IN a bid to raise awareness, a group of people gathered this morning (April 7) and tied red bows around more than 100 eucalypts that could soon be bulldozed to make room for the $500 million Australian War Memorial expansion.
Committee member for the local advocacy group, Heritage Guardians, and the man behind the event, Prof Peter Stanley said the trees could be demolished in a couple weeks time.
The decision to give planners the go-ahead currently rests on the National Capital Authority who are hearing appeals to the new works until April 30, said Prof Stanley.
After that, should they get the green-light, planners will begin preliminary work on the controversial redevelopment and in place of the trees, will erect a new, larger entrance.
Despite his resistance to the project, Prof Stanley is no stranger to the memorial.
For more than 27 years, the UNSW professor worked there, and at one stage was the memorial’s principal historian.
“It’s people who value the heritage and what [the memorial] represents, who are most concerned at the changes that are proposed,” he said.
The trees, which adorn the southern lawn and main entrance to the memorial, are in some cases older than the memorial itself and have seen more ANZAC days than anyone here, Prof Stanley said.
The rationale of the redesign is also a point of contention for Prof Stanley, which he said will include more of the technology of recent wars, but will not advance the memorial’s commemorative function.
“I think they’ve been sort of captured by a kind of technocratic expertise, and have forgotten what the memorial is about,” he said.
“The memorial is about people. It’s about stories. It’s about grief. It’s about memory. It’s about heritage. It’s not about those machines. And that, I’m afraid, is the thing that seems to be driving them.”
Prof Stanley was part of a diverse crowd that showed up for the awareness-raising ribbon ceremony held on the lawn.
Among the younger members of the crowd was Adrianna, 26, who was there with her friends Jordan, 18, and Andrew, 23.
Like Prof Stanley, the trio shared concerns about the loss of the bush capital feel and the replacement of what they see as a sombre reflection of sacrifice with a glorification of war technology.
For Prof Stanley, though, it is also simply about the community for whom the trees are an important local resource.
“[The memorial grounds are] not just a national institution, it’s a Canberra asset,” he said.
Today’s ceremony reflects that and indicates how the issue has touched a nerve in so many people, he said.
“The people who tied the ribbons, most of the older people, but then all of the young people turned up to support this action. The feedback we’ve been getting is across the community, including veterans, and including the children of veterans,” he said.