Com­ple­tion at long last for a quiet place of re­mem­brance

Syd­ney’s An­zac Memo­rial en­cour­ages re­flec­tion on the na­ture of war, its mean­ing and pur­pose

The Weekend Australian - - 100 ARMISTICE ANNIVERSARY - TROY BRAMSTON SE­NIOR WRITER

When you climb the steps of the An­zac Memo­rial at Syd­ney’s Hyde Park and glimpse the enor­mous dome in the Hall of Mem­ory, you are im­me­di­ately drawn to the Well of Con­tem­pla­tion and your head bows to hon­our those who served in World War I.

Stand­ing be­neath a con­stel­la­tion of 120,000 gold painted stars sym­bol­is­ing those who served in war, vis­i­tors are com­pelled to look over the cir­cu­lar mar­ble balustrade where they see the strik­ing bronze statue Sac­ri­fice be­low.

There, in the mid­dle of bronze “flames of war” spread­ing out along the mar­ble floor, is a young dead sol­dier ly­ing hor­i­zon­tally across a sword and shield — a homage to the clas­si­cal Spar­tan war­rior — held aloft by a group of women who rep­re­sent what they, and us, have lost.

No other war memo­rial in Aus­tralia evokes such a vis­cer­ally emo­tive and phys­i­cal re­ac­tion. The art deco memo­rial, de­signed by Bruce Del­lit with stat­ues and re­liefs by Rayner Hoff, and which opened in 1934, is one of Aus­tralia’s great­est na­tional trea­sures. It is a world-class war memo­rial that is of­ten over­looked.

In 1923, spe­cial leg­is­la­tion was en­acted in NSW that al­lowed for the con­struc­tion of the memo­rial. Af­ter years of de­bate, it was agreed it would be a solemn com­mem­o­ra­tive memo­rial that also would in­clude of­fice space for re­turned sol­diers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions. In 1929, de­signs were called for. In 1930, Del­lit was awarded first prize.

It is a memo­rial that en­cour­ages quiet re­flec­tion on the na­ture of war, its mean­ing and pur­pose, and ul­ti­mately the sac­ri­fices made, its cen­tre­piece. Del­lit drew in­spi­ra­tion from Napoleon’s tomb in Paris.

The first vis­i­tors, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, were struck by how art, de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture could cre­ate such a sa­cred space in the mid­dle of a bustling city. The soft am­ber light that glows through the win­dows into the Hall of Si­lence helps to cre­ate a hal­lowed at­mos­phere. Etched into the memo­rial are the words: “Let Silent Con­tem­pla­tion Be Your Of­fer­ing.”

Four huge gran­ite stat­ues rep­re­sent­ing the four branches of the Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force stand on the out­side cor­ners. Del­lit ini­tially wanted th­ese to rep­re­sent “the arts of war and peace”. A fur­ther 16 seated sol­diers are seated around the out­side of the mon­u­ment. Del­lit chose not to use stat­ues of sol­diers “stand­ing dully at ease”, of­ten next to an obelisk, which had be­come com­mon­place through­out Aus­tralia.

Del­lit com­mis­sioned Hoff, to­gether cre­at­ing one of the great col­lab­o­ra­tions in the his­tory of Aus­tralian art and ar­chi­tec­ture, to de­sign and pro­duce the stat­ues and bas-re­liefs that wrap around the build­ing’s in­te­rior and ex­te­rior.

The re­lief pan­els, in­spired by Ro­man vic­tory columns, are made of bronze and gran­ite and rep­re­sent sol­diers in ac­tion.

I re­cently had the priv­i­lege of vis­it­ing the An­zac Memo­rial, which has been ren­o­vated and ex­panded, ahead of its of­fi­cial open­ing to­mor­row on Re­mem­brance Day. The $40 mil­lion cen­te­nary project fi­nally re­alises Del­lit’s vi-

No other war memo­rial in Aus­tralia evokes such a vis­cer­ally emo­tive and phys­i­cal re­ac­tion. It is a world-class war memo­rial that is of­ten over­looked

sion for the memo­rial, which could not be com­pleted be­cause of cost re­straints in the De­pres­sion.

The An­zac Memo­rial now has an im­pres­sive four-plat­form cas­cad­ing wa­ter­fall at its south­ern end. Vis­i­tors can walk through the mid­dle of the wa­ter­fall to an un­der­ground Hall of Ser­vice that is con­nected to an ex­hi­bi­tion gallery, au­di­to­rium and li­brary. A col­lec­tion of about 6000 his­tor­i­cal ob­jects il­lus­trate the Aus­tralian ex­pe­ri­ence in war and the fas­ci­nat­ing story of the memo­rial it­self.

The Hall of Ser­vice has an ocu­lus above that al­lows the pub­lic to peer in and view a ring on the floor that in­cludes earth taken from 100 bat­tle­fields. It sym­bol­ises more than 150 years of Aus­tralian ser­vice in war and peace­keep­ing. The walls around the hall in­clude soil sam­ples taken from 1700 places where vol­un­teers en­listed for World War I.

An­other unique fea­ture of the An­zac Memo­rial is it does not in­clude names. When it was opened by Prince Henry, he un­veiled a plaque that read: “This memo­rial was opened by the son of the King on the 24th No­vem­ber 1934”. A new plaque not­ing that Prince Harry opened the ex­ten­sions a few weeks ago says it was opened by “a grand­son of the Queen”.

In 1934, the trustees of the memo­rial pub­lished The Book of the An­zac Memo­rial. It in­cluded con­tri­bu­tions from, among oth­ers, Del­lit, war cor­re­spon­dent and his­to­rian Charles Bean and for­mer prime min­is­ter Billy Hughes. A new vol­ume, The An­zac Memo­rial, has just been pub­lished by the trustees. It is a fit­ting trib­ute to a mag­nif­i­cent memo­rial.

To­mor­row marks 100 years since the ar­mistice was signed that ended World War I— at 11am on No­vem­ber 11, 1918. The war changed for­ever Aus­tralian so­ci­ety, econ­omy and pol­i­tics. It gen­er­ated a new sense of na­tion­hood. Of­fi­cially, 61,522 Aus­tralians were killed and a fur­ther 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken pris­oner.

The Re­turned Sol­diers As­so­ci­a­tion be­gan rais­ing pub­lic funds for “a last­ing memo­rial” by the time of the first An­zac Day on April 25, 1916. It took nearly two decades, af­ter much po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic wran­gling, to see it take pride of place in Syd­ney’s sprawl­ing Hyde Park. And now, a fur­ther eight decades later, it comes even closer to Del­lit’s orig­i­nal de­sign.

The An­zac Memo­rial was not es­tab­lished to cel­e­brate or ven­er­ate war. It was not about prop­a­gat­ing a new form of na­tion­al­ism. It was not about pro­vid­ing a plat­form for politi­cians and mil­i­tary to give speeches on an­niver­saries. It was about pro­vid­ing a place to qui­etly hon­our and re­mem­ber those who gave their lives in ser­vice to their coun­try.

“The An­zac Memo­rial de­sign is in­tended to ex­press with dig­nity and sim­plic­ity nei­ther the glory nor the glam­our of war,” Del­lit said, “but th­ese no­bler at­tributes of hu­man na­ture which the great tragedy of na­tions so vividly brought forth — courage, en­durance and sac­ri­fice.”

David Speers presents Spe­cial: Fu­ture of the Aus­tralian War Memo­rial. The memo­rial’s re­de­vel­op­ment plan re­vealed in Can­berra to­mor­row. 10am AEDT on Sky News channels 103 and 600.

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