Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is one of Australia’s leading and most respected Museums, devoted to those who have given their lives for their country in times of war.

The Memorial is a unique Australian national institution that combines a shrine, a world-class museum, and an extensive archive. Covering every conflict Australian military personnel have ever been involved in, the Museum has many highlights, among which is the Pool of Remembrance, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier and the Hall of Memory. There are many galleries and exhibition spaces, including the First and Second World War galleries, Aircraft Hall, and ANZAC Hall.

Artifacts in the Museum’s collection on display include an Avro Lancaster B1 bomber, known with affection as G for George, in the aircraft hall; a composite of two Japanese midget submarines which took part in an attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of 31st May 1942; guns from HMAS Sydney I and SMS Emden, the two vessels that took part in Australia’s first naval victory in November 1914.

The Memorial is located in Australia’s capital, Canberra. It is the north terminus of the city’s ceremonial land axis, which stretches from Parliament House on Capital Hill along a line passing through the summit of the cone-shaped Mount Ainslie to the northeast. No continuous roadway links the two points, but there is a clear line of sight from the front balcony of Parliament House to the War Memorial, and from the front steps of the War Memorial back to Parliament House.

The Australian War Memorial consists of three parts: the Commemorative Area (shrine) including the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Memorial’s galleries (museum) and Research Centre (records). The Memorial also has an outdoor Sculpture Garden. The Memorial is currently open daily from 10am until 5pm, except on Christmas Day.

Free admission. The Memorial is currently open daily from 10am until 5pm, except on Christmas Day.

Contact: (02) 6243 4211. How to get there: proceed east from Canberra City along Parkes Way, left into Anzac Pde., parking off Treloar Cres.

Location: Treloar Crescent (top of ANZAC Parade), Campbell. The Memorial is currently open daily from 10am until 5pm, except on Christmas Day.


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History of the Building

Charles Bean, Australia’s official World War I historian, first conceived a museum memorial to Australian soldiers while observing the 1916 battles in France. The Australian War Records Section was established in May 1917 to ensure preservation of records relating to the war being fought at the time. Records and relics were exhibited first in Melbourne and later Canberra. The site for the building selected by the Sulman Committee at the foot of Mount Ainslie, closes the vista from Parliament House along the axis of Griffin’s Parliamentary Triangle, Anzac parade, and was originally Griffin’s site for a Casino.

An architecture competition in 1927 did not produce a winning entry. Two of the entrants, Sydney architects Emil Sodersten and John Crust, were however encouraged to re-present a joint design. A limited budget and the effects of the Depression confined the scope of the project. The building is seen as a fine and outstanding example of Australian Art Deco, and provided an exciting and ingenious solution for a national war memorial.

The building was completed in 1941, after the outbreak of World War II. It was officially opened following a Remembrance Day ceremony on 11 November 1941 by the then Governor-General Lord Gowrie, a former soldier whose honours include the Victoria Cross. Additions since the 1940s have allowed the remembrance of Australia’s participation in all recent conflicts. The Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier was added in 1993, to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War I.

The original building, a two storey sandstone faced monumental Byzantine Revival style war museum was constructed from 1934-41 after delays due to the Depression. Work continued between 1947-50, the most significant being that of Napier Waller in the Hall of Memory – stained glass windows, and from 1955-58 – mosaics inside the cupolar and walls. From 1968-71 sympathetic wings were added to house the collection which includes all wars in which Australia has participated. In 1980 Robert Woodward’s stepped granite cascade was installed in the courtyard.

Constructed on a cruciform plan, a central memorial pool on axis is surrounded by arcades, and terminated by the copper-domed Hall of Memory creating a dramatic composition of chunky, interpenetrating masses.

Remembrance Nature Park

Remembrance Nature Park, located behind the War Memorial, is the Canberra terminus of the Remembrance Driveway, a system of arboreal parks, landmarks and road-side stops between Sydney and Canberra commemorating the 24 World War II and Vietnam War Victoria Cross recipients. Within that Nature Park is a small bronze plaque mounted on a large boulder, commemorating Indigenous Australians who have fought for their country.

