Llewellyn, Richard: The Australian War Memorial Redevelopment Program: the “Mitchell Option” reassessed

Richard Llewellyn

The Australian War Memorial Redevelopment Program: the “Mitchell Option” reassessed‘, Honest History, 22 July 2019 updated

[For the context to this paper, go to the Heritage Guardians campaign diary, which includes an earlier paper by Richard Llewellyn.]

Update 23 July: the paper reported at length by Ian Bushnell in The Riot Act: ‘War Memorial’s Mitchell facility better value than expansion, says analysis’.

Richard Llewellyn held the senior position of Registrar at the Australian War Memorial from 1986 to 1995. This paper (10 800 words) is a detailed examination of how the Memorial’s space requirements into the future are better – and far more cheaply – met at its Mitchell ACT premises than by pursuing the grandiose plans to extend the Memorial at Campbell.

The executive summary of the paper is included below. There is a media release to accompany the new paper. Campaign diary.

Among other things, Llewellyn’s paper shows how the Memorial successfully erected a ‘Chinese Wall’ between its case for expanding Campbell and its case (pursued simultaneously) for funding of work at Mitchell. This meant that the Memorial was promoting Mitchell to the Public Works Committee ‘as an integral component of the Australian War Memorial and home to a significant national collection’ while virtually simultaneously arguing – when making the case for development at Campbell – that ‘[t]he dispersed Memorial [to Mitchell] would result in the Memorial at Campbell not being considered as Australia’s “national” War Memorial, thereby lessening the importance of the Campbell site and commemorations told within’.

Comparing costs of the proposed Campbell development with what has been done at Mitchell, the paper finds that the Campbell extensions will cost around 14 times as much per square metre as Mitchell. Yet the space in both cases will be used to house large technology objects, such as fighter jets and helicopters.

The paper also discusses the argument that today’s living veterans need a ‘therapeutic milieu’ at the Memorial. (Many people, including medical practitioners, doubt the benefits of such a milieu.) The paper suggests that, given that all World War I veterans are dead and that very few World War II veterans remain to reap the benefits of this milieu, space to provide such a milieu for recent veterans could be found by using parts of the World War I and World War II galleries at the Memorial.

This paper should be read in conjunction with Llewellyn’s earlier paper (‘The Australian War Memorial extensions: a critique of the design choice’) which forensically examined an August 2017 consultancy report (the Options Assessment Report) assessing options for extensions to the Memorial, and the Design Options paper put to the Memorial Council in July 2018.

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Executive summary of the paper

On 1 November 2018, the Australian government announced its support of the Australian War Memorial’s proposal for major development work at the Memorial’s Campbell site, with the approval of $498m of forward funding.

The Australian War Memorial has been pushing this ambitious project for some time, on its own website and through announcements and information passed on to mainstream media sources.

While the project to redevelop the Memorial’s Campbell site has been placed centre stage, the Memorial has also gone about acquiring the land resources and the funding to undertake extensive further development work at its Mitchell ACT site, where it has considerable (and very good) facilities for storage, conservation and display of its collection.

The Memorial completed in early 2019 a new $16.1m, 5288 square metres purpose-built facility on the Mitchell site (Mitchell E building), yet this significant expansion of its facilities is downplayed in the Campbell development documentation and on the Memorial’s own website material on ‘redevelopment’.

The ‘Chinese Wall’ between the preparation of the cases for the Mitchell and Campbell work has allowed the Memorial to present conflicting arguments to support the same objective – obtaining more space to house large technology objects.

Mitchell offers very significant benefits in terms of cost effectiveness, utility, preservation of the heritage integrity of the Memorial at Campbell, and other practical gains.

But developing Mitchell does not fit with the proposed expansion of the Campbell facility – and its benefits to its proponents in posterity – and thus has been sidelined in the Memorial’s view of its desired future.

The Memorial has developed and put before government conflicting documentation, on the one hand to support the Mitchell development and, on the other, to support its grand design for the Campbell site – with the two exercises going ahead almost concurrently. It is impossible that both of these competing propositions can be correct and truthful.

This paper examines the conflict between the Mitchell and Campbell development submissions and concludes that the reasons for dismissing the Mitchell development option are spurious, subjective and in a number of cases, entirely mendacious.

Given the magnitude of government finance (in excess of $500m, taking account of money already spent on project scoping and the Mitchell E building at $16.1m) required or already expended to achieve the Memorial’s current aspirations, it is inconceivable that a responsible government would readily acquiesce to those aspirations, were it in full possession of the facts.

This paper presents the facts as supplied by the Memorial itself.

It is highly questionable whether the Memorial Council and the government have been provided with reliable forward projection data on storage and exhibition requirements to support the Campbell Precinct proposal.

The publicly available documentation prepared for the Memorial Council and the government provides neither complete – nor in all cases accurate – statements of all pertinent facts upon which to base supporting decisions.

On the question of comparative costs and value for money, the Memorial proposes a $498m project to deliver at Campbell 11 412 square metres of ‘new gallery space’. Simple mathematics suggests that this addresses ‘critical space shortages’ at a cost of $43 648 a square metre.

It should also be noted that, in order to construct that ‘new gallery space’, the Memorial proposes the destruction of the existing Anzac Hall of 4180 square metres. Thus, it can reasonably be argued that the current Memorial plan for the Campbell redevelopment, for $498m, adds only 7232 (11 412 minus 4180) square metres overall to the existing gallery space at Campbell.

To provide reliable perspective, here is a comparison: remember that the Memorial has recently completed the new purpose-built storage facility (Mitchell E) for large technology objects at its Mitchell precinct site of 5288 square metres for a projected cost of $16.1m, a cost of $3045 a square metre.

In simple terms, comparing the 11 412 square metres at Campbell and the 5288 square metres at Mitchell for Mitchell E, new space at Campbell is to cost (at the estimate most favourable to the Memorial) around 14 times as much per square metre as new space at Mitchell. Yet the space in both places will hold much the same exhibits – large technology objects like planes and helicopters.

It is impossible to reconcile the fact that the Memorial would promote the Mitchell Precinct to government ‘as an integral component of the Australian War Memorial and home to a significant national collection’ while, virtually simultaneously in 2017, arguing when considering development options, that ‘[t]he dispersed Memorial [to Mitchell] would result in the Memorial at Campbell not being considered as Australia’s “national” War Memorial, thereby lessening the importance of the Campbell site and commemorations told within’.

The Memorial could – as is shown by its own submissions to the Public Works Committee in 2017 – very adequately meet all of the potential demands for increased facility at its Mitchell Precinct for around $100m, or around 20 per cent of the projected cost of the highly contentious Campbell site project.

The Memorial’s documentation in support of development at the Campbell site has been constructed so as to ignore or deny the potential of the Mitchell Precinct as offering a viable and cost-effective facility for the Memorial to achieve its mission in future. (The Memorial’s figures also seem to be inconsistent across its documentation, and this is a factor affecting analysis.)

Addressing another key point put by the proponents of the extensions, if providing a ‘therapeutic milieu’ for today’s veterans is to be a factor in determining future development options then it must be recognised that there are no surviving World War I veterans and that the population of World War II veterans is rapidly declining. The obvious way of providing a therapeutic milieu for veterans of say, Afghanistan, East Timor, and Iraq is to take floor space from older wars.

This paper’s conclusion is that the Mitchell Option is the best outcome for both the Memorial and the nation.

David Stephens

22 July 2019

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