ACT News


New Middle East display and Chris Master's documentary launches at the Australian War Memorial

Integrating back into an indifferent society after experiencing the horrors of war is far from easy.

But award-winning journalist Chris Masters hopes his new documentary exploring the impact of the Afghanistan war on Australian troops reduces this indifference even slightly.

He said that soldiers revealed painful memories they'd kept from their own families in his work, which was launched alongside the Australian War Memorial's new exhibition about Australia's involvement in the Middle East.

The AWM launched the exhibit and Masters' documentary on Wednesday, and Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson said he was touched at how it changed people's perception's of war.

"One airforce officer said one of the guys she worked with had a wife who hated the military, hated the airforce an hated the fact he'd been away for so long," Dr Nelson said.

"And then when he brought her to see it she broke down in tears and said 'I'm sorry, I get it".


Dr Nelson said he knew there was a need for the memorial's Middle East exhibition when he visited Afghanistan as Australia's ambassador to NATO.

"An Australian soldier said to me 'I take my son to the War Memorial a lot. Why can I show him what his great grandfather did, what his grandfather gave to Australia but can't show him what I'm doing?'," Dr Nelson said.

"When I arrived I had a very close look and I think it's safe to say it was embarrassing what we were not able to tell of that."

Four years later, the memorial features 220 objects which detail the journey of the some-40,000 Australians who took part in the Middle East conflict, 44 of whom died.

Featured in the exhibition is an explosives detective dog Sarbi who went missing in action for more than a year during the Afghanistan conflict and was later spotted by another soldier and re-united with her Australian unit. Sarbi died of cancer in 2015 and her ex-handler Warrant Officer David Simpson donated the taxidermied remains to the memorial.

Visitors can also see the prosthetic leg and gold medal of Australian troop-turned-athlete Curtis McGrath who lost both his legs in a mine blast in Afghanistan and went on to win gold in Para-canoeing at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Also on display is a minelab mine detector damaged in the blast which killed Sappers Jacob Moerland and Darren Smith and their dog Herbie.

Masters said the exhibition complemented his documentary, titled Afghanistan: the Australian story, because they both powerfully connect the Australian public with the soldiers' experience.

"It's dangerous for young Australians to come back from an intense experience like that, to then re-integrate with an indifferent public," he said.

"So many of the soldiers I spoke to told stories that were incredibly powerful that they'd never told anyone."

Among these stories were troops opening up about the trauma of seeing their comrades blown to pieces and the challenges of keeping their team calm during attacks.

The Middle East exhibition is on display within the existing Conflicts 1945 to today galleries and covers Australia's involvement in the First Gulf War, Operation Habitat, Maritime Interception Force, UN weapons inspections, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The DVD of Masters' documentary can be purchased at the War Memorial store and online.