ANZAC Parade

ANZAC Parade is a short, broad boulevard named in honour of the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It stretches from near the north shore of Lake Burley Griffin to the foot of the Memorial proper, along the line of sight from Parliament House. It separates the residential suburbs of Campbell and Reid, and is fairly heavily trafficked as a route between northeast Canberra (Dickson etc.) and Kings Avenue Bridge. Along each side of the Parade is a row of monuments commemorating specific military campaigns or services, such as the Vietnam War and Australia’s wartime nurses. The monuments are mostly sculptures in a variety of styles ranging from naturalistic to Modern.

The foot of the Parade, near the lake, is paired by monumental sculptures in the form of gigantic basket handles, donated to the Memorial by New Zealand. The two monuments are dedicated to Australia and New Zealand respectively, and are inspired by the Maori proverb Mau tena kiwai o te kete, maku tenei, “Each of us at a handle of the basket”, signifying the long tradition of cooperation and general closeness between the two Commonwealth countries.

The symbolic association of the two nations is carried forward in the vegetation decorating ANZAC Parade. Long beds of New Zealand Hebe shrubs line the middle of the avenue, and behind the two rows of monuments are narrow bands of Australian eucalypt trees.

Hall of Memory

The Memorial proper is sited on a broad pie slice-shaped lawn at the north end of ANZAC Parade. The commemorative area is situated in the open centre of the memorial building, (including the cloisters to each side and the Hall of Memory under the building’s central dome) and the sculpture garden is on the lawn to the west. The heart of the commemorative area is the Hall of Memory, a tall domed chapel with a small floor plan in the form of an octagon. The walls are lined with tiny mosaic tiles from the floor to the dome. Inside lies the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.

Three of the walls, facing east, west and south feature stained glass designs representing qualities of Australian servicemen and women. At the four walls facing northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest are mosaic images of a Sailor, a Servicewoman, a Soldier and an Airman respectively. The mosaic and stained glass are the work of the one-armed Australian muralist Napier Waller, who lost his right arm at Bullecourt during World War I and learned to write and create his works with his left arm. He completed his work in 1958.

In front of the Hall of Memory is a narrow courtyard with a memorial pool surrounding an eternal flame and flanked by sidewalks and shrubbery, including plantings of rosemary for remembrance. Above the courtyard to either side are long cloisters containing the Roll of Honour, a series of bronze plaques naming the 102,000 Australian servicemen and women killed in conflict. The plaques include names dating back to the British Sudanese Expedition, the Second Boer War, and the Boxer Rebellion. The entire long wall of the west gallery is covered with the names of the thousands who died in World War I. The east gallery is covered with the names of those who died in World War II and conflicts since.

Hall of Memory dome

Fifteen stained-glass windows each represent a defining quality of Australian servicemen and women at war. The dome mosaic depicts the souls of the dead,rising from the earth towards their spiritual home, represented by a glowing sun within the Southern Cross.  The figures of a soldier, sailor, airman, and servicewoman are depicted across the walls in one of the world’s largest mosaics, comprising over six million hand painted tesserae, each an irregular piece of coloured glass varying in size from 15mm to 30mm square. The size of the tesserae is graduated to maintain proper scale of the design even when viewed from far below. Australian muralist Napier Waller, a Veteran who had lost his right arm at Bullecourt during World War I, completed the original murals and stained glass windows for the Memorial in 1958.

The roll shows the names only, not rank or other awards, as “all men are equal in death”. Visiting relatives and friends insert poppies in the cracks between the bronze plaques, beside the names of those they wish to honour. Many continue to be inserted beside the names of those who died in World War I, and a few appear beside the names of those who died in the 19th century campaigns. A small exhibit in the museum indicates that the famous Breaker Morant of the Boer War does not appear in the Roll of Honour, not because he was dishonoured, but because he was not a member of the Australian armed forces.

