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What Is the Australian War Memorial?

By B. Turner
Updated: May 23, 2024

The Australian War Memorial is a facility dedicated to the memory of Australians who died during wars, conflicts, or battles. This facility includes not only a memorial, but also a museum and research center. The Australian War Memorial is located in Australia's capital city of Canberra, making it a convenient stop for visitors touring Parliament and other Capital Hill attractions.

This attraction dates back to 1917, when the Australian government established a war records division in Melbourne. This division was dedicated to preserving records and artifacts associated with World War I, which was taking place at this time. By the 1920s, Australians had decided to create a full memorial, as well as a more formal records facility.

An open competition was held in 1927 to allow the public to submit potential designs. Eventually, two of the best designs were consolidated to form the plans for the memorial. The Australian War Memorial was completed in 1941 and opened to the public on Remembrance Day in November of that year.

This facility features a cross-shaped design, with an open courtyard in the center. The Heart of Memory Chapel serves as the central focus of the memorial, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier situated nearby. A reflecting pool surrounds an eternal flame, and the walls are lined with the names of soldiers who lost their lives in battle. Artistic tributes and sculptures line the walls and walkways around the memorial.

Visitors to the Australian War Memorial can also step inside to see war-related artifacts in the memorial museum. The west wing features exhibits focused on World War I, while the east wing is based on the history and events of World War II. An aircraft hall between the two wings contains flight-related exhibits, including salvaged war planes. Outside in the sculpture garden, guests can also view artifacts like guns and other weaponry that were used in Australia's war efforts.

The Australian War Memorial is open seven days a week, and admission is free. Each night, the staff conduct an elaborate closing ceremony, making this a popular time for visitors. This facility's proximity to other Capital Hill attractions makes it an easy stop for those visiting Canberra. Students and other groups who are unable to travel to the Australian War Memorial can request a memorial box. These boxes contain hands-on artifacts and educational materials that can be borrowed by mail so that students can learn more about Australia's war history.

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Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Feb 23, 2012

It seems to me like the Australians borrowed their idea for the design of the Australian War Memorial from that of the United States.

They both have a tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as have their memorial right on Capitol Hill. I guess, the Australians have one memorial for all their wars, but the American involvement in wars has been so much greater and on a bigger scale over the centuries than Australia that this makes sense.

What I am wondering is if when they came up for planning of this sight if they based the design off of other war memorials or if this was something totally original and unique for the time period?

By TreeMan — On Feb 22, 2012

I am currently planning a trip to Australia and I am wondering how large and elaborate the Australian War Memorial is and how long I should plan devoting to it during my visit.

I have heard good things about this memorial, as it really strikes a chord with the people of both Australia and New Zealand and I was wondering if it is something so large that I need to devote more than just a couple hours to it or if it is something I can stop at along with other sights along capitol hill?

By Izzy78 — On Feb 21, 2012

@jcraig - Right you are. On a vacation to Chicago I met a couple from New Zealand at the Willis Tower and in conversation with them they described how WWI was important to New Zealanders in establishing their history away from the imperialism and colonialism of the British Empire.

Before WWI, Australia and New Zealand were simply parts of a component that made up the British Empire and even though I believ they acquired their independence before WWI, they were still seen as British.

Once WWI broke out the New Zealand troops and Australian troops fought valiantly in battles like Gallipoli and became heroes in the eyes of their fellow countrymen. Over the years their legend grew and people of both New Zealand and Australia identified with their fallen and became their own people.

This memorial truly represents and important time in New Zealand and Australian history and is a place of pilgrimage for many people proud of their heritage.

By jcraig — On Feb 20, 2012

The Australian War Memorial is seen as a national symbol for both Australians as well as New Zealanders due to their exploits during WWI.

WWI for Australians and New Zealanders was the point in their histories in which they completely established their identities and separated themselves from the societal aspect away from the British and became their own people in mind.

The Australian War Memorial is seen as a symbol of societal independence from Great Britain and memorializes the time in history in which they became true Australians and New Zealanders and became their own people.

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