Continuing from parts one and two of the highlights of the Australian War Memorial…
I approached the information desk to enquire about a relative lost in the second World War. Within a few minutes I had an extract of his service record – he died in an accident while seconded to the British Airforce at just 26 years of age. With a red poppy and a cross reference as to his location on the Roll of Honour, I proceeded to the Roll of Honour area. Separated by
Two huge bronze boards flank the length of the building detailing the names of around 102,000 Australians – sorted by war and battalion, but not by rank – one of the most complete lists of those killed at war of any nation on Earth. Whether a private or a general, all have made the ultimate sacrifice. It was with mixed feelings with only the vaguest understanding of what being in a war must be like, I squeezed the delicate red poppy next to the name of my relative, lost in the prime of his life like so many others. Other visitors scan for their past relatives in quiet contemplation, painting a carpet of red down the walls.
Dividing the walls, the eternal flame burns and the Pool of Reflection highlights the immense dome of the Hall of Memory in the waters disturbed ever so slightly by the gentle breeze. Looking outwards, the War Memorial stands proudly at the end of a long boulevard of trees, Anzac Avenue, leading over Canberra’s lake to the Houses of Parliament.
Walking into the Hall of Memory, a poignant and solemn space, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, sprinkled in poppies sits painted in the afternoon light from tall stained glass windows. Four massive glass tile mosaics represent the army, navy, airforce and servicewomen lead to a vast vibrant golden dome representing the glowing sun, embedded with the Southern Cross.
The tomb was interred in 1993 under the passionate and heartfelt speech by the Prime Minister of the Day, Paul Keating. To me, his words capture the feelings entrenched in Anzac Day and this wonderful memorial.
This Australia and the Australia he knew are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all – consuming, a world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination.
This Unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace; or to assert a soldier’s character above a civilian’s; or one race or one nation or one religion above another; or men above women; or the war in which he fought and died above any other war; or one generation above any that has been or will come later.
The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia. His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.
We have lost more than 100,000 lives, and with them all their love of this country and all their hope and energy.
We have gained a legend: a story of bravery and sacrifice and, with it, a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian. (full speech here)