Former politician Brendan Nelson has been appointed as director of the War Memorial.

Former politician Brendan Nelson has been appointed as director of the War Memorial. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Listing fallen peacekeepers on the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour is not an option, newly appointed director Dr Brendan Nelson said on his first day in the job.

''The [AWM] council has unanimously decided that the Roll of Honour will continue to be for those men and women who give their lives in the service of their country in war-like conditions,'' he said.

''But the council will continue to consider the issue and how best to represent the names of those men and women who have given their lives in our uniform, in our names, as peacekeepers for Australia.''

Dr Nelson, who takes over from former director Major General Steve Gower and acting director Nola Anderson, has already said meeting peacekeeper campaigners Sarah McCarthy and Avril Clark is high on his list of priorities.

General Gower was the director for 16 years and Ms Anderson, who acted in the role for about 12 months, stepped down after a 25-year career on Friday.

Dr Nelson, a former head of the Australian Medical Association, has just returned from a three-year appointment in Brussels as Australia's ambassador to the European Union where he was a frequent visitor to the World War I battlefields.

A former defence minister under John Howard, Dr Nelson briefly led the coalition following the 2007 election defeat before being replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.

Asked for his favourite part of the memorial, Dr Nelson said the question was a challenging one. ''That's like asking me which of my [three] children is the best,'' he said.

''Leaving aside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Roll of Honour, outside the memorial is that bronze of Simpson and his donkey.

''Here is a man who was a Geordie [from Newcastle on Tyne] who questioned the morality of the war, who saw joining the AIF as a way of getting back home to his mum, who had adopted Australia as his country, had joined the 3rd Field Ambulance and then, over 20 or so days of acts of fatal selfishness, rescued some 40 of the injured and the dying for which he didn't receive any formal or official highest military honour.

''What Simpson and his donkey did, part truth and part myth, defines who we are. Ultimately it is about placing the interests of other human beings ahead of our own; even at the risk of personal safety or life itself.''

Dr Nelson spoke to the media from the heart of the memorial, the World War I gallery. He was flanked by the Bullecourt diorama and Joseph Finnemore's painting of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that formally concluded the ''war to end all wars''.

Dr Nelson said it was a privilege to be appointed director at a time of challenge and excitement. The centenary of World War I and Gallipoli would be a major challenge, as was his goal of making sure every Australian felt a connection with the institution. ''Young people who wish to understand what it means to be Australian need look no further than here,'' he said.