War Memorial redevelopment approval: ”The fix was in”

Ian Bushnell 12 December 2020 15
Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is to be transformed over 10 years. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Groups opposed to the $500 million redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial have slammed the decision to approve the project, saying it was a done deal that ignored expert evidence.

”The fix was in,” was how Heritage Guardians convener David Stephens described Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s decision, which came with 29 conditions.

The Australian Institute of Architects, which had campaigned vigorously against the project and the destruction of the award-winning Anzac Hall to make way for an expanded memorial, was bitterly disappointed.

Act Chapter President Shannon Battisson said the decision reflected a comprehensive failure to listen to the advice of experts and the wishes of the community alike.

“Approving the destruction of Anzac Hall, when the site’s Heritage Management Plan expressly requires its conservation, is one of the most appalling examples of disregarding heritage protections and rubber-stamping a major public project in recent memory,” she said.

“This is the wanton destruction of a much-loved public space and all the talent, effort and treasured memories – not to mention taxpayer dollars – that went into it.”

Mr Stephens said the project had been characterised by dodgy processes and hyperbole, but the outcome was inevitable for political reasons.

”It’s essentially been pretty much a done deal for two years and it’s had this consultation window dressing along the way,” he said.

”We’ve tried to show people the flaws in the project, the faults and the inadequate arguments but political battles aren’t always won by the best arguments.”

The Guardians would examine the decision closely but it appeared the conditions were mostly trivial.

Mr Stephens said that despite the result, the Guardians had at least been able to put a lot on the record about why they thought the project was wrong, ill-advised and not supported by the evidence.

Redeveloped AWM

An artist’s impression of the redeveloped Memorial. Image: AWM.

He said the Labor Opposition had been missing in action but ”once you throw the Anzac cloak over an argument, it’s very hard for an Opposition to argue against something the government is strong on”.

The Memorial was starting to look more like a military museum than a place of commemoration, Mr Stephens said.

”The new space is bigger than the MCG – 2.5 hectares – and a lot of that will be filled with retired military equipment and kit, helicopters and Hornet jets and so on, which are kind of interesting but it’s more toys for the boys than anything to do with commemoration,” he said.

Mr Stephens said this was not surprising given that the Memorial council is heavy with current and ex-military officers ”and doesn’t look at all like the widely representative voluntary forces that have been typically fighting for Australia for over 100 years”.

He said that after the Australian Heritage Council had came out against the project in its submission to the Memorial there had been hopes it would press the issue with the Minister who would take notice, but that had come to nought.

The Heritage Guardians’ submission to the parliamentary inquiry said the expansion would destroy the Memorial’s character and criticised the ”excessive veneration” of the Anzac story.

It was signed by 82 prominent Australians including former Defence secretary Paul Barrett, and former Memorial director Steve Gower.

The conditions include measures to protect heritage areas during construction such as a heritage buffer zone, ensuring the new areas fit with the existing buildings, and that any Indigenous sites are identified and preserved.

The project needs to clear two more hurdles, including the National Capital Authority, but it is expected to be waved through.

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15 Responses to War Memorial redevelopment approval: ”The fix was in”
Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 11:59 am 12 Dec 20

If the terminally supine and obediently box-ticking NCA can be described as a “hurdle” to this desecration, the call me Mount Everest.

Ian Lindgren Ian Lindgren 8:41 am 12 Dec 20

This is a well written article. Unfortunately the issues are emotive and not based on fact or “external to Canberra” opinion. You only have to read the language from those interviewed. No modern ADF, peacekeeper, or first responders opinions are represented.

The Redevelopment Project will allow Australians to understand historical and modern operations for generations to come.

Teresa Layton Teresa Layton 7:28 am 12 Dec 20

Perhaps a purpose built war museum would be more cost effective than modifying the current memorial. Also at this point in time it seems like a huge amount of tax payer money to spend. Maybe would be more appropriate to pause for a year or so.

David Perkins David Perkins 6:56 pm 11 Dec 20

I wonder whether there will be space for a memorial to the civilian victims of the wars in which we have been involved? Or will it be a cavernous Disneyesque themepark packed with military hardware? It should really just be a quiet solemn and sacred place to remember the ineffable loss of life in war.

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 7:37 pm 11 Dec 20

    David Perkins I think it should be both, show the hardware, tell the stories and show the impact. Acknowledge the reasons for each conflict and the lessons learned. Hiroshima's memorial is really good at this, granted it is only dedicated to one war and one event but that is why space helps.

Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 6:12 pm 11 Dec 20

Disagree. This is a great opportunity to make this one of the world’s great monuments in recognition of people who’ve done so much. To think small minded Canberrans would cut their efforts short is disappointing

    Phil Essam Phil Essam 6:37 pm 11 Dec 20

    Elroy Jones it already was

    Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 6:40 pm 11 Dec 20

    Phil Essam it was ageing.

    Robyn Ahlstedt Robyn Ahlstedt 7:07 pm 11 Dec 20

    Elroy Jones agree. Current space allows for very little in the way of acknowledgement of service for any recent conflicts or current peacekeeping efforts.

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 7:26 pm 11 Dec 20

    Elroy Jones what great things? Is war great? Should we have sent troops to Gallipoli, Vietnam and Iraq? Australia - always ready to follow the Brits and Yanks into their wars and sacrifice our own. Sure, respect and remember all those who died so needlessly but why do we need a gigantic theme park? What we have is sufficient.

    Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 4:50 am 12 Dec 20

    Jill Lyall thanks for utopian view Jill

    Nate Mooré Nate Mooré 7:32 am 12 Dec 20

    Elroy Jones also a great opportunity to show how to roll out a bunch of programs that support veterans after they have served. But of course that's less tangible.

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 7:58 am 12 Dec 20

    Elroy Jones

    It certainly wasn’t. The funds should go to service folk welfare

    Vanessa Olifent Vanessa Olifent 9:39 am 12 Dec 20

    In a nice theoretically perfectly world sure, but when living veterans are currently experiencing the longest wait times in recent history for getting the help they need, it doesnt sit right.

    David Stephens David Stephens 10:03 am 14 Dec 20

    Robyn Ahlstedt Lots of space in the lower floor, currently with exhibits of Colonial Conflicts that no-one ever visits. Put the recent material there.

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