‘The Australian War Memorial should be for all Australians, not just veterans: submission regarding AWM Development Project’, Honest History, 5 August 2020
(Note: This article was originally a submission to the Australian War Memorial on its ‘final preliminary documentation’ for its redevelopment project. There is a requirement that the redevelopment be assessed against the heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. HH thanks the author for permission to reproduce the article.)
The author believes the Memorial’s push for more space is based on a particular view of the function of the institution. ‘Who is the Memorial for now?’ he asks.
The short answer is and should be “all Australians”. A slightly longer answer would add “including those who have a family connection to a name on the Roll of Honour”. Not anymore. Now, apparently, the AWM is essentially, primarily, for a much narrower section of the community. In recent decades, the AWM Council and senior management have signalled to current and former members of the ADF that, first and foremost, it is for them.
Turning to look at the features of the planned extensions, the author says this:
None of the arguments for the development are so compelling or convincing that they demonstrate conclusively that only the specific development proposed (and no other alternative) must be supported. This doesn’t matter, of course, as the Prime Minister announced the development as a done deal in November 2018. The June 2020 retrofitted justification (as presented in June 2020 Preliminary Documentation Submission) is littered with non sequiturs, unsupported claims, and inconsistencies.
The author concludes with some suggestions for alternative futures for the Memorial:
Expand the current Anzac Hall (the AWM’s June 2020 submission states at p 75 this is not a technically viable option, then refers the reader back to para 4.5.2 even though here it provides no justification for such an assertion); I find it very hard to believe it is not technically possible to do;
Reduce earlier wars’ galleries to allow more extensive representation of post 1999 operations if that really is today’s priority, and refocus the travelling exhibition program and online exhibitions accordingly; and
Establish a major oral history program to record the stories of the current veterans and relevant ADF members, then make edited selections available online and also direct this content into the education and publications programs.
Heritage Guardians campaign diary follows the history of the campaign against the Memorial project.
* Michael Piggott AM is a semi-retired archivist with many years’ experience, and is currently Chair of the (ACT) Territory Records Advisory Council. He has a chapter in The Honest History Book. His latest work is a chapter in Community Archives, Community Spaces: Heritage, Memory and Identity (Bastian & Flinn, ed., Facet, 2020). He has written many book reviews and other pieces for Honest History (use our Search engine), most recently a review of I Wonder: The Life and Work of Ken Inglis, edited by Peter Browne and Seumas Spark.
WH Buck’s unsuccessful entry (one of 68) in the 1925 design competition for the Memorial (Canberra Times/AWM)
The fundamental question is whether or not the AWM can honour the recent active service of ADF members, without detracting from the honour afforded to their forebears, ie. ‘live within means’ or expand? If expansion is the choice made, the question becomes: how should this be done?
The underlying question is: who is the AWM for? Is it for ‘all Australians’, or all just ‘all veterans’? It would seem self obvious that the AWM is for all Australians, ie. veterans, their families, and citizens as a whole. Where does this leave us? Is an expansion warranted? If so, how should it be done? Seems to me that the two questions, and therefore the arguments related to the AWM expansion, have become entwined. I would like to see the debate as a more ‘focussed’ one.
I agree with Michael Piggott except for the ‘in recent decades’ part of the ADF focus statement – I worked at the AWM from 1994 to 2013 and that wasn’t my experience then. However, there has now been a noticeable shift. Management and Council have definitely gone down a strange path – the Memorial is less because of this extreme ADF focus and at risk from the gross overdevelopment they believe they need to support this position. The Memorial has connections for all of us but I can’t help feeling my connection, which doesn’t include service in the ADF, has somehow become less worthy there.