When the Memorial closes each day, there is a ceremony at which visitors can gather at the entrance, hear a very brief explanation from a host, and listen as a recording of the “Last Post” is played. On significant days, a piper or a bugler descends from the gallery, playing the Last Post.

Forecourt and Stone of Remembrance

The forecourt is the part of the commemorative area that is the main place in Canberra where ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day services are held. These services are normally attended by Federal parliament representatives and officials from foreign embassies and Commonwealth high commissions, most notably New Zealand.

The Stone of Remembrance is the focal point for these activities, and the steps from the Memorial towards Anzac Parade lead to the Stone then to the Parade. The grassed sides of the forecourt form a natural amphitheatre that can accommodate around 35,000 to 40,000 people at a typical Anzac Day Dawn Service. Most will be standing, but the Memorial erects some staged seating for ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.

The Memorial Building

The Memorial is a two-storey building with a floor plan in the shape of a cross. The building is of Byzantine architecture style with strong styling elements of Art Deco throughout. In 2001, a new, broad annex called ANZAC Hall was added to the north of the original building. In order to preserve the view of the original building from Anzac Parade, ANZAC Hall was designed to be recessed in the ground, and hidden behind a wall.

The upper level is dedicated primarily to World War I (the entire west wing) and World War II (the entire east wing). In the World War I area there is extensive material pertaining to the Gallipoli campaign. Between the wings lies Aircraft Hall, which contains a number of complete aircraft, mostly from the World War II era.

Also between the wings lies the Hall of Valour, a display of 61 of the 96 Victoria Crosses awarded to Australian soldiers; the largest publicly held collection of Victoria Crosses in the world. There is an individual display for the holder of each Cross shown there, with a photograph, an excerpt from the citation that accompanied the award, and usually additional medals awarded to that recipient. The relatives of Australian VC holders often donate or loan the Crosses to the Memorial for safekeeping and greater public awareness of their honoured kin.

On 24 July 2006 Kerry Stokes purchased the 60th VC medal at auction for a world-record price of A$1,000,000 and asked that it be displayed in the Victoria Cross Gallery. This medal was awarded to Captain Alfred Shout for hand-to-hand combat at the Lone Pine trenches in Gallipoli, Turkey. The Victoria Cross Gallery now has all nine VCs awarded to Australians at Gallipoli.

The lower level contains a theatre, a research area, displays for the colonial and post World War II conflicts and an area for temporary special exhibitions.

ANZAC Hall is a large annex to the upper level of the Memorial, used for the display of large military hardware. Notable displays on the west side include a complete and particularly historic Lancaster bomber known as G for George, a Japanese Ko-hyoteki class midget submarine sunk during a raid on Sydney Harbour in 1942, rare German aircraft such as the Me 262 and Me 163, and a restored Japanese A6M Zero, that was flown in combat over New Guinea. The east side includes a World War I aircraft exhibition, notably displaying a Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a, Pzalz D.XII and Albatros D.Va, among others.

The building is large and the collections are extensive; a full day will suffice for only the most cursory examination of its contents. A gift shop and two coffee shops are on site, one overlooking ANZAC Hall, named “The Landing Place”, and the other on the east side of the main building, named “The Terrace”.

The Sculpture Garden

The sculpture garden on the west lawn of the Memorial contains a variety of outdoor monuments. The sidewalk through the garden is embedded with bronze plaques commemorating various branches of service, specific units and historical events. There is also a number of sculptures, including a gigantic figure of a World War II-era Australian soldier that was originally located in the Hall of Memory, before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed there. There is a gun turret from HMAS Brisbane, a gun barrel from the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia and the barrel from the Amiens Gun  a huge railroad gun captured from the Germans during World War I.

This area is used for special displays during annual Memorial Open Days, and summertime band concerts are held on the nearby lawn.

The Eternal Flame