A disgrace, a scandalous waste of money and vandalism – they are just some of the criticisms of the planned $500 million expansion of the Australian War Memorial in the first published batches of submissions to the National Capital Authority on the so-called early works application being assessed.
The NCA is the last approval hurdle for the project and has received 599 submissions. The Memorial argues that the expansion will allow it to tell the stories of more contemporary military and peacekeeping missions, and has bipartisan political support.
All bar one of the submissions opposed the proposed development, calling out, in particular, the notion that the demolition of Anzac Hall, major excavation and the removal of 65 trees could be considered early works when they are significant aspects of the redevelopment.
“Considering the three projects outlined above in isolation and calling them ‘early works’ appears to be a deliberate attempt to ‘play them down’ to avoid unwelcome public scrutiny and criticism,” one submission says.
“It is clear that by requesting approval for ‘early works’ … War Memorial management is attempting to place the project in a circumstance of ‘fait accompli’.”
Many submissions lament the destruction of Anzac Hall, with one saying the “early works amount to nothing short of vandalism” and others calling it unwarranted and unnecessary.
The proposed loss of mature eucalypts around the War Memorial also rates highly, with many saying it contravenes the NCA’s own Tree Management Policy.
One submission argues that the proposal is a test for the NCA, which must assess the heritage impacts of the proposal within the context of the National Capital Plan.
“If the NCA is to remain relevant in the management of the Canberra National Area, they must not see their role as necessarily acquiescent to DAWE [the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment] (or the PWC [the Public Works Committee]). The NCA must be in spirit, what they are in name, an [independent] authority; and make a separate, independent judgement on the heritage impact of this redevelopment proposal,” it says.
Many submissions are concerned at the direction the Memorial is taking towards becoming a museum or even a theme park with the creation of space for large bits of military hardware.
“The national capital should have a memorial to our war dead and their families, NOT a theme park or even a museum,” says one.
“A memorial should be a place of quiet reflection and dignity. These sentiments can be completely lost in a large-scale extravaganza.”
Some see the expanded Memorial becoming a glorification of war rather than a place to reflect on the nation’s losses and the horror of war.
“This project is a disgrace, transforming a peaceful space of grass and trees intended for reflection on the folly and human cost of war into a concrete wasteland celebrating killing and weaponry,” one says.
Many are appalled at the cost, calling for the $500 million to go to veterans’ health or other cultural institutions.
One suggests a series of infrastructure projects across the nation in memory of those lost in war: “In the small town in western New South Wales where I was born, they have a high school called ‘Hay War Memorial High School’ which serves to honour the memory of all those men from around Hay who went off to war and never came back …
“Rather than investing in this obscenely expensive expansion of the War Memorial, may I suggest that the money available be invested in better public schools, hospitals, libraries, perhaps dental clinics, each with a board recording the names of fellow citizens who died in war, or indeed the names of all those people, men or women, who left their communities to go off to serve.”
A consultation report addressing the matters raised in the submissions will be released to the public, but it is not expected that this will be finalised before the end of June.
Through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act process, the Parliamentary Works Committee and the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment have already given the redevelopment a tick.
To read the submissions, visit the NCA website.