It might be a disrespectful ''sound and light show'' to some, but Brendan Nelson thinks the War Memorial is just adapting to modern-day demands with his plans to project images on to the memorial before the Dawn Service.
And he has a feeling that Charles Bean, Australia's official historian of the First World War who helped found the memorial, would be impressed with the multimedia approach planned for this year's Anzac Day commemorations.
Speaking as the memorial prepared its grounds for Saturday's Open Day, Dr Nelson said running an institution such as the War Memorial was a fine balance between commemoration and celebration, and that keeping the younger generation engaged with history was key.
''It's like a lot of things - it's hard to know what's inappropriate but you know it when you see it, or you feel it or you hear it,'' he said.
''In relation to the people who don't think we should be projecting images from our own rich archive of images on to the front of the memorial prior to the Dawn Service … in my very strong view, that enhances the experience, it doesn't diminish from it.''
While he had never attended a Dawn Service in Canberra himself, he said he had spoken with many people about their experiences of it, and found that as the crowds had grown over the years, the memorial needed to change its approach.
''Of the 25,000 who come, in the order of 1000 can actually see what's going on,'' he said. ''When the second person and third person said to me they had stopped coming because their kids couldn't see anything, I thought, 'right, we've reached a point where we're working against our overall mission' … to pass this on to the next generation.''
His solution, to be trialled on April 25, will be to have screens projecting the proceedings to those who are too far away to see or hear what is happening at the memorial. On the inner panels of the memorial, there will be defining images such as a blinded digger at Kokoda, and soldiers in Vietnam waiting for a helicopter.
''Imagine, you are sitting here or standing out here, contemplating what this all means, and you're seeing these images and names of places come up,'' Dr Nelson said.
''No sound, and then at 4.30 in the morning, a woman I've chosen is going to read … very poignant, moving, emotive diary excerpts, letters, descriptions of the privations at Kokoda and Changi, from the soldiers themselves, some of Charles Bean's descriptions of the men in the First World War.''
Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith will also read similar contemporary descriptions at 5am, before the service begins.
''The strong message, and the reason why [Roberts-Smith] has agreed to be our ambassador for Anzac Day, is because our strong message is that this, from the Dawn Service through to national service through to the parade, is for the veterans of contemporary conflicts as much as it is for Vietnam, Korea, peacekeeping and the Second World War,'' Dr Nelson said.
And in the meantime, he also wanted to spruik Saturday's Open Day which, in recognition of Canberra's Centenary, will include a rare performance of the Australian Defence Force's traditional Beating Retreat ceremony, a demonstration of precision marching, military music and rifle volleys.
There will also be a fireworks display while the Royal Military College performs Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, all part, he said, of the memorial celebrating Canberra while commemorating those who have died at war.
''Unfortunately, the appalling stuff that was done at Gallipoli about 12 years ago has now put some people into the frame of mind that anything you do in this space must be inappropriate,'' Dr Nelson said.
''And then I notice some other critics have said it's a sound and light show. There is some lighting, but the memorial is full of sound and light itself - we're proud of it! But there's no way we're doing sound and light in our commemorative area - of course we wouldn't.''
■ The War Memorial's Open Day is on Saturday, April 6, from 10am to 5pm, followed by Beating Retreat from 6pm until late. For more information, visit www.awm.gov.au.
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