Richard Thwaites knows better than most the struggle that first won protection for Remembrance Nature Park and turned it into a place honouring those who have served in war.
More than 40 years after his mother led the grassroots campaign that saved the land behind the Australian War Memorial from development, he is speaking out against new plans to build on the park.
Mr Thwaites is calling for a stop to a War Memorial bid to put temporary construction facilities and a permanent car park on the land his parents helped protect.
Memorial director Brendan Nelson, who last month revealed its $498.7 million expansion would effectively push its boundaries into the park, also faces opposition from volunteers who want the land's nature and symbolism preserved.
The new expansion plans threatened land where visitors reflected on wars also commemorated inside the memorial, and where the natural environment gave context to the conflicts, Mr Thwaites said.
"It is the counterbalance to all the trauma and tragedy that is represented by war, that is properly represented in the War Memorial. Out the front you can see the human environment, represented by Parliament House, but out the back you have the natural environment that is permanent and that will always be there," he said.
Honor Thwaites, with her husband Michael and backed by the Returned and Services League, convinced authorities in 1978 to cancel plans to build two-storey townhouses on a fringe of the land behind the memorial. Instead, the Minister for the Capital Territory created a 14-hectare park where the popular walking track up Mount Ainslie begins.
The nature park opened that year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of armistice, and to symbolise the peace and freedom Australians risked and gave their lives to defend.
Mr Thwaites said the ACT government, which owns the land, should reject plans to build on the nature park despite the attraction of tourism dollars.
"The worrying thing with this development is it's amplifying a trend which has happened in recent times, which is since self-government, the ACT government sees the memorial as a tourism site, and where possible a construction site, because without tourism and construction the ACT government doesn't know where to turn," he said.
The War Memorial intends to build the car park, but it would remain ACT land. A memorial spokesman said it was in preliminary discussion with the territory government.
"The parcel of land required for use is modest," he said.
"Any design would consider the natural aesthetic of the area and would improve the amenity for visitors to the memorial and people seeking to access Mount Ainslie."
An ACT government spokesman said it would work with the War Memorial on the proposal, to minimise disruption to surrounding residents.
"The ACT government supports our national institutions, including the Australian War Memorial, as they are an important part of our tourism attraction," he said.
The National Capital Authority holds planning control over the site.
The park has relied on a decades-long volunteer effort to restore its natural state after years degrading under the pressures of grazing.
Mount Ainslie Weeders ParkCare volunteer Margaret Clough said she was horrified when she learnt of plans to build construction facilities and a car park across the road from the memorial.
The soil would be compacted with trucks and degraded with rubbish, cigarette ash and possible chemical spills, she said.
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