Canberra couple bringing to life the Sir John Monash Centre near Villers-Bretonneux in France
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Canberra couple bringing to life the Sir John Monash Centre near Villers-Bretonneux in France

A Canberra couple who are managing the creation of a $100 million museum in France honouring Australians' service and sacrifice on the Western Front say it is an honour and privilege to come to work every day.

As another Anzac Day passes this week, Caroline and Wade Bartlett are focused on Anzac Day 2018, the deadline for delivery of the Sir John Monash Centre under construction at the Australian National Memorial, near Villers-Bretonneux in France.

An artists impression of the  Sir John Monash Centre, France which sits behind the Australian National Memorial.

An artists impression of the Sir John Monash Centre, France which sits behind the Australian National Memorial.

The federal government is bank-rolling the centre as a lasting legacy from the centenary of Anzac.

The centre has been designed by Cox Architecture, half sunken into the ground and roofed with turf - "a floating meadow" - to ensure it is an unobtrusive addition to the existing memorial. It is being billed as the "premier Western Front experience for Australians visiting France".

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Canberra couple Caroline and Wade Bartlett with their children Alexa and Samuel on site this week at of the Sir John monash Centre  near Villers-Bretonneux in France. The couple are managing the project on behalf of the Department of Veteran Affairs. The existing Australian National Memorial rises above the new construction.

Canberra couple Caroline and Wade Bartlett with their children Alexa and Samuel on site this week at of the Sir John monash Centre near Villers-Bretonneux in France. The couple are managing the project on behalf of the Department of Veteran Affairs. The existing Australian National Memorial rises above the new construction.

The new centre continues to honour the contribution of the 290,000 Australians who served on the Western Front in France and Belgium during World War One; 46,000 losing their life and another 130,000 injured.

"It's such an incredible project and it means so much to so many Australians and also to Australian history and identity," Mrs Bartlett said.

"So for us, it's an absolute honour to work on it."

The Bartletts, who have both worked on other construction projects including the New Acton precinct, moved their young family - Alexa is six and Samuel, four - from Canberra to France 18 months ago to manage the massive project.

 A photograph taken of the of progress at the new $100 million museum in France being paid for by the Australian Government.

A photograph taken of the of progress at the new $100 million museum in France being paid for by the Australian Government.

They work for Canberra-based company Global Project Solutions with director David Freudigmann​ overseeing the project from the national capital on behalf of the Department of Veteran Affairs.

"We started early in 2014 and essentially our job is to take the whole project from conception right through to completion, design and construction," Mr Bartlett said.

Workers finished the roof slab this week, with the building close to being water-tight.

"It's very exciting for everyone because you can actually see what it is going to be, physically," Mrs Bartlett said.

"Australians, generally, here are loved. There's no other word, they're loved. You can sense that memory of our ancestors being here and fighting with them and alongside them."

Caroline Bartlett

"All the battlefield sites here are under potential UNESCO listing and we're in the middle of those battlefields so it was important for us not to impact any of the landscape or change the nature of the memorial site."

The new museum has been described as a "very quiet" building that needed to sit behind the existing memorial without obscuring views of the battlefields. The Australian National Memorial was dedicated in 1938 and includes the names of more than 10,700 Australians who died in France in World War One with no known grave.

The new interpretative centre, named after the Australian battlefield leader Sir John Monash, will also be high-tech, with multi-media features that "tell a compelling story of Australia's service on the Western Front". It will include an app that will guide visitors through the cemeteries and the centre.

The locals around Villers-Bretonneux have always made Australians feel welcome, recognising Australia's contribution to France. That has made the job even more special for the Bartletts.

"I have never worked on such a project where there is such support from every side," Mrs Bartlett.

"The French are known to be quite a bureaucratic nation but here they have put in place a special working group to navigate all the administrative requirements.

"The locals themselves, it's just been really heart-warming. Australians, generally, here are loved. There's no other word, they're loved. You can sense that memory of our ancestors being here and fighting with them and alongside them. It's very humbling."

Mr Bartlett, an industrial designer, is experienced in constructing new projects next to heritage buildings. One of his projects also included restoring the Futuro House for the University of Canberra.

Mrs Bartlett, who was project coordinator for the New Acton precinct and most recently worked for Defence, was raised in New Caledonia, so is fluent in French.

Their children attend the local village school and have embraced French life, speaking the language, having five-course lunches at school and becoming familiar with the odd block of cheese.

The family plans to return to Canberra once the new centre opens to the public next April.