In the pre-dawn darkness on the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, 128,700 Australians paused in silence at the Australian War Memorial. With awkward humility and abiding reverence infused with overwhelming pride, we gathered as free and confident heirs to a legacy born of idealism, forged in self-sacrifice and passed now to our generation. We had travelled from the length and breadth of the continent in renewed commitment to one another and our nation to pay silent tribute to those who have given so much for us.
When Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Alan Patterson of the Gunggandgji people broke the eerie silence from the parapet of the Memorial playing the didgeridoo to commence the Dawn Service, it was clear this was the beginning of a very special event and day of activities. In delivering to the nation the Dawn Service, the National Ceremony, and the Last Post Ceremony, the Memorial's key staff had spent a year planning and delivering for Australia. In every sense of the word they exceeded any reasonable expectation. They did the memory of these men and women proud.
The past year has seen the culmination of many years of planning and hard work to deliver what may be one of the nation's most significant anniversaries. Although we have marked the centenary of the commencement of the Gallipoli campaign, the anniversaries of the pivotal events of the Western Front, the mobile war of Sinai and Palestine, and the eventual Armistice all lie ahead. These events, perhaps like no others, shaped and defined us. They certainly changed us.
Charles Bean, at the time of conceiving the Memorial during the bloody fighting at Pozieres in July 1916, wrote:
Many a man lying out there at Pozieres or in the low scrub at Gallipoli ... has thought in his last moments: "Well — well — it's over; but in Australia they will be proud of this."
We are. We are very proud.
The redeveloped First World War Galleries officially opened in February to reflect that pride — the Memorial's gift to the nation for the centenary. They are simply stunning — delivered on time and on budget.
A steady flow of visitors can be seen at the Memorial each day, with scarcely a moment when crowds of people are not taking in the dioramas, exploring the digital labels, marvelling at the battlefield relics, or looking into the eyes of one of the many photographic portraits situated throughout the gallery spaces. Visitor numbers are up 24 per cent compared to the previous financial year. They leave the First World War Galleries proud of what our young nation achieved, but informed by a sober understanding of the cost.
This year the Memorial delivered the world-class conference Gallipoli 1915: a century on, in partnership with the Australian National University. Eminent domestic and international historians gathered to cast light on the many perspectives of the campaign. Significantly, a series of sessions was also devoted to Indigenous servicemen and servicewomen from all nations, and others highlighted some of the extraordinary music and art that the campaign inspired. The conference was attended by more than 400 registered delegates and was a credit to the Memorial's history team.
One subtle but stunning project for the year past has been the building's enhanced external lighting. The Memorial at night, particularly the Hall of Memory, the Roll of Honour, and the stained-glass windows, are now bathed in light. This gives a new ambience to the Memorial in the evening and includes the illumination of the building as a whole. The aim is not only to highlight the form and aesthetics of the building but also to evoke the spiritual ambience central to Charles Bean's vision. The central, most prominent stained-glass window, now illuminated from the inside, is that of the Australian nurse with the simple value "Devotion" at its base. During the summer evenings the Commemorative Area was opened to the public, when these illuminations were even more appreciated.
Every night, from dusk to dawn, each of the more than 60,000 names from the First World War Roll of Honour is projected onto the Memorial immediately beneath the Hall of Memory dome. Each name will appear for 30 seconds on up to 30 occasions over the four years of the centenary period. Families have gathered and paused throughout the night and predawn darkness to see a particular name light up.
The Memorial continues to broaden its reach with the Commemorative Crosses project. Schoolchildren from around the nation who visit the Memorial inscribe individual crosses with their personal tributes. The crosses are then delivered to Australian ambassadors and high commissioners in 39 countries, to be placed on Australian war graves and memorials. More than 43,000 crosses have been inscribed by students and 16,000 have been placed on Australian graves here and overseas.
