“I THINK it’s going to be quite an emotional experience,” said the director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, today as he unveiled a new exhibition, “Afghanistan: the Australian story”.
When Dr Brendan Nelson first arrived at the Memorial as its new director in December 2012, he explained, he told staff it was vitally important to mount an exhibition devoted to telling the stories of our Afghanistan veterans. He recalled that when he had visited the troops in Afghanistan, an Australian soldier had remarked to him, “Sir, when I take my son to the War Memorial, I can show him what his great-grandfather did. I can show him what his grandfather did. But I can’t show him what I’m doing.”
Dr Nelson said the exhibition was a part of the War Memorial’s process of helping people come to terms with war by “carefully and appropriately walking through those experiences”.
In his view, Australians were “now living in an environment where we have a deeper understanding of war”.
Additionally, he said, veterans were now “more open… so you’ll hear veterans talking about their wounds” and he praised the more “enlightened leadership” of today’s military leaders that encouraged openness.
Dr Nelson noted that the Memorial had been collecting materials on Afghanistan since 2002 and that several artists, include Ben Quilty, whose huge painting “Captain S, After Afghanistan” forms the centrepiece to the exhibition, had travelled there to record their impressions in art.
It was, he said “not acceptable in this day and age to keep people waiting”, so the exhibition would bring up to date images and stories to give Australians an idea of what Afghanistan has been like to serve in.
The exhibition, a large-scale multimedia presentation, explores all aspects of the war, both military and civilian, from building schools, roads, and hospitals to mentoring the fledgling Afghan Army.
Supported by Boeing, it also shows personal moments with families farewelling their loved ones and welcoming them back after serving.
“We owe it to our nation to tell the story of those Australians involved in fighting the war in Afghanistan, and to tell it now,” said Dr Nelson.
The exhibition features a number of significant objects that reflect the ingenuity and heroism of Australian servicemen and women and illustrate the reality of modern warfare; these include an engine cowling which was pulled from the wreckage of a Black Hawk helicopter that crashed in 2010 and used as a makeshift stretcher for the wounded, and a Boeing ScanEagle, an example of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) that have been deployed by Australian forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006.
“When you visit this exhibition what you will see, what you will hear, and most importantly what you will feel is a sense of what these Australians are enduring and what they have achieved on behalf of our nation,” said Dr Nelson.
“Afghanistan: the Australian story” was officially launched today following the Australian War Memorial’s Last Post ceremony and is now open to the public.