Opposition to War Memorial’s $498 million extensions grows; more than 80 distinguished Australians sign letter

For the continuing campaign against the extensions, go here.

Today’s Canberra Times has a front page story headed ‘Chorus against war memorial expansion’. The story is also online: SMH, Canberra Times, Age. And Guardian Australia. 2CC Canberra. There was extensive Twitter traffic, with posts being ‘liked’ and retweeted hundreds of times. Canberra Times editorialPetition against the extensions. David Stephens in Pearls and Irritations. Story and comments in The Riot Act (Canberra). Story in ArtsHub Canberra. Story in ArchitectureAu. Nicholas Stuart in the Canberra Times. Stan Grant in Nine (Fairfax) papers. Greens oppose the extensions project. More on the Greens. Greens media release and policy. Binoy Kampmark in International Policy Digest. Sue Wareham of the signatories vs Brendan Nelson of the bunkerbuilders: Canberra Times. Open letter from distinguished architects opposed to the project. Peter Goers in Adelaide Advertiser. Response from Military History Society of NSW. Letters to the editor can be found by Google searching ‘Australian War Memorial’.

Full text of the letter

The Australian War Memorial’s $498 million extensions should not proceed. They cannot be justified, they show the Memorial is being given preference over other national institutions, and the money could be better spent.

The Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, touts the Memorial as telling ‘our story’. The Memorial should be revered, but Australia has many stories and Dr Nelson’s excessive veneration of the Anzac story denies the richness of our history.

Dr Nelson wants added space to display more of the big artefacts representing recent, but purportedly ‘forgotten’ conflicts, and to ‘heal’ veterans. Recent conflicts should instead be presented in proportion to their significance; responsibility for veterans’ welfare belongs with Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.

The extensions offer Dr Nelson a permanent legacy like that of none of his predecessors. His and his Council’s ambitions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of Anzac Hall, opened in 2001 and winner of the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture.

The Memorial has been treated most generously by successive governments, and has suffered less from the ‘efficiency dividend’ that has damaged other institutions.

We have just seen over $350 million spent by the Commonwealth on the Anzac Centenary and the Sir John Monash Centre in France. Should further money be spent on these extensions rather than on other needy cultural institutions or direct benefits to veterans and their families?

Signatories to the letter

The 83 signatories include 24 recipients of awards in the Order of Australia.

  • Rob Adams, former senior executive, Australia Council
  • Lorena Allam, Walkley Award winning Gamilaray Yuwalaraay journalist
  • Len Amadio AO, former Director, Department of the Arts, South Australia
  • Michelle Arrow, Associate Professor, Modern History, Macquarie University
  • Dean Ashenden, Honorary Senior Fellow, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
  • Vicken Babkenian, independent researcher, Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
  • Paul Barratt AO, former Secretary, Department of Defence
  • Joan Beaumont FASSA, Professor Emerita, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University
  • Margaret Beavis, general practitioner, Secretary, Medical Association for Prevention of War
  • Diane Bell, Emeritus Professor
  • Ian Bickerton, Honorary Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales
  • Tony Blunn AO, former Secretary of six Australian government departments
  • Professor Frank Bongiorno AM FASSA
  • Penleigh Boyd, architect
  • Alison Broinowski AM, former diplomat and author
  • Richard Broinowski, former Australian Ambassador to South Korea, Vietnam and Mexico, author
  • George Browning, former Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn
  • Pamela Burton, author and lawyer
  • Richard Butler AC, former Australian Ambassador
  • Peter Cochrane FAHA, historian
  • Peter Corlett OAM, sculptor, military memorials and public works
  • Martin Crotty, Associate Professor of History, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland
  • Paul Daley, author, journalist, multiple Walkley Award winner
  • Joy Damousi FAHA FASSA, Professor of History, University of Melbourne
  • Peter Dean, Professor of War Studies, University of Western Australia
  • John Denton, architect, Denton Corker Marshall, AIA Gold Medallist
  • Meredith Edwards AM FASSA FIPPA, former senior Australian government public servant, Emeritus Professor, University of Canberra
  • Romain Fathi, Lecturer in History, Flinders University
  • Richard Flanagan, writer, winner of the Man Booker Prize
  • Bill Gammage AM FASSA, historian
  • Rolf Gerritsen, Professorial Fellow, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs
  • Desmond Griffin AM, Gerard Krefft Fellow and former Director, The Australian Museum
  • Tom Griffiths AO FAHA, historian
  • Liam Hanna, former Assistant Director, Australian War Memorial
  • Marianne Hanson, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Queensland
  • David Headon, historian, Foundation Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University
  • Chris Henderson, President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Australia)
  • Harry Heseltine AO, Professor Emeritus and former Rector, University College UNSW (Australian Defence Force Academy)
  • Carolyn Holbrook, historian, Alfred Deakin Research Fellow, Deakin University
  • Douglas Hynd, Adjunct Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University
  • Benjamin Jones, Lecturer in History, Central Queensland University
  • Brendon Kelson, former Director, Australian War Memorial
  • Thomas Keneally AO, novelist and sometime historian
  • Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow Australian National University, author, former Australian Ambassador to Poland and Cambodia
  • Marilyn Lake AO FAHA FASSA, Professorial Fellow in History, University of Melbourne
  • Jack Latimore, Goori writer and researcher, reporter and columnist for Guardian Australia; editor, NITV News Online
  • Archie Law, Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
  • Carmen Lawrence, Professor Emeritus and Senior Honorary Research Fellow, School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia
  • Richard Llewellyn, former Manager of Collections, Australian War Memorial
  • Greg Lockhart, historian
  • Peter McIntyre, architect, McIntyre Partnership, Melbourne, AIA Gold Medallist
  • Stuart Macintyre AO FAHA FASSA, Emeritus Professor, School of History, University of Melbourne
  • Ian Maddocks AM, physician, Senior Australian of the Year, 2013
  • Mark McKenna, Professor of History, University of Sydney
  • Michael McKernan, historian, former Deputy Director, Australian War Memorial
  • John Menadue AO, former Secretary of four Australian government departments
  • Ann Moyal AM FAHA, historian
  • Douglas Newton, historian
  • George Nicholls, former Director-General, National Archives of Australia
  • Brett Odgers, Convenor, Canberra Chapter, Walter Burley Griffin Society
  • Michael Piggott AM, Senior Research Fellow, Deakin University, former Senior Curator, Australian War Memorial
  • Stuart Rees AM, Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney
  • Richard Reid, former Senior Historian, Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • Henry Reynolds FAHA FASSA, historian, Honorary Research Professor, University of Tasmania
  • Tilman Ruff AM, physician, Associate Professor, Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne; Founding Chair, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Nobel Peace Prize 2017)
  • Lyndall Ryan AM FAHA, Research Academic in History, University of Newcastle
  • Sue Salthouse, ACT Citizen of the Year 2015-16
  • Alex Sloan AM, journalist
  • Jeff Sparrow, editor, writer and broadcaster
  • Peter Stanley FAHA, Professor of History UNSW Canberra; former Principal Historian, Australian War Memorial
  • David Stephens, editor, Honest History website
  • Enrico Taglietti, architect, AIA Gold Medallist
  • Richard Tanter, Senior Research Associate, Nautilus Institute, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences, University of Melbourne
  • Bob Taylor, FCA, former finance executive, Australia Council
  • Alistair Thomson FASSA, Professor of History, Monash University
  • Gillian Triggs, former President, Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Christina Twomey FAHA FASSA, Professor of History and Head of School of Historical, Philosophical and International Studies, Monash University
  • Aileen Marwung Walsh, ARC Laureate History Research Doctoral Candidate, Australian National University
  • Sue Wareham OAM, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War
  • Don Watson, author
  • Ernst Willheim, former senior Australian government public servant
  • Angela Woollacott FAHA FASSA, Manning Clark Professor of History, Australian National University
  • Clare Wright, Associate Professor of History, La Trobe University

