The Australian War Memorial is perhaps the most iconic of all buildings in Australia. Culturally too, it represents that which sits at the heart of what it means to be Australian – a sense of egalitarianism, mateship and belonging. Some of these elements may well be missing in the current political dialogue, but they have long been central to the Australian identity and I was reminded of that during our visit to the war memorial.
Architecturally and spiritually, this is a beautiful place to visit on any trip to Canberra. We timed it to enjoy “The Last Post” a daily ceremony where wreaths are laid, both the bagpipes and bugle are played and a fallen soldier is remembered, years after his passing.
It was the desire for remembrance that gave life to the idea of the war memorial. A place to house the spirits of those who died in sacrifice for a country they loved. A place where they could be honoured and guarded in their home land, and remembered by all who call themselves Australian. I found the ceremony deeply moving and a powerful reminder of what it means to be Australian, and the responsibility that being part of a community holds.
There is a quality of stillness about the memorial. Within the courtyard, a rectangular pool reflects the sky, bright red poppies adorn the high walls lined with the names of those who have died. An eternal flame flickers with orange tongued flames. At one point I turned around to find my daughter and her friend standing, eyes shut, with hands in prayer.
The tomb of the unknown soldier lies in a domed building, the pinnacle of the memorial. A quiet hollow space where people tread with reverence and awe. Alongside, an oversized aviator, bronzed for all eternity held the attention of my young and boisterous son.
Beneath and beyond the memorial, the museum is worth a visit. It houses countless exhibitions covering all aspects of Australia’s engagement in battle arenas around the world. From full scale airplanes and interactive exhibits to hand written diaries and sound effects. From the boer war through to Vietnam, from peacekeeping to Afghanistan, Australia’s involvement is documented and presented for view by children and adults alike.
An afternoon well spent.