Those who know me well will recognise that I am unlikely to be the first in line to visit many military museums. It isn’t that I don’t have respect and gratitude for the service and sacrifice made by others – very far from it in fact. However, unless it is done well, these locations can (in my humble opinion) become at best overbearing and at worse a glorification of the worst aspects of service and sacrifice.
They would also tell you that I trust my partner’s advice, so when he suggested attending the Australian war memorial, I didn’t hesitate for more than a few seconds.
The first thing you have to say about the approach to the memorial from Anzac parade is how impressive it is. The red stone roadway (representing the central heart of Australia) is reminiscent of the best of the world’s boulevards and approach roads.
The fact that it is simple, understated and clearly forming the main link between the memorial and the parliament building simply emphasises its importance without the need for further ornamentation of any kind.
On both sides of the parade, at regular intervals stand a number of individual memorials and commemorative sculptures focused on a specific military conflict or engagement.
Purely as an example the Korean war memorial is generous in its recognition of all nations taking part in the conflict with nothing sensationalising or glamorising the impact or horrors of the incident for those involved.
Each of the memorials commemorates a different engagement in which Australian forces were involved, many where I for one had no idea they were participants.
The parade is an impressive enough architectural and design feature forming a strong physical link in the built environment of Canberra. The impressive commemorations are both simple, uncomplicated and in my view extremely effective leading visitors along Anzac Parade to the main building of the Australian war memorial.
Interestingly, the initial walled enclosure is a large water feature containing an eternal flame burning from within the water.
Around this central enclosure are what appear to be endless names cast in bronze recognising those Australians who have died in the military service of their country since approximately 1880.
For such a dramatic and powerful act of remembrance there is never a hint of bravado. The atmosphere remains respectful and dignified, a skill which seems to have been missed in many other monuments of a similar nature.
A similar air continues through the museum adjacent to the memorial. Although the camera angle is different to the traditional European model/experience, the perspective is a welcome alternative view on the world.
For someone who doesn’t naturally focus on military history, I found we had spent four hours exploring the location. A remarkably powerful, informative and humbling experience well worth a visit if you find yourself in Canberra and want to learn something along the way !