Abbreviations: Order of Australia: AC: Companion of the Order of Australia; AO: Officer of the Order of Australia; AM: Member of the Order of Australia; OAM: Medal of the Order of Australia. Other: AIA: Australian Institute of Architects; ARC: Australian Research Council; FAHA: Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities; FASSA: Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia; FCA: Fellow of Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand; FIPPA: Fellow of the International Public Policy Association.

Many of these people have written books and articles on historical and other subjects. To find them, use our Honest History search engine or our author listing.

Media release.

23 March 2019 updated


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7 comments on “Opposition to War Memorial’s $498 million extensions grows; more than 80 distinguished Australians sign letter
  1. Michael Wilson says:

    Since the nineteen forties the AWM has provided for solemn contemplation of the sacrifice of war. It’s a sacred place that has managed the tension between remembrance and museum well. In recent times however it seems to have become mostly military museum – verging on mostly tourist attraction and promotional medium. Early into Dr. Nelson’s watch I observed changes to the AWM cafeteria building which turned out to indicate his thinking. This airy, classical building respectfully to the side of the main edifice had a brutal makeover – including partitions and upholstery depicting war posters and multiple large screens showing scenes from recent military actions.To me, garish and disrespectful. Dr. Nelson’s proposal for a carpark at the foot of Mt Ainslie is also concerning – this is part of Canberra’s nature park and is extensively used by residents, visitors and local kids travelling to Campbell High School. I am concerned this half billion dollars will serve to further damage the dignity of the AWM.

  2. Gulaga says:

    Totally support there are so many more important cultural institutions that have been starved over the past decade while the over-expenditure on WW 1 has raged on. The AWM is a wonderful institution that does not need to be turned into a shrine to Brendan Nelson! Max Bourke AM, former CEO of the Australian Heritage Commission, General Manager of the Australia Council for the Arts, and senior executive in PM&C!

  3. Ray says:

    The AWM is one of our great national memory institutions but it stands alongside many others. It has received favoured treatment over the years while others have had their budgets relentlessly cut. This latest bout of government largesse is utterly disproportionate: the money should instead be distributed around the other institutions to repair their damaged budgets and thereby better serve the national memory and the Australian public.

  4. admin says:

    Hoping to set up a petition on change.org very soon.

  5. ingeborg says:

    Can we open this letter up for others to sign, please? Even those of us who are less ‘distinguished’?

  6. stewart says:

    I’d like my name recorded in support of this letter – Stewart Mitchell – Head of Buildings and Services at the Memorial (retired 2013). I had significant responsibility for the sensitive development of the site under the previous Director (Steve Gower). The current Director’s proposal puts the iconic building and sense of place of the Memorial at risk. The concept design for the proposed development which includes the unnecessary removal of Anzac Hall, is still unapproved under heritage legislation and should not be approved. It is not a design sympathetic to the building and precinct and will significantly impact the heritage values of the site.

  7. Leighton View says:

    Good show … such wasteful demolition and rebuilds of valued buildings smacks too much of the current situation in NSW. And, too close of a relationship with developers/builders.

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