23 April 2024

Revamped War Memorial parade ground all set for its first Anzac Day

| James Coleman
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man standing in front of the War Memorial

Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson said construction crews have been working overtime to make sure the site was ready. Photo: James Coleman.

It’s taken more than a year of construction workers toiling against unkind weather after dark under floodlights, but the Australian War Memorial’s new parade ground is ready for Anzac Day.

“My promise was to deliver this in time for Anzac Day, and due to some extremely hard work by my staff and the builders, we’ve been able to honour that commitment,” Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson announced.

To kick off Thursday’s Anzac Day commemorations, more than 1500 veterans from 50 different regiments will march up Anzac Parade and around a new stretch of red crushed stone, pavers and turf in front of the memorial’s main steps.

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The site has been hidden behind construction fences since 2021 when the National Capital Authority (NCA) signed off on a $498.7 million expansion project. The projected cost has since risen to $550 million, but the parade ground marks the completion of the first stage.

Expanded and reshaped, it can now accommodate more spectators on the stone terracing – around 4400.

“The most important change is obviously the shape,” Mr Anderson explained.

“We’ve opened up the parade ground. It was previously almost like a pie shape, and we’ve opened it up. We’ve made it square. We’ve also expanded the seating that’s available so 4400 people can sit here very comfortably without any setup or infrastructure.”

chairs outside the War Memorial

The new parade ground can comfortably seat around 4400 spectators. Photo: James Coleman.

This Anzac Day also marks the first full return of the Veterans’ March since COVID-19, when social distancing restrictions forced it to scale back. A record number of veterans are expected to turn out from across the country to mark the occasion.

“We’ve got a lot of veterans coming from around Australia just to commission the new parade ground,” ACT RSL chief executive Kimberley Hicks said.

“To see they’re actually making the effort to come to this new ground and make history means a lot to them and means a lot to us.”

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ACT RSL president John King is a third-generation military member.

His grandfather served in World War I and his father in World War II, and Mr King has 39 years of active service under his belt. He says “grown men do cry” and sheds a tear during every year’s commemorations.

“It brings back the memories of 39 years, plus of all those guys and girls I served with who are no longer with us today for various reasons,” he said.

As well as the old, there will also be the new.

Tom Delaney will join a group of cadets from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) for the march.

Cadet standing in front of the War Memorial

Cadet officer Tom Delaney will join the Royal Guard marching on the parade ground on Anzac Day. Photo: James Coleman.

“To be able to march as part of the Royal Guard on this ground on the most special day of the year, in my mind, represents the pinnacle of what someone can do,” he said.

“I joined the defence force to develop myself as a leader. At the academy, we have opportunities to be exposed to some outstanding facilities – some of the best training in the nation – and I joined to get that exposure, as well as to be able to defend Australia’s national interests. I think that’s one of the most noble pursuits you can have in your life.”

While the Veterans’ March returns to traditional roots, the Dawn Service will be conducted in the sculpture garden to the left of the main building.

Stone of Rememberance

The Dawn Service will be held in the sculpture garden, looking up to the Stone of Remembrance. Photo: James Coleman.

The Stone of Remembrance, where the commemorative wreaths are laid, is normally on the parade ground but was moved to the garden during the redevelopment and has yet to be relocated.

It’s hoped the whole program will move to the parade ground for next year’s Anzac Day.

Staff also look forward to welcoming what Mr Anderson described as “effectively a new building” by the end of the year.

Where there was once nothing but earth and an old generator room, there is now a new southern entrance to the memorial at the same level as the parade ground. This will include a 250-person theatre, function room, public amenities, orientation gallery and bookshop.

Mr Anderson says it also addresses criticisms of a lack of accessibility.

“If people have accessibility issues, they can come in at ground level from the east or the west, which they’ve been unable to do before.”

Visit the Australian War Memorial website for more information about the 2024 Dawn Service.

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I don’t want to rain on the Director’s parade but – the first photo – is anyone else shocked at the massiveness of that new construction.

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