Quite possibly if there is one thing you must see in the capitol of Canberra it is the Australian War Memorial. It is a spectacular museum that can be seen from just about anywhere in Canberra and in direct view of the Parliament House. The boulevard leading up to the Australian War Memorial is filled with statues and monuments commemorating the various wars Australia has fought in and the different service branches of the Australian military:
The building that houses the War Memorial at the end of the boulevard appears to look more like a tomb than an actual museum, but the exhibits within are what I came to see anyway.
However there is part of the Australian War Memorial that serves the same purpose as a tomb. The pathway leading into memorial leads right to an area with the names of the various Australian war dead listed on panels much like the American Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The path past this area leads to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
The tomb is located beneath the dome which is visible on the outside of the War Memorial. Located in the center of the dome is the actual tomb. I was a little surprised to find no honor guard or anything similar protecting the tomb. You can literally walk right up to it and take pictures with no one else in the room:
The artwork on the inside of the dome was quite beautiful. In fact this picture really doesn’t do it justice, but it should give you an idea.
To get to the exhibit portion of the museum you have to back track back to the entrance of the tomb area and enter the museum off to the left. Note that in the museum you are not allowed to carry backpacks and will be required to check them in, which is a small price to pay considering entrance into the museum is free.
The museum is quite interesting with various displays from all the major conflicts that Australia participated in including colonial conflicts such as the Boer War in South Africa and other conflicts. The biggest display and the conflict that resonates deeper with Australians than even the Second World War is World War I. World War I has special meaning to Australians due to the horrific losses at the Battle of Gallipoli. Before visiting the memorial all I knew about the Battle of Gallipoli is what Mel Gibson taught me which isn’t too much. After reviewing this exhibit I definitely have a better appreciation of the battle and a further insight into the Australian character.
The British requested Australian and New Zealand soldiers to fight in World War I and the British generals always seemed to have a knack for sending Australians soldiers into the most ferocious meat grinder battles that no one else wanted to fight and Gallipoli was one of those battles. The Australian and New Zealand soldiers were known as ANZAC’s (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) and were tasked to climb cliffs in Turkey under direct fire with an overall mission to ultimately capture Istanbul. However, like many of the battles during this war, the campaign turned into a battle of attrition and both sides paid dearly. It is estimated there were around 180,000 Allied casualties and 220,000 Turkish casualties after the battle. Remember the total population of Australia was around 2 million people back then, so just about everyone in Australia was either related to or knew someone that was wounded or killed on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli.
Though the ANZACs and the allies would go on to lose the Turkish campaign, the Battle of Gallipoli was looked at by Australians as the battle that founded the nation because there was not one event in Australian history up to that point, that so united the nation quite like Gallipoli did. The ANZACs went on to be used in other meat grinder battles after the failed Gallipoli campaign and Australians take great pride in the fighting spirit and “mateship” of the ANZAC soldiers and today are remembered with their very own ANZAC Day.
However, the Australian War Memorial does a great job remembering the ANZACs as well, with probably the world’s greatest display of artifacts from the Gallipoli campaign. It is all quite interesting and worth checking out along with other great exhibits of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam Wars:
However, something I did find troubling at the museum was the inclusion of artwork critical of the effort of the US to bring democracy to Iraq. Why does artwork like this need to be included into an Australian War Memorial?
What does Abu Graib have to do with honoring Australia’s military history and war dead? Someone at the museum was trying to be cute and slip in some of their politics into the museum display which is just not right and should be ashamed of themselves.
How would Australians feel if the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. had pictures criticizing the Australian military personnel for conducting water board torture on trainees, beating soldiers to administer “rough justice“, or better yet the early treatment of Aborigines in Australia? None of these incidents are things Australians are proud of, just like Americans are disappointed in the actions of a very small number of people in Abu Graib sliming the rest of the military with them.
However, none of these domestic Australian incidents I mentioned should have any place in a American museum such as the Smithsonian. I would hope the Australian War Memorial would have the same high standards in regards to displaying incidents out of context to slime Americans, but obviously I am wrong. It is a shame that what was otherwise a great tour of the museum had to end with such a bitter taste in my mouth.
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