26 February 2024

'Hallowed ground to us veterans': first part of Australian War Memorial redevelopment nearing completion

| James Coleman
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RSL ACT president John King standing at the War Memorial

RSL ACT president John King served 39 years with the Australian Defence Force. Photo: James Coleman.

It’s hoped a record number of veterans will turn out to this year’s Dawn Service, thanks to the Australian War Memorial’s new parade ground.

The face of the Memorial has been largely hidden behind construction fencing since 2021 when the National Capital Authority (NCA) signed off on a $498.7 million expansion project.

This will eventually include the New Anzac Hall gallery space, combined archive and laboratory in the CEW Bean Building, and refurbished main entrance – complete with a massive glass skylight designed as the inverse of the Memorial’s iconic green dome and dubbed the ‘Oculus’.

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But the final touches are being laid this week on the new parade ground. You’ll know this as the culmination of Anzac Parade – the stretch of red crushed stone, pavers and turf leading up to the main steps and metal gates.

The redevelopment is designed to improve the lines of sight to the ground’s Stone of Remembrance and provide more space and accessible seating for major events.

It’s set to open in time for Anzac Day in April 2024, giving veterans the chance to gather there for the first time since 2021.

Matt Anderson at the War Memorial

Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson on site. Photo: James Coleman.

“It’s a key milestone for us because the opening up of the parade ground allows us to open up the southern precinct,” AWM Director Matt Anderson explained.

“It sends a very, very clear message – both to visitors to the Australian War Memorial and to people in Canberra – that we are very much open.”

However, as with last year, the Dawn Service will be held in the Sculpture Garden, where the Stone of Remembrance was temporarily relocated in 2021.

Mr Anderson is confident visitors will be able to walk up the front steps to the gates of the Memorial “by the time Floriade’s around”. The whole southern precinct will be completed by the end of the year.

“These are major milestones, but the first thing we need to do is get veterans onto the parade ground,” he said.

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Returned Services League (RSL) ACT Branch president John King served 39 years, first in the National Service, then in the Army, and finally as a reservist before he retired. He described the parade ground as “hallowed ground for us veterans”.

“Not being able to use it has been disappointing. It has been very difficult for the older veterans to march up the hill, but in reality, a lot force themselves to do it because that’s what veterans do.”

Australian War Memorial construction site

The new parade ground is on track to open in early April 2024. Photo: James Coleman.

Mr King expects “a lot more people to put their names down” this year, to the point his phone has been ringing hot with enquiries.

“I think this will be one of the best years for the Anzac Day march in a long time,” he said.

RSL ACT CEO Kimberley Hicks said 3000 “would be a lovely number”.

“Last year we had over 1000, so that was good. But we’re hoping now we have the parade ground, we can actually welcome more.”

Australian War Memorial construction site

Looking back down Anzac Parade, over the top of the new southern entrance (the parade ground is located where the red truck is). Photo: James Coleman.

Similar to Mr King, Ms Hicks has also received expressions of interest from veterans in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, and even a “large group from Bribie Island”.

“They’re very excited to see the new parade ground, and it will be great to show them. It’ll be a nice, smooth, level walk – great for anyone who is in a wheelchair or who needs vehicle assistance.”

Registrations to join the Anzac Day march are open on the Australian War Memorial and ACT RSL websites.

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