to Mike Carlton the Germans did indeed have plans to shut down our trade and sink troop transports.

You should have found a source for that.

bigfeet 10:25 pm 30 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

For example, on a ceremonial visit in 2011 The Queen (and one of her aides) wore hats. The men/man present were hatless except of course the ones in military uniform.
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/queen-elizabeths-uncommon-majesty/story-e6freuy9-1226176754315
On normal occasions all people should remove their headware as a sign of respect.
How hard is that?

Well in that photo none of the men appear to be carrying hats in their hands. So I would assume that they weren’t wearing hats in the first place anyway.

And I can tell you that I have been in Westminster Abbey with an English veteran who served from Alamein, all through North Africa, invaded Sicily and Italy, Landed in Normandy at DDAY+7 and then fought all the way to the Rhine.

I asked him what he thought about kids running around on top of graves ( because you cannot walk anywhere in the abbey without standing on a grave) and also about a group of women wearing the hijab in the abbey.

You know what he said?

“I’m glad they all can do what they want. They wouldn’t be able to if we hadn’t stopped the other side.”

(OK…paraphrased…the ‘other side’ was referred to in very derogatory terms…and there may have been some other inappropriate words!)

Holden Caulfield 9:54 pm 30 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

Holden Caulfield said :

Maybe they need to put a sign near the tomb stating the owners of the site request that it not be walked on out of respect for their history and culture.

No they don’t.

True, some would just ignore it and walk over it anyway.

thatsnotme 8:57 pm 30 Jul 14

dungfungus said :

On normal occasions all people should remove their headware as a sign of respect.
How hard is that?

More difficult than you’d expect, obviously.

The simple fact is, that the removal of headware as a sign of respect is a tradition that most young people would be unaware of. And most likely, their parents – although understanding that it should be done – wouldn’t be able to explain to their kids why.

I haven’t been to the AWM for many years now, so perhaps this is already in place, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable for signage to be placed outside of the tomb explaining – in various languages – the etiquette required to visit it.

I also don’t think it’s unreasonable for schools to teach this type of thing. When I was younger, I was an Air Force cadet, so learned all about flags, customs and ceremonies – not only as they apply to the Air Force, but Australia as a whole. Surely that should be part of the curriculum?

Maya123 8:02 pm 30 Jul 14

“You wouldn’t be asking me a trick question would you?”
No it wasn’t a trick question. I seem to recall seeing old photographs where the men remove their hats, while the women keep theirs on.
Here a quaint comment on hat removal:
http://www.traditioninaction.org/Cultural/A045cpCivility_Hats.htm

staminaman62 7:29 pm 30 Jul 14

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

Alexandra Craig said :

gladbag said :

By locking something up you are not automatically ensuring respect, just the impression of it. Everyone shows respect differently, and just because they do not do it in the way that you feel is just, does not make it wrong. Trying to control others by making them behave how you want is a dangerous path to tread. Live and let live. We are not all the same

So essentially what you are saying is that if people want to trample over a tomb of someone who fought for our freedom, that’s okay if that’s their way of showing respect?

I also never said to ‘lock’ it up. I suggested that cordoning off the area of the plaque might stop people walking all over it.

I think you are confusing your world wars.

No soldier died protecting our freedom in ww1.

In anycase, maybe it’s a child who doesn’t know better, or a disabled person. I don’t think anyone is going to purposely walk over a tomb just to be dis respectful.

You are quite wrong in your assertion that no soldier died protecting freedom in World War 1. A Europe dominated by Germany’s undemocratic and illiberal regime would’ve been almost as insufferable as a Europe dominated by the Nazis.

You are one of the many people who have been taken in by the leftie historical revisionism that portrays the European empires as being all as equally bad as each other. No serious historian accepts this view (note Lenin was not a serious historian).

https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2014/07-08/beyond-good-evil-german-mind-1914/

dungfungus 7:02 pm 30 Jul 14

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

Shortly after, a group of Japanese men (tourists) entered the Tomb. My friend stood just inside the door and flicked off their baseball caps as they entered. They immediately understood and they were humble in their actions.

Flicking off other people’s hats. How rude! Hats off is a more, I believe, a generational thing, rather than rude. Older people would see this as respectful, while younger people wouldn’t. Respect would be seen more in being quiet and thoughtful. The hat is not so important. These days they are worn inside, while in the past they weren’t. That’s where taking off the hat comes from for the older generation. The style of hat is also different these days.
Men would also take off their hat for a ‘lady’. If a man did this for me today I would think him a little strange. The same if he ran ahead to open the door for me. (First one there politely holds it open for the other.)

It saddens me to read your comments. I hadn’t realized how much our traditional values have been eroded. Nevertheless, I respect your opinions.
Next time you walk past a mosque, try and walk inside with your shoes on and later, let me know how far you got.

I have been in mosques, overseas and here in Canberra, and I did take my shoes off. But then I take my shoes off in many people’s houses too. Being respectful to local customs (as long as it doesn’t erode rights) can get you respect. In one mosque overseas one of the mosque officials took me up the calling tower to see the view. Pretty amazing now I think about it; me being female and with uncovered head, although I did have a full length dress. (But it might have been who I was with.)
I don’t believe the hat custom is so strong here now, and when it was it was a different style of hat to the caps often won now. In the past females didn’t take off their hat; only males. But I do admit I like to take off my hat when entering homes and buildings if the hat is wide brimmed. If not I don’t feel it needs to be removed. This could be seen rather like the old style male brimmed hats, versus the caps of today.

I think you have written a excellent comment but if the point you make about “being respectful to local customs” applies with with mosques and private houses why is it not the same at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which I for one consider is more hallowed than any other place in Australia? In such places I would like to think it is still mandatory to remove hats which is about respect.
Indeed, I explained in my earlier post how the father of the teenager who was asked by my friend to remove his hat thanked my friend for explaining the meaning of respect which is the core issue of this thread.

Removing hats at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is something I honestly would not have thought of. Maybe this is because I am female and traditionally females didn’t remove their hats. Rather it would be the behaviour of those present that would be more important to me. Even if they feel nothing for the place they should be respectful of those that might; ie, no talking loudly, running, etc…and no walking on the tomb. But hat removing doesn’t seem important to me. Do you think females should remove their hat too, or just males?

You wouldn’t be asking me a trick question would you?
It depends on the occassion.
For example, on a ceremonial visit in 2011 The Queen (and one of her aides) wore hats. The men/man present were hatless except of course the ones in military uniform.
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/queen-elizabeths-uncommon-majesty/story-e6freuy9-1226176754315
On normal occasions all people should remove their headware as a sign of respect.
How hard is that?

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