Stephens, David: Australian War Memorial $498m project: consultation on two fronts

David Stephens*

‘Australian War Memorial $498m project: consultation on two fronts’, Honest History, 12 March 2021

There are currently two ways in which people can have their say about the War Memorial development project. The Canberra Times story gives an overview.

War Memorial

First, the Memorial is holding online (and limited face-to-face in Canberra only) consultations about what exhibits should go into the 2.4 hectares of new space the Memorial will gain from the project. Starting next week. You can sign up here (Register Now).

That link also takes you to material on the Memorial’s earlier consultations. Honest History and Heritage Guardians have commented, not always favourably, on the methodology and results of these consultations. Use the Honest History Search engine, with search terms ‘consultation’, ‘predetermined’, ‘dodgy’, and ‘bias’.

Two issues that might come up this time around are, first, how many pieces of retired military kit (helicopters, fighter jets, armoured cars) will hang from the ceiling or rest on plinths in the new space. The Memorial told the Public Works Committee last year that the total number of large technology objects on display will grow from 52 at present to 62 in the future (Report, para 2.96). Whether the extra ten LTOs will include both the Memorial’s two F/A-18A Hornet jets is still to be determined.

People being consulted might also like to consider the Memorial’s argument that telling the story of recent conflicts requires the appropriate machinery to be on hand for ready reference (Public Works Committee Report, para 2.99). Or is it just a desire to display lots of ‘toys for the boys’?

Secondly, there will be interest in how much of a ‘truth-telling’ institution the Memorial can be on our wars. Director Anderson made a brave effort post-Brereton, but seemed to be rather slapped down thereafter. His more recent formulation is, ‘I think the War Memorial’s role in order to continue to be a place of trust is to tell the truth, but also to provide the context in which those stories occurred’. As Honest History said a little while ago,

It would be a tragedy if Anderson were to be thwarted [in truth-telling] but, at the same time, the proposed $498 million extension to the Memorial went ahead. It would then be a case of more and more space being devoted to telling the same old simple, how we fight, “what heroes we Aussies are”, sanitised story rather than venturing into new, more honest subject matter.

National Capital Authority

The National Capital Authority still has to play a role as the third approval-giver in the lengthy process that has (almost) brought you the $498m extensions. There have been hints from the Memorial that its major application covering the whole project will not be coming forward till May or June.

Honest History and Heritage Guardians have urged people to register with the NCA as Key Stakeholders, which obliges the Authority to consult them on developments in the national capital.  The Authority’s main concern is whether the Memorial project fits in with the National Capital Plan.

There are likely to be some early works associated with the big project coming before the Authority soon and Heritage Guardians will note these as they roll up. You can keep track of approval consultations on the NCA website.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of Heritage Guardians.

12 March 2021

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