Spend War Memorial’s $500 million on post-traumatic stress, says former Defence Force chief

Ian Bushnell 14 August 2020 33

Admiral Chris Barrie (retired) says the proposed development will turn a place of significant commemoration into a grand museum. Photo: Australian Crisis Simulation Summit.

A former Chief of the Defence Force has called for the half a billion dollars earmarked for the Australian War Memorial expansion to be spent on a research institute for post-traumatic stress to help veterans suffering from the condition.

In his submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the AWM development project, Admiral Chris Barrie (retired) said he has also been troubled by the scale of the project and how it will impinge on the sacred status of the Memorial.

”I regret the recent trend that seems to have taken a turn towards the view that our place of national commemoration should be turned into a museum, that is a place of entertainment to amuse tourists where nothing should be overlooked in telling stories about war or peacekeeping,” he said.

”The culmination of this current trend is the proposal to turn a place of significant commemoration into a grand museum requiring the destruction of the ANZAC Hall, completed in 2004, and to use that space to create a grand new structure needed to satisfy the anticipated needs of tourists.”

Admiral Barrie said Charles Bean’s unique conception of a modest place of commemoration stands in stark contrast to most other countries, ”especially when compared to the plethora of museums that glorify war and its heroes”.

A Vietnam veteran, Admiral Barrie said he had always felt the gallery displays for the Vietnam War were sufficient for remembrance, whether for veterans, their families or the wider community.

In 2014, Admiral Barrie established a non-profit charity – PTSD Australia and New Zealand, also known as FearLess Outreach – to help people with post-traumatic stress. The goal is to establish a national outreach organisation and research institute, the cost of which was estimated at $500 million, the same cost as the AWM proposal.

He said that amount would be much better spent on the building, equipping and staffing of a national advanced brain and mind research institute that is dedicated to becoming a world-class centre of excellence in the treatment of post-traumatic stress.

One of the contentious arguments for the Memorial expansion has been that it would provide a healing effect for veterans, particularly from recent operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Former AWM director Dr Brendan Nelson says the expansion is desperately needed by veterans. Photo: File.

Former AWM director Dr Brendan Nelson has been a passionate advocate of the so-called ‘therapeutic milieu’, and in his recent submission to the inquiry said that he saw it and felt its power every day of his seven years at the helm of the Memorial.

”The Memorial tells stories that hurt, in doing so they heal,” he said.

”Apart from many powerful stories in support of this, one of the key drivers of post-traumatic stress is meaninglessness.

“If you believe that what you did doesn’t matter, doesn’t count – that people neither know nor care about what you did, as a veteran you feel a devalued and diminished individual. Having ‘your story’ told and proudly so at the nation’s War Memorial is a very important part of the solution.”

The inquiry offered Dr Nelson a right of reply to the many critics of the project and he has rejected claims of a secret process, saying the memorial was open and transparent about its need for expansion and received bipartisan support.

”Indeed, much of what has been said to the Committee is misleading at best, disingenuous in part and is largely presented in a vacuum of a willingness to understand the need for, and purpose of, these much-needed extensions.”

The project is designed to tell the story of more recent conflicts and Dr Nelson said it’s desperately needed for the 100,000 young veterans the nation has created over the past 20 years.

He accused former Memorial employees of having sour grapes, saying they were driven by resentment about changes at the AWM after their leaving.

Dr Nelson dismissed claims that the expansion is a ”monument to Brendan Nelson”, saying they reveal the motives of some opponents.

”These critics regard these changes as in some way ‘overshadowing’, diminishing or in some way relegating to a forgotten past their own contributions,” Dr Nelson said.

”My very strong view is that it is in the end not about any of us privileged for a period of time to be custodians, but for these men and women who have devoted their lives not to themselves, but to us – and their last moments to one another.

”In my experience, what they want is to live in the heart of the nation they have served.

”Paradoxically, some who oversaw the installation of the bridge and forward gun of an entire warship (HMAS Brisbane), an Iroquois Helicopter and an M113 troop carrier, are now steadfastly opposing the expansion necessary to house the military artefacts so equally precious to this and subsequent generations of servicemen and women.”