The personal stories told in the galleries and exhibitions at the Memorial are at the heart of a strong emotional connection with our visitors. No more apparent is this than in the Afghanistan: the Australian story exhibition. Intense emotions are revealed in this space by veterans, families, and visitors. This exhibition is only a starting point for the Memorial to tell the story of recent conflicts, and we continue to work with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and other agencies to expand our collection in the area. Chiefly, with members of the ADF through the Collection Coordination Group (CCG) and Defence Materials Organisation (DMO), the Memorial is working to ensure that the items identified by curators in Afghanistan are returned to the Memorial. Additionally, the Memorial and CCG are working to procure large technology items and other equipment that will help illustrate the story of the Middle East Area of Operations. More than 27,000 ADF personnel, Australian Federal Police, aid workers, and diplomats have served in Afghanistan over the more than a decade of our involvement. The welcome home parade held in March was a moving tribute to them and their families, but their story needs to be told — and told now.
Beyond exhibitions, the government delivered $12.8 million for the official history of Iraq, Afghanistan, and East Timor. This will be done under the auspices of the Australian War Memorial and the chosen official historian.
Since the inception of the Official War Records Unit in 1917 and the subsequent appointment of Will Dyson as official war artist in May of the same year, the story of the Australian experience of war has been told not just through collecting objects of significance but through commissioning interpretive work. This year the Memorial has continued this tradition by commissioning a commemorative Print Portfolio featuring the work of contemporary Australian and New Zealand artists. This project is a major artistic engagement highlighting the ongoing significance of the First World War in contemporary Australia and New Zealand, while commemorating, to a high artistic standard, the service and sacrifice of individuals, families, and communities during the conflict. The collection is particularly interesting as it will capture the similarities and the differences in the contemporary interpretation of the Anzac story between Australians and New Zealanders.
The Memorial's collection continues to reach further into the Australian community. This year collection items previously available only to visitors to the Memorial are now available for viewing online. Particular effort has been put into the digitisation of the extensive collection of film and oral histories. Interviews from Gallipoli veterans recorded in the 1980s and 1990s have been of particular interest and have proved to be popular additions to the Memorial's website. Memorial staff have curated the film collection into show reels and placed them on the Memorial's YouTube channel. This work, currently undertaken in many areas of the collection, including personal records, photos, film, official records, and diaries, is extremely important. The vast majority of the Memorial's collection cannot be displayed in the confines of the Memorial's limited gallery space, so this becomes the only medium by which it can be displayed. This is, after all, Australia's collection, and the Memorial continues to endeavour to make as much of it available to Australia as possible.
Students remain one of the Memorial's key audiences. This year has seen record numbers flock to the Memorial to be part of the centenary commemorations. The Memorial continues to produce high-quality education programs as a strong part of the Australian National Curriculum to ensure that young people continue to engage, connect, and think critically about our history. These programs link strongly to classroom learning, focusing on the individual experience of war in the context of the broader conflicts. Their growing popularity has seen a record amount of students — close to 140,000 — visit the Memorial this year.
Through the generous support of a corporate sponsor the Memorial has been able to build the Kingold Education and Media Centre. This green screen studio is equipped with the full facility for broadcasting and recording. It will allow the Memorial to connect with a broader audience, including schools, professional groups, and the general public. It provides another avenue to expose and interpret the collection, allowing the collection and the stories of the men and women behind it to reach a wider, deeper audience. This is important work and will increasingly shape our future activities. The collection can be accessed where limited space and object condition and fragility may otherwise preclude it. The Memorial has even commenced the scanning of objects so that they can be viewed digitally in 3D.
The virtual tour of the Memorial, built by Google and accessible through the Memorial's website or the Google Institute, perfectly complements the Kingold facility.
The Memorial's former travelling exhibition program changed during the financial year due to budgetary restraints. This left the Memorial with the challenge of continuing to reach out to regional and remote communities. Through the generous support of Wesfarmers, Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt travelled to Western Australia. Similarly, Thales Australia supported the Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan exhibition in the garrison cities of Darwin and Townsville.
