ACT News

Newly refurbished First World War galleries open to the public

Never-seen-before World War I relics and a new way of sharing Australia's role in the Great War will be unveiled when the Australian War Memorial's WWI galleries reopen to the public on Monday after a $34 million redevelopment.

The newly refurbished galleries – titled Australia in the Great War  feature – 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.

Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson with First World War Galleries project director Katherine McMahon ...
Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson with First World War Galleries project director Katherine McMahon check out one of the new displays.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The 1750 square metre exhibition presents Australia's WWI chronologically and visitors can discover more about items and photographs on display through new interactive displays that tell their history. 

The exhibition also features items not been seen for many years 

Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson said the redevelopment was the most significant project undertaken by the memorial since it's opening in 1941. 

"From the bullet-ridden Ascot Landing boat from Gallipoli through all of the conflicts in which Australia was involved through the First World War, Australians will go on a journey of discovery," he said. 

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"You will emerge from these galleries extremely proud of what our young nation achieved but informed by a sober understanding of the price that was paid.

"Every nation has a story. This is our story.

Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson with First World War Galleries project director Katherine McMahon ...
Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson with First World War Galleries project director Katherine McMahon look at Winged Victory on display in the new galleries. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

"What these men and women as nurses did in the First World War largely shaped our sense of who we are and what it means to be an Australian, beyond this country's very rich indigenous history and the pioneering efforts of those who built it through the 19th century."

Australian War Memorial senior curator and redevelopment concept director Nick Fletcher said the new galleries would also help teach younger generations about Australia's role in the Great War.

"All [the] elements I hope will help particularly our younger visitors, but every visitor really, to understand exactly what kind of a nation Australia was and how we came to be involved in the First World War," he said. 

The redevelopment was completed in time for the Anzac centenary next year. 

"The main difference for people who come here regularly is that we've now restored chronology to the story and we give more time to 1914 so before you even hit April 25, 1915, we spend time talking about Australia as a nation," redevelopment project manager Katherine McMahon said. 

"And then you progress through the story from 1914 [to] the immediate legacy of the war and then the enduring legacy of the war." 

Another significant acquisition on display is Winged Victory.

"She's a symbol of victory but she's also a symbol of sorrow," Ms McMahon said. 

"She came from the memorial that was erected in 1919 in Marrickville, New South Wales, and she came down at some point and she lost her lower half." 

Dr Nelson believed visitors would walk away from the exhibition with a great sense of pride. 

"Pride in our nation at what was achieved but one informed very much by a sober understanding of the cost," he said. 

"More so than in the past, we're telling the stories of individual sacrifice and of loss."