ACT News

War correspondents' memorial in a perfect place

The wife of news cameraman and murdered member of the Balibo Five Greg Shackleton said the dedication of a new memorial to commemorate the sacrifices made by Australian war correspondents was one of the happiest days of her life.

Laying a wreath at the War Correspondents' memorial at the Australian War Memorial on Wednesday, Shirley Shackleton was flanked by journalist cause celebre Peter Greste, who's conviction for terrorism charges by the Egyptian government has created international outrage.

Malcolm Turnbull praises media

Our democracy depends on a free press, says Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, unveiling a new memorial to war correspondents. Courtesy ABC News 24.

Speaking at the dedication, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to Australia's free press and stated his unequivocal support for Greste, saying he had paid "a very heavy price" for his dedication to telling the truth.

"The Australian government continues to support you and your colleagues and will continue to press the government of Egypt to pardon you and the other journalists with whom you worked that are still imprisoned in Egypt," Mr Turnbull said.

Shirley Shackleton and Peter Greste lay wreaths for war correspondents and their families at the dedication of the War ...
Shirley Shackleton and Peter Greste lay wreaths for war correspondents and their families at the dedication of the War Correspondents Memorial. Photo: Andrew Meares

Funding a permanent war correspondent's memorial within the Australian War Memorial has been a long-term goal of the CW Bean Foundation.

Charles Bean was Australia's first official war correspondent and would later write the 12-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.

His granddaughter, Anne Carroll, laid a wreath at the memorial, saying its low and unobtrusive form within the far northern quarter of the sloping lawns of the Australian War Memorial was "perfectly in fitting with all that it stands for".

"It is perfect in shape, form, location and inscription, it is not obtrusive and it represents war correspondents observing…being there at the side."

Mrs Shackleton said seeing the memorial was a "dream come true".

She was a tireless campaigner for an independent inquiry into the circumstances around the Balibo Five's murder at a time when Australia was more interested in preserving diplomatic ties with Indonesia.

An emotional Mrs Shackleton said:  "This memorial is a miracle. It remembers people that a lot of very important and powerful people wanted to forget and continue to forget until now."

"This is a commemoration of the truth. It solidifies something extraordinary because without Charles Bean doing what he did we would have never known what happened at Gallipoli – we'd have gotten the official story of course, which is what most people have about Balibo."

Mrs Shackleton won Australia's highest award for journalism – a Walkley – in 2010 for her book, The Circle of Silence: A personal Testimony Before, During and After Balibo."

War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson said he felt an enormous sense of pride in the new addition to the memorial.

"The National Press Club is in Canberra, the National Press Gallery is in Canberra and now the war correspondents' memorial is in Canberra," he said.

"It is extremely important that the respect Australians have for those men and women over 150 years who have brought the stories to us – who have written the first draft of history – are are recognised and honoured as they should be."

Greste also endorsed the memorial. "I think it is beautiful. I was a little afraid of seeing an ostentatious display of sacrifice but this is not that. Journalists are never meant to be in the story themselves ... but sometimes we get into that position for all the wrong reasons."

"This memorial sets to the side of the garden without overpowering it. It observes, monitors and bears witness to all that takes place, without being at the centre of things. It is perfectly appropriate."