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Over the front – the Great War in the air – a review

By johnboy - 3 December 2008 39

[First filed: December 02, 2008 @ 13:19]

The War Memorial’s latest blockbuster Over the front is now open to the public and I went along this morning to see what magic Peter Jackson had wrought with the audio-visual presentation.

The exhibition and curation of artifacts is decidedly light weight. I suppose this is a function of the internet these days. They assume that if you’re looking to nerd out you’ll do it online. The five planes on display (SE5a fighter, Airco DH9 bomber, Avro 504K trainer, Albatros D.Va. and Pfalz D.XII) are really just there because they look cool.

But when the movie starts up is really what it’s all about.

The huge wrap-around screen is used ingeniously and basically if you took all the action sequences out of a war movie and spliced them together with a killer score and stirring narration… Well… This is what it would look like.

The surround sound in particular will blow you away with the rat-at-at of machine guns and the roar of the engines zooming away following the paths of planes that have disappeared off screen.

It’s free, it’s air-conditioned, it’s highly entertaining and somewhat informative.

I’m just slightly concerned about what it’s doing in a war memorial.

But what the heck, it’s rocking.


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39 Responses to
Over the front – the Great War in the air – a review
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farnarkler 10:55 am 05 Dec 08

I agree with you GB that war is terrible. However you have to agree that war is an accelerant for medical and technological advancement. You have to marvel at the ingenuity of the prisoners of war in places like Colditz who had all sorts of ways of getting in maps and making disguises and radios etc. Those exhibits never fail to interest me.

Mr Evil 10:45 am 05 Dec 08

The ADF do run an annual airshow at a different airbase each year – but I doubt it’ll ever make an appearance in Canberra.

Anyway, after reading the whinge from some toss in The Chronicle about the noise from the 10 minute Hornet display at the Cbr Airport open day in October, I’m sure he’d have kittens over the four hours of noise from virtually every type currently in RAAF service, plus warbirds.

Temora Aviation Museum’s flying days are excellent – and 2009 should see the reappearance of the RAAF Historic Flight’s Sabre fighter jet, which hasn’t flown since the late 1980s.

BerraBoy68 10:09 am 05 Dec 08

farnarkler said :

I doubt if G for George will ever fly again. Pity but it’s too rare to risk it. H1NGO an airshow would be great. Richmond airbase used to have one, surely Fairbairn could host a decent one.

They hosted one in the 90’s. A Mig-15 crashed while flying a circuit killing both the pilot and the passenger. It hit just before the pine trees next to Narrabundah oval near the veladrome after an internal engine failure. It was luck that many of the Softball players playing on the oval that day were’t killed. I doub’t they’ll ever do it again at the airport.

Tne Air Force ran a good airshow over the lake about 2 years ago with current and previous serving aircraft. It was very good.

caf 10:08 am 05 Dec 08

For those interested in seeing warbirds flying, take a drive down the Hume to the Temora Aviation Museum for one of their regular weekend Flying Days.

GB 9:48 am 05 Dec 08

The War Memorial is one of the few institutions in Canberra that I recommend to any tourist. Some people go there for the ‘big toys’, but end up in tears. As it should be. War is about waste, more than anything else. And the AWM captures that pretty damn well.

It should be a memorial and a museum — the museum helps people learn what the hell we are supposed to be remembering. Why these people died. And that they were people — kids, many of them, signing up for the thrill; together with true believers who signed up for the idea; and conscripts without a choice or without a clue. And many many civilians going about their business in a city that became a bombing target or a village that looked suspicious or a country led by a madman.

I’m not sure whether the big productions like this actually educate people about the reality of war; but if they get them into the building, there’s at least a chance they’ll take notice.

Have a look a the roll of honour — and that’s just the military casualties. Add the millions of civilians from previous conflicts, and think about current ones.

Lest we forget.

Thumper 9:08 am 05 Dec 08

G for George is long past it’s flying date and as JB said, to refit her would be to replace pretty much every component, thus rendering her a new aircraft.

I believe they have a few flying lancs in England, i’d love to see one.

farnarkler 8:47 am 05 Dec 08

Yeah but what a sight it would be to see it in full flight.

johnboy 8:43 am 05 Dec 08

Making them flyable generally destroys their historical value.

After you’ve replaced the struts, the wires, the cloth, the engine, you’ve pretty much got a new plane to an old design.

farnarkler 8:05 am 05 Dec 08

I doubt if G for George will ever fly again. Pity but it’s too rare to risk it. H1NGO an airshow would be great. Richmond airbase used to have one, surely Fairbairn could host a decent one.

deye 1:39 pm 03 Dec 08

NickD said :

This is a bit off topic, but I was really disappointed by the AWM’s current exhibition on 1918. While the AWM has traditionally focused on the experiences of ordinary Australians, this exhibition is focused almost entirely on senior generals, war heroes and guns. As a result there’s almost nothing about what the average Australian on the Western Front lived through or did.

