Topics: $1 million Protecting National Historic Sites grant to the Australian War Memorial
Well today is a very important day for the Australian War Memorial and in that sense, also for Australia. It’s my privilege to welcome to the Memorial today the Environment Minister, Minister Greg Hunt, and the Minister for Veterans Affairs and the Centenary of the First World War, Minister Michael Ronaldson. We are standing in the Commemorative Area of the Australian War Memorial, one of the most important and sacred places in this nation and in its history.
We are here at the Australian War Memorial which is one of the most important historic and heritage buildings and sites that this nation has and one of the important responsibilities we have is to see that we maintain this heritage listed building designed and purposely built to tell the story of Australia’s experience of war, originally for the First World War but now for all conflicts and peacekeeping over a hundred years, is to announce that we will be progressing the restoration of the 26 gargoyles which stand silently beneath the names in bronze of those theatres where Australians have fought and died over more than one hundred years.
The gargoyles of Wondabyne stone have lasted until this point but have been subject of course to weather and the nature of the stone means they are deteriorating and consistent with our heritage preservation and conservation programme, we’re now at a point where they do have to be restored and that will happen over the period of the next twelve months in two tranches.
A six week period for the gargoyles, the 13 of them where were on this side, on our eastern side and then early next year over a six week period, the 13 gargoyles on the western side. This is by nature a very important project. It has to be done extremely carefully, very sensitively and of course it requires a significant investment and it’s in that context in particular I welcome Minister Hunt and Minister Ronaldson today.
Look thanks very much to Brendan and also to the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Michael Ronaldson, who together have done an extraordinary job of helping lead Australia’s Centenary of Anzac. Looking around, this was where on Anzac Day 128,000 Australian’s lined the magnificent Anzac Avenue. They came to commemorate all of those who had lost their lives, not just on the shores of Gallipoli, not just in the First World War, but the 102,000 Australian’s who lost their lives from the Boer War to Afghanistan. And so this really is, as Brendan says, sacred ground for Australia.
For those who never came home, for those who were lost and have never been found, this is their home and it’s the place that Australia honours those who honoured us. I will say this – that Anzac Day was celebrated here, but it was celebrated in thousands of towns around Australia and I know in my own small towns the numbers in places such as Hastings and Dromana and Rosebud and Rye and Sorrento were double and triple what they’d been in previous years and those previous years had seen tremendous growth and there were names on the plinth in Sorrento – Skelton and Skelton, Thompson and Thompson – families that had given not just once, but had given everything. And so this central point for Australia is fundamental.
Against that background, I’m delighted that Australia and the Government are today supporting 18 of our national heritage sites with $9 million of grants for restoration, improvement and upgrades. One of those sites is here. This national War Memorial will receive $1 million for upgrading, improving and restoring this most magnificent of memorial courtyards. It is a way of honouring those who have served, those who have given everything and those who currently serve and will serve in the future.
It’s in good hands. It’s in the best hands and its part of the ongoing task of restoring our national heritage places and other areas that will be acknowledged and updated include Cockatoo Island, Hyde Park Barracks. They include Bondi and the extraordinary pavilion there and its part of a national process of honouring our past and leaving that for our children. So I am delighted to announce the grant for $1 million from the Commonwealth to the Australian War Memorial for restoring the national memorial courtyard and I do say this – that so many families, 102,000 have been lost – so many families are represented here.
For the first time I was able to pay my respects at the Memorial Board which includes the name of one particular person, Colin Alexander Brown, who was lost on 5th May 1918 at Villers-Bretonneux and his loss affected our family, just one of the many stories. He was my great uncle. But every name here is somebody’s son or somebody’s daughter, somebody’s father or great-grandfather, or great uncle. And so I say thank you to those who served and to Dr Nelson – it’s in good hands.
Thanks very much Minister. Minister Ronaldson?
Well thank you very much Greg and I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone at the AWM, I have to say this is fantastic news. I know it’s a very competitive bidding process and clearly we’re very pleased that $1 million has come to the AWM. A nation that fails to remember is a nation that fails itself and this of course is the nation’s home of remembrance and there’s been an enormous amount of work that’s been done inside this building. The World War I gallery upgrade, we’ve got the Afghanistan area, so a lot’s gone on inside.
But this home of remembrance, our nation’s home of remembrance will be 74 on Remembrance Day this year and like every home, it needs some work. This $1 million will ensure that the exterior of this extraordinary building is maintained for the future. So to you Greg, it is just fantastic news. We are very, very pleased about this and this nation will see the outcome of this $1 million and the restoration of the exterior is extremely important so that generations to come can share what we’ve been able to enjoy. So on behalf of all of us, a very warm thank you.
Alright. Any questions?
I’d just like to know what physical changes will we actually be able to see here once the restoration works are complete?
Well obviously this is an iconic heritage listed building and we have a responsibility to as faithfully as we possibly can, see that by the time these works are finished, with a $1 million contribution from the Australian Government, that what you see is essentially what people were looking at in 1941 when this was opened and the magnificent gargoyles had been produced by Leslie Bowles.
We will take a photograph of a very good high resolution photograph of the gargoyles in this commemorative area and then when the works are being done, respectively on the eastern and then the western side, each over a six week period, the hoardings that will cover the scaffolding of the works will actually have the photograph of what you see here before you today. We will ensure to the extent that we possibly can that there is minimum disruption to the aesthetics and the environment of remembrance and reflection when people are here.
Some of the most emotional experiences that I have witnessed and have been part of throughout my life have occurred in this area. Every single night we run a Last Post ceremony here we tell a story of one man or one woman from 102,000 names that are on the Roll of Honour and we will ensure that minimum disruption is done to that experience for our visitors over this period. But as Minister Hunt said, this is critically important work. We cannot responsibly allow this deterioration to progress any further and we’re now going to act on it.
The preservation is obviously really important for future generations to understand the tale of our Anzacs. How important is it to continue that education through the War Memorial?
Every nation has its story – this is our story. We are defined by our values and our beliefs and no group of Australians has worked harder or given more to shape that sense of who we are as Australians. In the story from these two million men and women who wear and bore the uniform of our three services and in the end, this is the Australian War Memorial, but the stories here are stories of friendship and love. That a life of value is one spent in the service of other people, of your mates and whatever the cost to your own safety and security, perhaps even with your own life.
And as Minister Ronaldson is constantly impressing upon Australians, the most important group of Australians that we are working to give an appreciation and understanding of all of this is young Australians. This is our history, but it actually has much more to do with our future. We have to be confident of who we are as Australians, whether Australian by birth or by choice, and to actually come to the War Memorial, or to connect to it through the new technologies we are using to tell this story, to reach out to Australians, to get a sense of who we are.
It’s not until you stand in this area, as an international visitor in particular, that you really get a sense of who we are and what makes us tick as Australians. There are some truths by which we live they’re worth fighting to defend and they’re recognised and represented here.
Alright. Thank you very much.