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Australian War Memorial's World War I galleries officially opened

Handwritten letters, ageing relics and realistic dioramas helped paint a picture of Australia's role in the Great War for father-and-son pair James and Aedan MacNamara at the weekend. 

The Sydney pair travelled to Canberra for the official opening of the Australian War Memorial's refurbished permanent exhibition, Australia in the Great War, on Sunday. 

World War I relics that had never been displayed were unveiled when the galleries reopened to the public in December after a $34 million redevelopment.

The MacNamaras will journey to World War I battlefields in France and Turkey in April and Aedan, 12, said his trip to the new galleries had given him a greater understanding of the history and importance of what he would see.

"There were a lot of things I didn't know about, like the Battle at Pozieres and all the fighting that happened in the Middle East. 

"I thought there were only a few battles there, but we were quite involved."


Mr MacNamara said the many personal effects on display, including photographs, diary entries and letters, generated a strong emotional connection.

"It's not just facts and figures, it's the human side as well."

Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove launched the exhibition during a ceremony on Sunday morning and said it captured the nation's involvement in the war in a way that was "full of depth and emotion, told with respect and dignity".

The ceremony featured a keynote address by veteran journalist Les Carlyon and performances from country music singer Lee Kernaghan, the Sydney Children's Choir and the Royal Military College band.

The exhibition features newly acquired items including the Bullecourt Tank, one of only two WWI German tanks in the world, a 4.5-inch howitzer, General Sir John Monash's uniform as well as relics from the 2010 excavations at the site of the Pheasant Wood mass grave.

Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson said the display would honour the service and sacrifice of Australians for generations.

"Australia in the Great War speaks to a new generation of Australians, offering knowledge and understanding of the men and women whose sacrifice gave us what we have and made us who we are."

The World War I galleries won't be the only part of the landmark to be refreshed.

The memorial last week called for tenders to remake 24 of the 26 carved sandstone gargoyles that line the commemorative courtyard's exterior walls.

The project will have the gargoyles, which include native birds and animals, and the surrounding stone moulding replaced by identical carvings in Wondabyne sandstone.