Canberra: Lest We Forget
I pressed the button, and light glowed over the quilt, showing it to be made up of squares, each one worked with an intricate design, each one bearing a message laden with emotion. A female choir sang from the small speaker, fading out as I read how the real choir had given regular performances until the members moved on one by one and it grew too small.
I moved on to the next display. So much to see. A series of photographs flickered on a table, mounted at an angle so that at once it was exhibit and projection screen. You could reach out and touch the table, your hand flashing white, black and grey as you stroked the historic wood of the table upon which Singapore had been surrendered.
The Australian War Memorial is like that. The exhibits, where they are at all durable, are mounted so that they may be easily seen and touched. You may trip over the trail of a field gun, reach up to stroke the elegant curve of a Spitfire’s wingtip, poke your head into the cramped confines of a tail-gunner’s turret. Signs warn to dissuade touching or leaning on particularly significant objects.
I ran my hands over the cold grey paint of two gun mountings, one from the first World War cruiser HMS Sydney, the other from the German raider SMS Emden. Now standing a few metres apart, they once spoke to each other in anger one far off day on a distant ocean. A sound and light show recreated the battle for us in old photographs and bursts of man-made thunder, brought back into the immediate present so that we children of later days could remember.
There is only one Anzac remaining now, a lone survivor of the event which occupies a whole hall in the Memorial, and names the vast new display area, the wide avenue running down to the lake, and a day that strikes a chord from the heartstrings of Australians everywhere. Almost from the moment you move into the building, that day reaches out to you, stirs you, holds you. Here, leaning almost casually in a corner of the entrance hall is one of the nation’s most sacred treasures, a boat from that first Anzac Day, 25 April 1915, when dawn over the Dardanelles saw Australians and New Zealanders rush ashore and up the steep and scrubby hills of…