The world goes to war against the memorial

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Anzac Hall… under threat of demolition. Photo: Donald Cant Watts Corke

War Memorial chair Kerry Stokes says it’s all “special interest groups” and mostly from Canberra opposing his $500 million expansion, nevertheless there was some heavy artillery being fired at the project. It’s another “Seven Days” in Canberra with IAN MEIKLE.  

EXTENDING the Australian War Memorial is based on a flawed notion that a bigger display of historic military aircraft and vehicles would help veterans heal from their experience.

Ian Meikle.

That’s what Dr Peter Stanley, who worked at the memorial for 27 years as its principal historian, told the federal parliament’s Public Works Committee. 

“It has no medical or clinical or academic basis. I describe it as snake oil,” he said.

“There is no demonstrable therapeutic value in traumatised veterans visiting the display of their former weapons, vehicles or aircraft.

“I called it the hydroxychloroquine of the museum world.”

He wasn’t alone. Academics, architects, public servants and family of people killed in war lined up to take a pot shot at the AWM over its half-a-billion expansion, lambasting the plans as “wasteful” and “arrogant”.

The parliamentary committee is examining the controversial plans, which include the demolition of Anzac Hall.

ANU historian Dr David Stephens, on behalf of the Heritage Guardians, said: “This has been a slipshod and arrogant exercise in public administration, a deeply flawed process.”

“The extensions will destroy the memorial’s character, affect its heritage status and entail the demolition of Anzac Hall – opened in 2001 and winner of the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for outstanding public architecture,” the Guardians’ submission read.

Even the Australian Institute of Architects has weighed in to defend Anzac Hall from demolition in the refurbishment, urging the committee to reconsider plans to demolish the hall after an “overwhelming majority” of people opposed these plans in an inquiry. 

AWM director Matthew Anderson said they’d “engaged in national consultations” with stakeholders and the community.

“We’ve visited 42 different cities to talk about what it is we want to achieve through the redevelopment,” he said.

“Currently, only two per cent of our floor or gallery space is devoted to contemporary operations or conflicts, and we want to improve that.”

He trotted out the old economic benefits argument saying: “We estimate that it’s going to create 300 construction jobs, 400 additional jobs after the project is completed.”

AWM council chair Kerry Stokes took umbrage at the objections labelling them “special interest groups” and mostly from Canberra. 

Former memorial director Maj-Gen Steve Gower said he was disappointed with Mr Stokes’ comments.

“This is more surprising given he was an important media proprietor of print and television organisations while he was [in Canberra]; perhaps this is what he thought of his audience.” Ouch!

The parliamentary committee will now assess the project.

DESPITE Canberra sensibly stalled at stage 2.2 of coronavirus restrictions, ACT Health curiously offered up some small, new easing of restrictions with full contact sporting competition, including dance and martial arts, cleared to recommence. Competition and squad swimming is also back in line with maximum gatherings for swimming pools and there’s no longer a limit on the number of swimmers per lane.

IN the latest “Winnunga News”, CEO of the Narrabundah-based Aboriginal health centre, Julie Tongs, says that while pleased to see the issue of Black Deaths in Custody get some recent community attention, she “was bemused, however, that the protests in the ACT were held in the forecourt of Parliament House.”

She writes: “It was not the Commonwealth government that generated an increase of 279 per cent in the number of Aboriginal people imprisoned in the AMC, including what may also be the greatest increase in the proportion of Aboriginal women imprisoned in Australia. 

“It was not the Commonwealth government that has tolerated an Aboriginal recidivism rate of 90 per cent.

“It was, of course, the ACT government.”

FURTHER on in the newsletter there is a regular staff profile. Senior adviser to the CEO and board is this edition’s focus and includes a photograph, though one fancies only wife Robyn would recognise a youthful Jon Stanhope through the curly long hair and beard.

Can you do the fandango? Jon Stanhope in his rock’n’roll period.

The former kid from Gundagai, chief minister and “CityNews” columnist reveals some personal insights, creasing methinks under the pressure of questions such as:

Who is your favourite singer/band?

“My favourite singers are Tony Poncet* and Adele. My favourite bands are Queen and Cold Chisel.”

What is your favourite song?

“My favourite song changes every couple of weeks but I have asked my family to play the Dire Straits song ‘Going Home’ at my funeral,” reassuringly adding: “Not that I am planning to pop off any time soon.”

Tenor Tony Poncet… a vinyl favourite of the former chief minister.

*Tony Poncet? Me neither. I had to look him up. He was a Spanish-born, French-raised opera tenor at his peak around 1956-1966. He died of lung cancer, aged 60, in 1979.

Ian Meikle is the “CityNews” editor. He can be heard on the “CityNews Sunday Roast” news and current affairs program, 10am-noon on 2CC.


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Ian Meikle
Ian Meikle is the owner and editor of "CityNews".

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