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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Anzac Hall closes in preparation for demolition

UPDATE

Anzac Hall, the Australian War Memorial’s award-winning, multi-million-dollar exhibition space, will be closed from this month as the AWM prepares to knock down the 20-year-old building, and replace it with an exhibition space 80% bigger.

AWM director Matt Anderson said the “enabling works” include a new temporary entrance; construction site facilities; a temporary reading room for continued access to collections; and moving items and sculptures out of work zones.

The commemorative area, “the heart of the Memorial”, will remain unchanged, Mr Anderson said. Visitors will still be able to visit the WWI and WWII galleries, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Roll of Honour, and take part in the Last Post Ceremony each evening.

The Federal Parliament’s Public Works Committee last week approved the almost $500 million redevelopment project.

But the controversial decision was not unanimous; two Labor committee members dissented.

From here, the project will go to the National Capital Authority for approval. The NCA will review the building designs and precinct landscaping, consult Canberra residents about the project, and direct any necessary amendments to the plans, Mr Anderson said.

The Memorial will make submissions for the NCA approvals, and progressively release tenders for major construction activities associated with the development project.

Opponents to the redevelopment, such as the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), hope the NCA will reject the scheme on environmental and planning grounds.

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The redevelopment would be the largest change in the Campbell precinct since the Memorial opened on Remembrance Day (11 November) 1941, the committee noted.

Anzac Hall was built as a modern, flexible exhibition hall of 3,000 square metres to house the Memorial’s large technology items, such as planes and boats. It was designed by Denton Corker Marshall in 1999, and completed in 2001 at a cost of almost $11.3 million; in 2005, it received the Canberra Medal and the Australian Institute of Architects’ Sir Zelman Cowen Award for public buildings for its design excellence.

But Mr Anderson believes Anzac Hall is not big enough. He argues that there is not enough space to expand galleries, which may lead to recent veterans (including current service personnel) feeling their service is less worthy than those who served in earlier conflicts. There is not enough space to display bigger aircraft and vehicles. And there is not enough space for visitors: when the building was constructed, 190,500 people visited the Memorial each year; today, there are 1.1 million.

A new Anzac Hall with increased gallery space will be built behind the Memorial, costing $498.7 over nine years.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley approved the redevelopment in December, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

But the proposal has been opposed – including by members of the Committee itself.

David Smith MP, Member for Bean, and fellow Labor committee member, Tony Zappia MP, dissented. They supported in principle the intent behind the AWM development project, but opposed the demolition of Anzac Hall itself.

Mr Smith and Mr Zappia argued the Government should consult further on the issue, and consider alternative approaches – such as developing the AWM Treloar Technology Centre, Mitchell, at $100 million, a mere 20% of the cost of redeveloping Campbell.

“Labor members believe the Government should consider a range of lower cost options that would still meet the stated purpose of the proposed works, while achieving better cost-effectiveness and value for money for the taxpayer,” Messrs Smith and Zappia recommended.

The AIA said the Committee had failed to heed concerns about the project from community experts and the Government’s own advisers. Last year, for instance, Dr David Kemp, chair of the Australian Heritage Council, had said he could not support the redevelopment project, which would “significantly impact” heritage values.

“It remains extremely disappointing that the current Coalition Government is hell-bent on ignoring all advice about this building, doesn’t care about the memories and stories it contains, and simply wants it pulled down no matter the cost,” AIA spokeswoman Clare Cousins said. “The redevelopment process and consultation is a sham.”

The Greens have called on the Federal Government to stop the demolition of Anzac Hall.

“People are starving, facing homelessness, trying desperately to find work – and instead of helping them, the Government is spending half a billion on the War Memorial,” a Greens spokesperson said. “What a disgraceful use of money that could be used to change lives.”

Stopping the War Memorial expansion was a key plank of Federal Greens candidate Tim Hollo’s campaign last election.

“Few issues I spoke to Canberran voters about last election raised hackles as much as the War Memorial plans,” Mr Hollo said.

The Greens also believe the Memorial should recognise the ‘Frontier Wars’ between European settlers and Indigenous people. The AWM’s official position is that other institutions like the National Museum of Australia should tell this story; the Memorial is concerned with Australians serving overseas.

“This lack of significant recognition is a travesty,” Dr Tjanara Goreng-Goreng, Greens Senate candidate for the ACT, said. “This is our national monument to war and the sacrifices of war – but First Nations people who defended their lands on the frontier and lost their lives sacrificed more for their Country, and have never been recognised.”

Mr Hollo said the Greens would maintain their pressure to mark the Frontier Wars and save Anzac Hall.

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