ACT News

Gang-gang: War memorials galore

With agile timing, as this especially momentous Anzac Day looms, a new book looks at how Canberra bristles with war memorials.

How many do you think there are? Although a student of our metropolis, this columnist was startled when the creators of We Will Remember Them - Canberra's war memorials, first told us their book catalogues more than 50. 

The Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery National Memorial at Mount Pleasant.
The Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery National Memorial at Mount Pleasant.  Photo: Glenn Dando

The author is Vietnam veteran Christopher Jobson and the photographs are by Glenn Dando.

Jobson told us on Wednesday that the inspiration for the book came from his work at the Australian War Memorial. After his discharge from the army in 1998, he became the memorial's ceremonial officer. Visitors would ask him all sorts of questions about the memorials there, and then he would point  them to memorials they did not know existed.

The Animals In War memorial was designed by artist Steven Holland.
The Animals In War memorial was designed by artist Steven Holland. Photo: Australian War Memorial

One of the lesser-known memorials celebrated in the book is the shyly sited Animals In War memorial at the Australian War Memorial. Then there is the Australians In The Spanish Civil War memorial in Lennox Gardens, known only to that spot's joggers, dog walkers, picnickers and canoodlers.

To go to Lennox Gardens first, to give us a little respite from all the current Anzac-ery, we amble up to the Australians In The Spanish Civil War memorial.  It is a wall of sandstone blocks, with a plaque, and it was erected in 1993 in memory of the 70 idealism-driven Australian men and women who fought  against fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

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It is in the leafy but anonymous place it is because the Australian War Memorial - famously conservative about these sorts of things - would not have it on AWM premises. And so the ACT government obliged.

Even though the Australians who went to Spain were not servicemen and servicewomen, but civilians (that's what disqualifies them from being remembered in the AWM's hallowed grounds), "they were Australians who went overseas to fight", Jobson observes. And so they get a guernsey in the book. He likes the idea that the book will be used to help Canberrans and visitors find and learn about out-of-the way memorials, and the Lennox Gardens memorial is a prime example.

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He thinks the (lesser) problem with the discovery of the Animals In War memorial at the Australian War Memorial (this columnist blushes to confess to never having noticed it) is that visitors tend to make blinkered beelines from their cars to the institution's main entrance.

The memorial is, literally, a little off the beaten track. It turns out to be a joint project between the Australian War Memorial and the RSPCA, and commemorates those animals that served alongside Australians in all conflicts.

The large bronze horse's head was completed by Sir Bertram Mackennal, the sculptor of the large, bronze human head (a goddess' head, really) of Bellona, Goddess of War, that stands, frowning, nearby. The horse's head is very well-travelled. It is all that is left from the original Desert Mounted Corps memorial installed in Port Said, Egypt and unveiled in 1932. In 1956 this memorial was destroyed by rioters, and the surviving head brought to Australia.

For this new memorial, artist Steven Holland has positioned the original bronze horse head upon a plinth made of granite, which allows visitors to engage with it in the same way they might have an endearing personal interaction with a real horse leaning over a fence, giving it half of one's Golden Delicious.

BGP Publications' We Will Remember Them - Canberra's war memorials is being launched on Thursday. It is already available at discerning bookshops, at Amazon Kindle and at digital learning libraries. 

Meanwhile, there are no war memorials on Springbank Island, but this column's natterings about Springbank Island (we have been to an archaeological dig going on there now) have triggered readers' memories of past occasions there.

Historian Allen Mawer was reminded of a production there in 1971 of Lewis Carroll's Alice.

"I was there. I was the Cheshire Cat," he reminisced, his voice ringing with thespian-feline pride.

He marvelled to remember that in spite of the logistical problems posed by the venue (because no one cometh unto or goeth from the island except by ferry) Alice had a sustained season there lasting from February 25 to March 13. Ferries left from the hospital jetty at Acton and ferry fares were included in the costs of tickets to the show. 

Mawer remembers the island venue being cleverly adapted so "the performances consisted of Alice doing a circuit of the island, having her adventures in different places, with the audience following her, doing the same circuit".

Alerted by him, we have gone a'Troveing and find that the event was called a "Through The Looking Glass pageant", and one of the producers was the legendary-in-the-ACT-arts Paul Thom.

The golden-haired heroine of the 19th-century children's classic was played by 14-year-old Carolyn Duve, of Page, a student at the Catholic Girls' High School at Braddon. The Canberra Times ran a photograph of her looking bewitchingly like the gel in the illustrations of the early editions of Carroll's classic. She won the coveted role after auditions involving an estimated 300 girls. Where is she now?