THERE was not a dry eye in the Great Hall of Parliament House this morning when the future plans of the Australian War Memorial were unveiled.
In an incredibly moving ceremony attended by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, director of the Australian War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson, chairman of the AWM Kerry Stokes and other political and media figures a packed Great Hall heard the stories of veterans and serving members of the defence forces past and present.
Mr Morrison unveiled a $500 million plan to overhaul the memorial to tell the ‘true story’ of what it means to be Australian.
The huge project will involve the demolition of the Anzac Hall with a new two-level structure to more than double exhibition space that will largely tell the story of the men and women from military campaigns of the past 20 years including East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among the attendees at the unveiling were Seaman in the Second World War Derek Holyoake who told of his time in the Navy on HMAS Hobart and his new found family among his colleagues.
“Walking off the Hobart I felt a loss – that was my home I didn’t want to leave it,” he said in a moving video.
Video, interviews and graphics captivated the hundreds present with real stories of those who served.
Martina Jewel told of her service as a UN peacekeeper and the PTSD she suffers as a result of four of her colleagues being killed by a missile strike while serving in the Middle East.
Australia’s most decorated living soldier Ben Roberts-Smith also told of his service and why the War Memorial is so integral to Australia’s social fabric.
“The Victoria Cross is not something you win yourself. You will do anything for your mates,” he said of his time served in Afghanistan.
Mr Morrison said the government would commit $498 million over nine years to a major revamp of the AWM that would include new galleries, buildings and exhibitions.
The work would include an interactive Places of Pride exhibit that would enable visitors to search and view local memorials right across the country.
A live unclassified feed of current defence movements and news would also be incorporated.
“The Australian War Memorial – the soul of a nation … it transcends politics – people are very passionate about the War Memorial,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Morrison said the vision and plans for the AWM were bold but assured the veteran community the money committed would not take away from the support for them.
“The best memorial is how we treat our veterans each and every day,” Mr Morrison said.
“We want to ensure all veterans that not one dollar of what we are investing is coming at the expense of support for them on a daily basis.”
Labor’s spokeswoman for veteran affairs Amanda Rishworth represented Bill Shorten at today’s event and said the funding commitment had bipartisan support.
“Both parties are here today united in our respect for service,” she said.
“Whatever happens in future governments this work will continue to go ahead.”
It is revealed the side forecourts will be spectacularly encased in a huge glass atrium — similar to the British Museum’s Great Court in London — to showcase new acquisitions including bombers, fighters and land fighting vehicles with new stain glass windows to feature images of the modern warrior.
The exhibition space increase from 3280 sqm to 8300 sqm also includes a huge underground hall and underground central entry that features a big screen to live stream unclassified Australian Defence Force news and movements.
Likely to raise some controversy, the exhibition floor would also be made available to be commercially hired for private dinners and other night functions.
The unveiling today caps off a three-year campaign by former defence minister and Australian War Memorial (AWM) director Brendan Nelson and Seven West chairman and AWM council chairman Kerry Stokes to redevelop the “soul” of the national psyche.
Dr Nelson said when he started in the director role he was told the stories of the 30,000 contemporary Australian warriors engaged in conflicts abroad including 64 peace keeping missions could not be told in present day, only until after a generation of politics and welcome home parades.
That attitude set him and Stokes about looking at the memorial’s future.
“We felt we had to do it now and maybe if the Vietnam War had been told more broadly and deeply in the mid-1970s some of those men may not have suffered as much,” Dr Nelson said yesterday.
“Kerry said ‘here is a window, we need to put everything into this to persuade the country and the political class, not just the government but the Opposition, that this is something that has to be done’.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will commit $498 million to make the project a reality.
“There are more than 102,000 names on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour and we want to do everything possible to ensure their service is honoured,” he told News Corp Australia.
“Whether it’s our veterans from conflicts decades ago or the last few years, we’re delivering the practical recognition and support our service men and women deserve.”