Memories & Memorabilia

War memorials

At Burnie, Tasmania, there is a stone obelisk dedicated To the memory of the young men belonging to this district who, fighting in defence of the Empire, laid down their lives in the Great War 1914-1918. The memorial, with the names of the local dead engraved on it, was unveiled by an ex-soldier, Captain Hubert Piercey of the 60th Battalion, First Australian Imperial Force, on 17 February 1924. The location of the memorial was of great significance for the citizens of Burnie. According to The Burnie Advocate, the memorial was visible to all entering the town by boat, rail or road. However, construction of Burnie's island breakwater in the early 1950s necessitated the removal of the memorial to another site where today it is visible from the freeway through Burnie. Similar memorials can be seen in virtually every rural district, country town and suburb in Australia. For Australians, they are daily reminders of their community's loss and sacrifice in war.

Captain Hubert Piercey at the unveiling of the Burnie War Memorial - 17 February 1924 (AWM negative No. H17762)
Captain Hubert Piercey at the unveiling of the Burnie War Memorial
17 February 1924 (AWM negative No. H17762)

The commemoration of Australia's war dead has left a rich legacy of public memorials. These range from small local memorials, each listing a few names, to the larger town and city memorials on which the names of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of servicemen and women are recorded. On some memorials, only the names of the dead have been inscribed in stone: on others, all who served are listed.

Many places, like Tambo Upper in rural Victoria, planted avenues of trees in memory of those whose lives had been cut short by war. Of all Australia's avenues of honour, one of the most visited is outside the Penitentiary at the Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania. It was planted by the citizens of Carnarvon, as Port Arthur was then known, in memory of their World War I war dead. Probably the longest is that at Ballarat, Victoria. It originally included 3,900 trees - one for every soldier, sailor and nurse from the town who served in the Great War. On a granite slab on the memorial archway leading to the avenue, these words were cut:

All ye who tread this Avenue of Life
Remember those who bowed beneath the strife
Each leaf a laurel, crowns with deathless fame
And every tree reveals a Hero's name.

An immense amount of local effort and commitment went into raising the funds to set up these memorials.  In 1917 the citizens of Digby, Victoria, subscribed £75 towards the planting of an Avenue of Honour, and hundreds of pounds were raised for the building of a memorial hall.  At Ballarat, Victoria, the female employees of the Lucas factory raised over £2,000 for the erection of the town's memorial arch, while in Esk Shire, Queensland, £885 was raised for the local memorial on which it was proposed to inscribe the name of every boy in the district who enlisted .

After World War II many communities, although not all, added to their memorials the names of those who had served and died in that war. On 12 August 1951 at Busselton, Western Australia, the State President of the RSL, Thomas Sten, unveiled at the Busselton War Memorial a plaque listing the names of 33 men from the district who lost their lives in World War II. In many localities practical memorials - such as swimming pools or the addition of a ward to a local hospital - were built to honour a community's World War II veterans. After the Korean and Vietnam wars the names of those who had died in those conflicts were sometimes added to local war memorials.

Warnambool War Memorial
Warnambool War Memorial

The building of memorials has not ceased. In their book Salute the Brave: A Pictorial Record of Queensland War Memorials, Shirley and Trevor McIvor list a number of new memorials in that State erected since 1990. The citizens of Mount Isa, for example, dedicated a Vietnam Veterans' Tree on 25 April 1991, and on 25 April 1992 the citizens of Warwick dedicated a World War II memorial.

Not to be forgotten in this context are the State war memorials to be found in Australian capital cities. Each of them has its own unique feature, from the original battlefield crosses brought from France at the South Australian memorial in Adelaide to the Melbourne Shrine where at 11 am on one day of the year - 11 November, Remembrance Day - a ray of sunlight, weather permitting, comes through the roof to fall on the word Love on the inscription on the Stone of Remembrance. The full inscription reads - Greater Love Hath No Man.

In Australia the local war memorial has always been an object of pride and identity. On Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and other special occasions, ex-servicemen and women, families who lost relatives in war and other members of the community, assemble at these sacred sites. Here they reflect, grieve and remember events which have been of central importance to Australia as a nation. Wherever the memorials stand - at a country crossroads, in a city park or at the nation's heart such as at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra - these serve as reminders of the human loss sustained in those conflicts.

Community Checklist

  • Where is the main war memorial located in your community?  The 'main memorial' is the one used as the focus of community commemorative events such as those held on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.
  • Is it in good condition?
  • Who is responsible for maintenance?
  • Has a history of your war memorial and use by the community been written?
  • Do you know the stories of the individuals whose names are commemorated on your local war memorial?

Case Study

Tambo Upper's Avenue of Honour