Building the memorial of the future

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Statement - Dr Brendan Nelson - Director of the Australian War Memorial

“Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.” – Australian War Memorial founder C.E.W. Bean

“For 77 years, the Australian War Memorial has stood at the base of Mount Ainslie. Located in line of sight of Parliament House, the Memorial reminds the nation of the cost of war, of service and the price of freedom. Although in a context of war, the Australian War Memorial is instead a place that reveals our character as a people, our soul. It tells the stories of love and friendship, selflessness, courage and endurance.

Within its galleries, the Memorial tells the stories of those who serve in Australia’s military forces and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in war, warlike operations, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. The Memorial’s ability to tell the stories of those men and women who serve in Australia’s Defence forces has now reached its limits. The Memorial’s galleries are at capacity, and yet the Memorial must continue to grow.

Just a fraction of the collection is on display. In crowded galleries the stories of Australian military service from the Boer War through to the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam are all largely told. Yet, the service of 70,000 young Australians in the Middle East Area of operations of the past two decades currently covers only 2 per cent of available space.

The opportunity, and the responsibility our nation now has, is to proudly tell the stories of what has been done in recent years in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands, and East Timor, and in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. We must tell these stories not years or decades after they have occurred, but now. It is also the stories of families who love and support them.

Visitor numbers are increasing and include former and current serving veterans. Today’s servicemen and servicewomen are returning home to a country that has no idea what they have done, does not understand their service or the sacrifices they have made. Young servicemen and women are barely able to explain it to their families, let alone the rest of the nation. Their story must be told to help them understand the impact service has had on them, to help them transition to life back home, and to heal.

To make this happen, the Memorial has developed a detailed proposal to the Australian Federal Government to fund a major redevelopment of the Memorial’s galleries and precinct to create a vision that will guide us for the next 50 years.

The proposed redevelopment will significantly increase exhibition and public program space in order to more substantially tell the stories of current and recent conflicts, operations, peacekeeping, and humanitarian missions. It will also include a new temporary exhibition space, improved visitor orientation, wayfinding and amenities, areas for respite and reflection, new education facilities, and a theatre and functions space. It will include a quiet area for reflection, a space to be used by veterans’ organisations, an electronic wall displaying the myriad of community cenotaphs and memorials and another presenting defence activity today.

There will be an extension to the Bean Building on the eastern side of the precinct to integrate research collections and services, and to optimise the space in the main Memorial building for exhibitions. Sensitively connected to the existing landscape, the detailed plans will ensure the original façade remains unchanged.

The Memorial plays a vital role to in our nation and is a true cultural icon for all Australians. This proposed redevelopment provides an opportunity to guide the future of commemoration and storytelling; right here in the heart of the land they loved.”

Render of the memorial build

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