Letter to the Editor of the Canberra Times

27 September 2019

I write in response to your story of 26 September, War memorial's former director urges any changes to the important site to 'hasten slowly' and with complete consultation’. 

The Memorial was not contacted for facts, but it is loosely based on an email sent by me to a private resident.  

The story claims that as many as “80 mature gums could be removed” to accommodate the new Poppy's Café Car Park extension, including 43 that will “definitely be removed” and another 37 “to be considered” for removal. This is not accurate.

The email reads: “An arborist's report has been commissioned and has identified 43 trees within the construction zone that will need to be removed and a further 37 trees that may be affected depending on the construction methodology proposed by the successful tenderer for these works. We would not expect all 37 of these trees to be affected but rather a smaller subset of them depending on the approach taken.”

By no means will all, if many, of the further 37 trees be removed. As stated, they may be “affected” which means they may require protection such as fencing or other intervention to preserve them.  

Former Director Major General (ret) Steve Gower expresses “dismay” at the removal of the trees in order for the carpark to be expanded. 

Under his leadership, Maj Gen Gower himself oversaw the removal of some 63 trees across the eastern side of the Memorial to support the Eastern Precinct expansion.

Further, the correspondent in question (posing for a photograph in an area which will be completely unaffected by the works) writing under her maiden name, is the wife of Mr Stewart Mitchell, the former Head of Building Services and Security at the Memorial. He worked under Steve Gower on the aforementioned tree removals.

The fact is, as Maj Gen Gower and Mr Mitchell are acutely aware, the removal of some trees is often a necessary part of development. Regarding the Poppy's Café car park extension, the Memorial has committed to the minimum disturbance of the existing landscape. In this case, new trees will be planted at the end of construction that are most amenable to native wildlife on the Memorial grounds.

Following the letterboxing of over 400 homes for a public consultation on the carpark extension, eleven people attended including Mr Mitchell’s parents.

The Memorial is open to receive feedback and comment through a range of avenues at any time, including through its website, Facebook and numerous publicly available email addresses. This is in addition to the consultation held with community groups, relevant government departments and ministers, schools and through my office directly. The most recent consultancy report is publicly available on the Memorial’s website.

I encourage any interested party, regardless of their view on the Memorial development program, to take the time to look beyond the media for information on this issue and form their own view.  


Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial

NOTE - An edited version of this letter was printed in the Canberra Times today. This is the full version which was submitted to the Canberra Times.