BY ANDREW WOODHOUSE
What is an ANZAC? To me, it’s a golden syrup glazed oat biscuit. This brown bikkie is so significant that even use of the word, ANZAC is now protected by federal regulations. I can still smell their sweet, heady aroma as they emerged victoriously from my mum’s oven.
To others it stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The 25th of April became ANZAC day, the day we commemorate the sacrifice of those who died in World War I and all wars since.
Memorials were erected in most towns and in all capital cities. With nowhere else to build it, Sydney’s landmark ANZAC memorial was built in Hyde Park. Paradoxically, recent archaeological evidence shows this site was in fact a fighting ground for combative trials. Initially, the site was used between opposing Aboriginal clans and later, to ward off violations of land use by the British.
A reflective pool and a cascading step-fountain were proposed on the north and south ends. Cyprus tree seeds taken from Gallipoli were sown and are proud, noble specimens.
It was completed in 1934 in the popular Art Deco style, but the original design was never finished due to the worldwide economic devastation caused by the 1929-33 Great Depression. The proposed vertical fountain and cascading water feature, distinguished from the northern still pond counterpart, was never built.
The memorial’s most visually arresting feature is a naked male statue, lying horizontal like a crucifix and fittingly named ‘Sacrifice’. Dellit, its French creator said the statue offers visitors the chance to reflect on the sacrifices of war.
“It was placed in the lower chamber like Napoleon’s tomb, to offer visitors an opportunity for a quiet, dignified, physical and mental acknowledgment of the message. Once there, they must bow their heads to look into the Well of Contemplation containing it, to contemplate ‘Sacrifice’,” he said.
Corresponding female nudes were also designed. However, the overtly vulgar sexual imagery attracted great criticism, and the sculptures were never realised.
The roof is studded with120,000 tiny golden stars, known as the Stars of Memory, each of which represent a serviceman or woman from NSW who sacrificed their lives in war. At the foot of the entrance, engraved in black granite, is brass lettering inset with the poignant phrase, “Let silent contemplation be your offering.”
The museum includes personal letters, medals, books, diaries, uniforms, souvenirs, relics and banners relating to the various conflicts in which Australians were involved.
It is part-sepulchre, part-shrine, part-cathedral and part-history museum.
This is not a building you fiddle with, ‘enhance’ or ‘improve’. it’s part of our past and future culture, part of our collective memory, heritage and DNA. It doesn’t ‘belong’ to anyone: we all belong to it.
But the State Government has announced it will be overhauling the memorial, saying they will “realise” Dellit’s original design.
How? They will chainsaw the Cyprus trees, the only direct living link with Gallipoli’s beaches in Sydney and instead, spend millions introducing new spaces to the memorial.
The commissioned architects, Johnson Pilton Walker, proposed a novel water “cascade” for the southern side. The group have distributed posters claiming they complement the second cascade, although there never was any secondary cascade anywhere.
The design is fatally flawed. Water will spray passers-by during light winds as it is bisected by a tunnel walkway to a new undercroft inside the Memorial.
The new bland, beige, cold cast-concrete under-floor space will contain 1,700 small patches of earth from each town from which personnel fought.
The design shows no respect. It is anathema to the current site and those it commemorates, its very raison d’être. It is heritage heresy. This is another Mike Baird legacy. In August 2016 he turned the first sod on the $40 million project he said he’d “upgrade” and honour the original 1930s vision of the memorial.
This is nonsense on stilts. It degrades and devalues those who sacrificed their lives. It butchers and politicises the architect’s original vision.
Jointly funded by the NSW and Australian Governments, it’s due for completion in 2018, when the Centenary of Anzac is commemorated.
Lest we forget.
Andrew Woodhouse is President, Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society