The concept of having an Australian War Memorial was brought up by Charles Bean, who was horrified and deeply moved by the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers at Fromelles and Pozieres. This prompted him with the idea to build a memorial to ensure that the sacrifices made by the Australian men and women in WW1.
The Founding Fathers of the AWM:
Charles Bean was chosen as the official war correspondent in 1914 and was first sent to Gallipoli before following the Australian soldiers throughout the rest of WW1. He was appointed to oversee the production of the “Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918” and also wrote 6 of the 12 volumes. Additionally, he envisioned and urged the creation of the Australian War Memorial. John Treloar was also a major contributor and influencer to the establishment as he was the Appointed Director from 1920 until his death in 1952. He was also in charge of the Military History and Information Section for a brief period.
Constructing the National Collection:
The Australian War Records Station was assembled in 1917 to ensure that Australian relics and records of the war would be preserved. Treloar, was especially dedicated to improving the quality of the unit so that future generations would have a well-ordered collection of primary sources of the war. Thus, over 25000 relics were gathered by people such as Sid Gullet and Ernie Bailey who went into the field to collect the primary sources. 18 official war artists such as Will Dyson and George Lambert and 2 photographers, Frank Hurley and Hubert Wilkins; were arranged so that an accurate version of the war would be presented.
The Melbourne & Sydney Collections:
Large, continuous exhibitions were held in Melbourne and Sydney since there was no permanent place for the war relics to be kept due to financial issues and public reluctance. The Australian War Museum opened on Anzac Day 1922 in the Melbourne Exhibition Building. This was positively received by the media and public before closing in 1925 and moving to Sydney where it remained until 1935.
Finding a Permanent Home and Design:
In 1918 Bean’s imagined the Memorial to be “beautiful, gleaming white and silent, a building of three parts, a centre and two wings”. However, the budget was only 250,000 pounds which meant a compromise for an overly impressive design. An architectural competition in 1927 failed to produce a satisfactory design until 2 entrants, Emil Sodersteen and John Crust submitted a joint design. It incorporated Sodersteen’s design for the building and Crust’s concept of cloisters to house the Roll of Honour. The design was accepted and the building was completed and opened on Remembrance Day 1941 in Canberra.
Guiding Ideas for the Exhibition:
Bean was concerned that the purpose of the Memorial would be interpreted incorrectly and thus implemented a list of exhibition principles. It suggested ideas such as “avoiding the glorification of war and boasting victory”. Certain elements such as the language used were also changed to ensure that former enemies would be treated as generously as Australians. For e.g. using the term “relics” instead of “trophies” and avoiding derogatory terms. Bean’s wanted the exhibition to be relevant and interesting for future generations by ensuring that all objects and relics on display had a certain purpose and meaning.
Incorporation of Conflicts After WW1:
When Australia engaged the Second World War, the Memorial had still not being completed in Canberra. It was intended to be solely dedicated to the First World War, however, the realisation that the new war would be of a comparable scale convinced the government to extend the charter in 1941. In 1952, it was decided that the Memorial would be extended to include all wars fought by Australians. The Australian War Memorial includes the involvement of Australian soldiers in the Second World War, the 16000 soldiers in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force from 1945 to 1952. It also includes the 17000 soldiers who served in the Korean War and the 7000 soldiers who served in the Malayan Emergency from 1950-1960. Additionally, it includes the hardships endured by the 3500 soldiers during the Indonesian Confrontation from 1963-1966 and the journey of the 60000 Australians involved in the Vietnam War from 1962-1975 which resulted in heavy casualty numbers. It also includes the more recent involvements such as the First and Second Gulf Wars in Iraq and the ADF in Afghanistan. The Memorial also has a proud record of the peacekeepers in the field working with the UN since 1947.
The Areas of the AWM:
The Memorial forms the nation’s tribute to the sacrifices of the more than 102,000 Australian men and women who died serving Australia or overseas. The entrance shows the the stone lions presented by the city of Ypres to Australia in 1936. Straight ahead in the courtyard are the Pool of Reflection and the Eternal Flame. The Roll of Honour surrounds the courtyard where 102,000 names are etched in bronze. Ahead, is the Hall of Memory which was conceived in the early years but was finally dedicated in 1959 to the memories of the fallen. Inside, lies the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. The idea was conceived in the 1920s but it wasn’t until the 11th of November 1993 that a body was last brought home. Ahead, is the Hall of Valour which honours the 100 Australian soldiers that received the Victoria Cross and the 9 defence personnel who received the George Cross. Ahead, is the Aircraft Hall which contains aircrafts from the very beginning including a Mosquito and Kittyhawk. Further ahead, is the ANZAC Hall which showcases some of the Memorial’s significant large objects. The hall uses sound and lighting in creative ways where the objects become screens to tell stories of the Australian servicemen and women. The lower level includes educational spaces and a research centre. It also contains a Special Exhibitions Gallery. Outside lies the Sculpture Gallery which opened in January 1999; it holds major commemorative works dedicated to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Australian servicewomen, Australian Merchant Seamen, Bomber Command and Sandakan.
Commemoration at the AWM:
The Memorial has many ways to commemorate the sacrifices made by the Australian servicemen and women such as having the Honour Roll and the Commemorative Roll. It also holds an annual ANZAC Day commemoration where thousands of people join together to pay respect to those who served this country. There is a Dawn Service, ANZAC Day Breakfast, National Ceremony, The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commemorative Ceremony and Last Post Ceremony. Additionally, a Last Post ceremony is held each night at 4:55pm where visitors are farewelled with a story behind a name on the Roll of Honour. On Remembrance Day, the eulogy for the Unknown Australian Soldier, delivered in 1993 by then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, is read at the Last Post Ceremony. In 2018, from October 5th to Remembrance Day, the Centenary of Armistice will be commemorated during a 5 week period which will contain public events, installations, displays and activities. 62,000 poppies will be installed to represent the lives lost in WW1. The Lone Pine Tree in the Sculpture Garden was raised from one of the seeds of a pine cone sent home by an Australian soldier at Gallipoli to his mother. It was planted at the Memorial in 1934 to commemorate all the sons of Australia who fell at Lone Pine.
Changing Uses and Purposes of the AWM:
Originally, it was built to commemorate the sacrifices of Australians in WW1, however, after 1952, it was decided to commemorate the sacrifices of Australians in all war before and after WW1. Now, it is more than just a monument, it is a world-class museum which contains a vast national collection of war relics, official and private records, art and photographs and provides items for loaned to other museums, cultural institutions and organisations. It is now an archive which contains the names, records and stories of all who died serving Australia. Furthermore, it is now used for education with its additional areas such as The Discovery Zone which educates future generations on the wars and the sacrifices of the servicemen and women. The Memorial also has exhibitions on display online and on site; and a touring program to allow the access of the collection to all parts of Australia for educational purposes. There is also “A Very Special Day” learning 4 module resource for teachers of Lower Primary to explore how to remember and understand the past through objects, stories, and ceremonies. There is also a Research Centre which contains documents to provide information of the conflicts Australia has been involved in and the effect of it on society. The Memorial now intertwines the use of modern day technology and war relics to tell the stories and experiences of the men and women during war. The Memorial also has a section called “The Dioramas” which are more than just models but rather works of art to educate Australians on the danger and cruelty of battle and the sufferings of whom the Memorial is dedicated to. Dioramas include “Pozieres”, “Bullecourt” and more. Overall, the Memorial has changed its purposes from being just a place of commemoration to a world-class museum, database and on-site educational experience. Furthermore, it is a place where all Australians can connect and reflect on the rich but tragic history of this country.