An unusual war memorial
AUSTRALIA’S WAR MEMORIAL movement saw everything from cenotaphs, obelisks and statues to pillars, parks and gates erected by committees across the country to honour those who served. Or, in the case of the Australian War Memorial, a two-storey building laid out like a Byzantine cross. But one of the most unusual war memorials is located in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of Sydney. Found among the scrub and gum trees is a scale model of Egypt’s Great Sphinx of Giza and two pyramids. This incongruous landmark was created in the 1920s by a returned First World War soldier, William Shirley. A patient at the nearby convalescent hospital Lady Davidson, he was a stonemason by trade and began his project at the encouragement of doctors: setting to work carving an outcrop of sphinx-shaped sandstone in the bush. Childhood memories of seeing the solemn Sphinx Memorial during family picnics in the 1950s inspired folk singer and author Jim Low to investigate its origins. “In his book Sacred Places, K.S.-Inglis states: ‘The making of Great War memorials in Australia was a quest for the right way, materially and spiritually, to honour the soldiers.’ I believe that Shirley successfully accomplished this ‘quest’ without the aid of committees, fundraising or divisive debate,” says Low, of Shirley’s motivations and legacy. “Commenced as a project to help repatriate a broken soldier, it took a new direction as Shirley realised the potential for his sphinx and pyramids to become a memorial. [It] shines a modest light on the horrific, violent and impersonal nature of warfare and gives us cause for serious reflection. In doing so he created a special space for generations to come.” Bushwalkers can visit the Sphinx Memorial on the Sphinx Memorial to Bobbin Head loop track.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: An old photograph of the Sphinx Memorial; The landmark is hidden in the bush; Resolute Beach in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park .