24 May 2024

New design sought for a National Memorial for Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

| Ian Bushnell
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Too hard to build: The terminated winning entry to the national design competition for the memorial. Image: NCA.

A fresh design is sought for the proposed National Memorial for Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse on Acton Peninsula after the winning submission was canned for being too difficult to build.

More than six years after The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its Final report, the National Capital Authority has released a tender for a new memorial design, which would acknowledge victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in a sensitive and respectful manner.

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The Royal Commission recommended building a national memorial in Canberra for victims and survivors that would provide a place of reflection and recognition of the truth, offer a symbol of hope and a place to gather.

For the broader community, the memorial would acknowledge the experiences of victims and survivors, recognise the courage of those who have fought for justice, honour lives lost and those whose voices were not heard.

It also would aim to educate people about the harmful and lasting impacts of institutional child sexual abuse.

The Federal Government has set aside $7.9 million to design and construct the memorial.

In February this year, the Department of Social Services terminated the winning design selected from a national competition the NCA ran in 2021.

It said the selected design, Transparency and Truth, by architects Jessica Spresser and Peter Besley, was found to have complex construction challenges.

The architects said they were “blindsided” by the decision after learning about it in the media.

Their design proposed a series of glass arches with a meandering path encircling a meadow of perennial grasses and wildflowers.

“Assessments of the selected design concept … identified complex technical challenges due to the unique and innovative use of glass in the design,” DSS said.

“The department and the National Capital Authority worked closely to explore options to resolve the design challenges and engaged with the National Memorial Advisory Group on these options. This consultation determined the selected design had unacceptable technical risks and a protracted timeframe.

“In addition, the assessment was unable to determine whether the design would have long-term durability in Canberra’s climate.”

The NCA said it was now seeking a new creative and trauma-informed design for the memorial, with construction expected to start in 2025 and be completed in 2026.

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Tenderers could take inspiration from the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, delivered by the Prime Minister on 22 October 2018, the Final Report of the Royal Commission, which contained the findings, recommendations and testimony of victims and survivors and any other relevant sources.

“The preferred design will acknowledge victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in a sensitive and respectful manner,” the NCA said.

Responses will be evaluated by the NCA, the Department of Social Services and the National Memorial Advisory Group, which includes people with lived experience.

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