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
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.