A new sculpture to recognise the suffering of war and service will be installed in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial after a three-year campaign by Karen Bird and Connie Boglis, the mother and partner of Afghanistan veteran Jesse Bird who took his own life in 2017.
The women have been working with veterans, their families, ex-service organisations and the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs, and last year Ms Bird queried why the Federal Government had insisted the project be funded through private donations, despite the $500 million it had committed to the memorial expansion.
But on Wednesday (16 June) Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester announced that the Government would provide $1.2 million to ensure the project proceeded and unveiled the selected work.
He said the sculpture would provide a permanent place at the memorial in recognition of those who have experienced and witnessed the ongoing traumas that can result from military service.
“I have spoken with many veterans’ families and friends, including those who have lost someone to suicide, about how military service has affected them and how this can be better recognised at the Australian War Memorial,” Mr Chester said.
“This sculpture will be an enduring recognition for those affected by military service and serve as a reminder to us all of the about impact of service on some of our personnel and their families, but importantly, provide them with hope and healing.”
Members of the stakeholder committee unanimously selected artist Alex Seton’s proposal, Every drop shed in anguish – a field of sculpted Australian pearl marble droplets in the memorial’s sculpture garden.
Mrs Bird, who is a member of the sculpture commission committee, said she believed that Alex Seton’s work would enhance the ability to continue the conversation begun within the walls of the memorial.
She said this story must be transferrable to the national discourse – a truth telling of how war does come home and how service does have consequences.
“Alex’s vision while speaking to this truth opens the horizon to hope and new promise. The Australian veteran community and most significantly, their families, need to know and feel this hope and new promise,” Mrs Bird said.
Ms Boglis said that she liked the fact that the work had no heroes.
“It is a space for everyone to be acknowledged or educated. Whether a veteran, family member, partner or teacher, you can grieve, remember and educate our Australian community on the ultimate sacrifice of war,” she said.
Veteran Ben Farinazzo who suffers from PTSD, said the concept of unique drops of blood, sweat and tears touched his soul.
“It reflects the stories and struggles of many of my friends, their families and their loved ones. It is an open and accessible space that will provide a powerful sense of place for many veterans and their families.”
The commission will take two years to craft and be a significant work of site-specific, contemporary art and a major addition to the memorial’s national collection.
Mr Seton said rounded liquid forms suggest blood, sweat or tears.
“Every droplet has a unique shape, defined by its delicate surface tension, as if about to burst,” he said.
“Most importantly, when touched these forms reveal themselves to have an inner strength and resilience that provides hope and promise of healing.”
The memorial said that historically the ongoing mental suffering of veterans had not been acknowledged.
“Attention is rightly given to those who died during war. However, those who survived and were left with mental suffering from wounds and injuries sustained in service, or exposure to intense trauma, dangerous or life-threatening conditions, often felt forgotten,” he said.
“By providing overdue recognition and understanding of the scars, both seen and unseen, it is hoped that this work of art will assist some way in recovery.”
Ms Bird said the missing conversation had always been the war that came home.
“This war is and has always been just as vicious, and we, the loved ones of these men and women, have made a place for them.”
Subject to final approval by the National Capital Authority, the installation is expected to be completed in the second half of 2023.
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