ACT News

Institutes to join forces for war centenary

Australian War Memorial director, Brendan Nelson.
Australian War Memorial director, Brendan Nelson. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Canberra's cultural institutions are expected to make a joint effort to promote the national capital during the centenary of the First World War.

They will encourage visitors from Melbourne and Sydney to spend more than one day in Canberra, to appreciate the collections on offer.

Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson is convening a meeting of directors of the institutions to put his plan for a unified front.

He said on Friday the meeting would be held the week after next.

He urged Australians to make their visit to Canberra memorable.

''It's really important that the Australian War Memorial, the National Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Gallery and other institutions, provide a complementary but comprehensive story of the First World War,'' he said.

"I'm arguing that if Australians are able to come to Canberra over the four years of the centenary, they shouldn't just come to Canberra for a one-day visit to the Australian War Memorial.

"What's important is that we put the case to Australians that, if they are able to, they take three or four or five days to come to Canberra.''

Dr Nelson suggested a walking, taxi or bus tour could go to each institution.

The war memorial is upgrading its First World War galleries, including the historic dioramas, in time for the Gallipoli centenary in 2015.

Some of the dioramas, such as the depiction of Lone Pine, pre-date the memorial's Canberra building and were originally installed at the Melbourne site.

Dr Nelson said the meeting of directors would discuss how the institutions could provide a snapshot of Australian life during the time of the war.

"What were our fashions, what music were we listening to, what books were we reading, what was the political climate in Australia - the referenda, the changing nature of our domestic politics, how we saw ourselves both as a nation and our place in the world, how that evolved and changed over the period of the First World War, the impact on families and communities,'' he said.

''If all that Australians do as a nation is look at what is presented at the Australian War Memorial, then we would have failed. I don't mean the memorial will have failed but as a nation we will have failed because necessarily almost all of what we will represent at the Australian War Memorial will be the military engagements in which we were involved.

"We will also present a picture of Australia in 1914 and who we were, why we engaged and embraced the war so readily.

"We will touch on the deep political and social divisions within Australia through the period of the First World War and give those who come to the gallery the sense of us emerging from it.

''But it's really important, I think, that Australians not just come away with a better knowledge of … the First World War in a military sense, but we have to get a clear sense as a nation of who we were when we went into the war.

"The Glorious Days exhibition at the National Museum is a must-see for anybody who is thinking about the forthcoming centenary of the First World War because it gives you a good sense of who we were in 1913.''