I don’t have a problem with them focusing on generals in some exhibits, they can’t have the same things all the time and they did play a significant part.

Mr_Shab 11:46 am 03 Dec 08

The AWM needs to play its cards very carefully. It’s tough not to glorify war while memorialising – and they’ve done a very commendable job for a very long time. Examples are not recording the ranks of the men on the roll of honour (all men are equal in death, etc). It’s a delicate balancing act when you can show the action, but the consequences seem remote – like a playstation game.

The big problem our view of war faces now is the lack of “living memorials” – that being the old soldiers themselves. You’ll get a far better and thoroughly unglorified memorial from knowing a veteran than you’ll get at any museum. My father tells the story of a WWI veteran who used to sit outside the CWA hall on Sundays when he was growing up, collecting for Legacy (they would put an old AIF flag on a card table and people would try to cover it with pennies).

He had no legs, and sat in a wheelchair with the fixed look of sadness and the thousand-yard stare of a man who’s experienced things no-one should. He seemed very old, but couldn’t have been more than 60, more probably in his early to mid 50’s.

My father found out later that he was a young farmer from the area and a well-regarded member of the community. He’d volunteered like a good patriot and member of the Empire and was cut in half by an artillery shell somewhere in France. He barely spoke and lived in care in the veterans home; his sole public activity sitting on the street outside the CWA hall on Sundays, collecting for Legacy.

He was an uncomfortable reminder of the price of war. He couldn’t be ignored or forgotten when convenient, like the marble arch in the main street; more visceral than names on stone.

The AWM, excellent as it is, can’t compete.

Thumper 10:06 am 03 Dec 08

I’m from the old school of mueseums and subscribe to the view that if you need flashing lights and loud sounds to entice someone to look at something, then they really aren’t interested and never will be. Or worse, they will get some sort of distorted view of the issue.

Having said that, one of my lecturers once said something along the lines of;

“If you let me read it I will acknowledge it, if you let me see it, I will appreciate it, however, if you let me touch it and use it, I will understand it”

Simply put, if you want kids to understand then let them touch, feel, or even use the artifact (or replica thereof)

I must add that I have been increasingly surprised at the number of kids turning up to the dawn ceremony and the actual march on ANZAC day so it’s either rampant nationalism, or a greater understanding due to greater education. I’d like to think the latter.

It’s a fine line to tread between memorial and museum and I think the AWM does it very well. That’s why I continue to remind people that it is, first and foremost, a memorial.

H1NG0 10:01 am 03 Dec 08

Maybe they should have an AWM airshow every year where they take these things to Canberra Airport and fly them around, as well as invite other current and ex-military aircraft. That would be the shiznit!

farnarkler 9:27 am 03 Dec 08

Thumper I think the AWM is trying to keep up with the times. When I was 8, video games were in their infancy. Now it’s the norm to have an Xbox or a Playstation 2 or 3. It’s a sad state of affairs but children, who form a large percentage of the AWMs visitors get bored with static exhibits. They want the lightshow and the sounds.

The AWM used to be, dare I say it, a little boring in the late 70’s. It’s been brought up to date without it being too Hollywood.

I would like to see G for George flying though.

poptop 8:41 am 03 Dec 08

I don’t see that they are mutually exclusive.

Certainly the commemorative area makes me feel extremely solemn and I would probably like it to stay pretty much the way it is.

The rest of the AWM, IMO, is effectively museum and should do whatever is necessary and appropriate to educate as well as entertain.

Thumper 8:30 am 03 Dec 08

I agree that it is an absolutely fabulous place. I remember as a kid, maybe 8 years old, staring for hours at those incredible diaramas. It should stay as a musuem as well as a memorial. However, it doesn’t need to go down the modern way of glamourising history.

But I still suggest that one must realise that it is still a memorial first, and a museum second.

H1NG0 8:15 am 03 Dec 08

The War Memorial is a fantastic place. I have been to airplane museums overseas and they don’t even compare. If you disagree and think that it should be only a memorial, then maybe you should check out the tomb, the flame, or the many memorials along Anzac Pde.

farnarkler 6:51 am 03 Dec 08

Don’t ever mess with the AWM. Having visited the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester, the military museum in Brussels and Les Invalides in Paris, I can confirm without a doubt Canberra’s AWM is without equal. It is both a memorial and museum and needs to stay like that.

We need to remember those who died in battle but it is important to see the equipment they used and maps of where they fought.

the AWM is the one thing that Canberra has which is the best of its’ type anywhere in the World.

johnboy 10:49 pm 02 Dec 08

Some soldiers were brave, some just lacked imagination, others were bored and looking for any excuse to get off the farm.

Let’s honour the brave ones by having some perspective.

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