Dr Nelson said opponents have been unwilling to engage with the Memorial, including the Australian Institute of Architects, which is campaigning against the loss of ANZAC Hall.

”Not one of those appearing before the Committee in opposition to the project responded to my invitation to allow me to take them on a tour of the Memorial to see what it does, what it means, what the problem is and why it urgently needs to be addressed,” he said.

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33 Responses to Spend War Memorial’s $500 million on post-traumatic stress, says former Defence Force chief
James William Taylor James William Taylor 6:38 pm 14 Aug 20

This would be an old picture of Admiral Barry when he was still serving. I have served with him & he always had his mens welfare & well being at heart.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:30 am 14 Aug 20

I find it amusing that the outspoken retired Admiral Barrie, resplendent in his uniform, medals and colours (reflecting the pomp and pageantry of the defence forces) is critical of the perception that the AWM is turning into museum.

That being the case, he would be the perfect relic to put on display.

Warren Curry Warren Curry 10:17 pm 13 Aug 20

Absolutely. People need help not a bigger building to promote natiolism and warfare.

Rob Thomas Rob Thomas 1:56 pm 13 Aug 20

Medical research? A politician can't stand in front of that, it's not as photogenic!

Annie Clarke Annie Clarke 11:42 pm 12 Aug 20

How about spending it on the veterans, the research has been done!

Melissa Langerman Melissa Langerman 10:56 pm 12 Aug 20

Something that achieves something positive for our current veterans sounds like a great idea. And this work could also have huge benefits to other sufferers of PTSD like police, firies, ambos. Maybe they could just put up an exhibition at the War Memorial about what had been achieved with the spending.

Paul South Paul South 10:25 pm 12 Aug 20

What the hell is the RSL doing ?

Steve Whan Steve Whan 10:03 pm 12 Aug 20

*Obviously veterans need support.*

One day current veterans will be gone, like WW1 veterans are no longer with us.

As a nation we reflect on the exploits and trials of the then young WW1 veterans.

Would current veterans want the same level of exposure as past WW1 have, or would they prefer a plaque to say they had counselling?

I dont know the extent of renos proposed, but if it was extensive enough to not justify further spending for a hundred yrs, 50yrs, would it be considered as value for money?

I suggest we should be cautious against short sighted expedience.

Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 9:23 pm 12 Aug 20

What a great idea

Annie Wyer Annie Wyer 9:11 pm 12 Aug 20

When will the Ferris wheel go up?

Bek Clark Bek Clark 8:34 pm 12 Aug 20

Many people may not know this, but small children living with a combat veteran who has PTSD have a high likelihood of developing PTSD.

We desperately need a research institute into PTSD and it’s epigenetic effects because living with lifetime trauma for someone else’s war is not fair.

We don’t need fancy statues. We need treatments that actually work.

Sue Skinner Sue Skinner 7:21 pm 12 Aug 20

Totally agree. The mental health issues faced by returning service personnel will require support for years to come. They deserve the best opportunity to live life to their full potential. Psychs, groups, programs, support for families and carers should be the top priority.

Julia Ross Julia Ross 7:21 pm 12 Aug 20

Wonderful idea.

Liz Hughes Liz Hughes 7:20 pm 12 Aug 20

Good on him. This needs to be stopped.

Helen Kvalheim Stephenson Helen Kvalheim Stephenson 7:07 pm 12 Aug 20

Absolutely agree!

Rob Long Rob Long 6:54 pm 12 Aug 20

The Nelson fiasco Disneyland WM is a disgrace

Andrew Brettargh Andrew Brettargh 6:52 pm 12 Aug 20

Things change... Sunlight brings truth..

Barbara Cooper Barbara Cooper 6:38 pm 12 Aug 20

Yeah I’d vote for that

Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 6:33 pm 12 Aug 20

And the women

Gillian Unger Gillian Unger 6:32 pm 12 Aug 20

Brendan Nelson is out of touch

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