The Memorial has also implemented a new exhibition model with the A camera on Gallipoli. This exhibition features a selection of the remarkable /sites/default/files taken by Sir Charles Ryan in Egypt and on Gallipoli in 1914 and 1915. Some of the most graphic and important photographic /sites/default/files from the campaign are displayed. Venues may choose a digital display or a self-printed exhibition which can be mounted without charge, requiring them only to print and display at their cost. This has proved extremely popular, with 131 venues (including 23 international venues) requesting a copy of the exhibition since February 2015.
With the generous support of the Queensland Museum the Memorial signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enable "Mephisto", the A7V German First World War tank, to be displayed at the Memorial in Anzac Hall. This is the first time that this unique war relic has been displayed outside of Queensland.
The Last Post Ceremony conducted every evening at the Memorial is now an institution in its own right. In just over two years it has become one of the Memorial's most meaningful and poignant offerings. Immense commitment by the Memorial's staff has been invested in this simple nightly ceremony. Our historians have now researched and written more than 1,000 stories of the men and women who have given their lives for us and our freedoms.
A nation reveals itself in subtle but powerful ways. We honour most the idealism and heroism of the everyday Australian. The most prominent image chosen for the Hall of Memory is a nurse. Names are added to the bronze Roll of Honour without rank or military honours. Similarly, in the nightly ritual of the Last Post Ceremony, schoolchildren and everyday Australians lay their wreaths and floral tributes alongside governors-general, heads of state, and visiting VIPs. We are equal in death and its commemoration.
The cafe restaurant in the Memorial's grounds was redeveloped to give it "soul". Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott opened Poppy's Cafe, named in honour of Trooper David "Poppy" Pearce, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. His widow, Nicole, and their two daughters were deeply moved by the tribute, which includes the name of the cafe, etched in his honour on the wooden sign made by the sappers for the Tarin Kowt recreation centre in Afghanistan. It greets all who enter the welcoming ambience of the cafe.
Foxtel produced and screened for the History Channel a five-part behind-the-scenes documentary on the Memorial and its activities. After 16 months examining the letters, diaries, artefacts, relics, and development of the First World War Galleries, the documentary narrator, Scottish archaeologist and historian Neil Oliver, stood in the twilight of the Commemorative Area on the steps to the Hall of Memory, and said in part:
What is most inspiring is that in their last moments these men devoted their last moments not to themselves, but to their friends. And that's love. The love might not survive them, but it's the last thing they would lose ... so as well as all the death, loss, and horror it is friendship and love that will be remembered here, and for all time.
Sound financial management practices are in place and we will continue to manage our operations within the Memorial's available funding. This has meant a modest reduction in staffing for 2014—15 as well as a necessary reduction in some activities. Considerable effort is being invested in seeking non-government sources of support for the Memorial. Consistent with this, the redeveloped Memorial Shop has already repaid the investment with a significant increase in sales.
In that context I also thank those companies and individuals who have partnered with the Memorial and who have contributed to its work as the soul of the nation. We are very grateful to our generous supporters and partners, including BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities, Mr Kerry Stokes AC, Seven Group Holdings, the Seven Network, Boeing Australia, Qantas, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Thales Australia, Kingold, RSL Victoria, RSL Queensland and Services Clubs, and the De Lambert Largesse Foundation. I also thank the federal government, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, for their ongoing support.
I thank Memorial Chair Rear Admiral Ken Doolan AO RAN (Retd), and all members of Council for their leadership, oversight, strategic direction, and guidance. The Chair has skilfully guided the Memorial through a time of the utmost importance to our nation.
Of course, all this would not have been possible without the talent, enthusiasm, and commitment of the Memorial's staff and our many volunteers in their various capacities. I thank them and acknowledge their professional and passionate contributions. In particular, I thank my Assistant Directors Rhonda Adler, Tim Sullivan, and Anne Bennie for their support, expertise, commitment, and leadership. It is their work that has delivered so much and prepared the Memorial so well for its future in service to the nation.
By any standard, this has been a year of achievement for the Australian War Memorial, its staff, and its volunteers. Australians can be immensely proud of each and every one of them. I certainly am.
Dr Brendan Nelson