New national register of war memorial aims to connect Australians

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

As Australians mark the centenary of Armistice Day, they’re being asked to look around and document the memorial places that dot their communities to add to an online register that will map these locations nationwide.

Using the recently-launched website, Places of Pride, the National Register of War Memorials hopes to record the locations and images of every publicly-accessible memorial in Australia, regardless of what they are or where they’re located.

Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said the register was a chance for Australians to get a sense of the scale of these important places which can be found in every part of the country.

“These cenotaphs and memorials, which were substitute coffins in many places - they’re in every town, every community, and every suburb of every town the length and breadth of our country,” Dr Nelson said.

“They were erected with a sense of abiding reverence and humility; they are repositories of love and a noble commemoration,” he said.

Any place of remembrance can be included, from cenotaphs to honour boards, church shrines to memorial halls or even tree-lined remembrance ways. 

“Visitors will be able to log in the name of their town, whether that’s Deloraine in regional Tasmania or the Sydney suburb of Balmain, and see what’s been uploaded,” he said.

“The power of it is in the story. These Places of Pride remind us to look beyond the headlines, to look beyond the popular imagery and to identify the individual stories of devotion to duty and to our country.”

Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson.

Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson.

The Places of Pride website is the first part of a larger plan to install a giant interactive screen to display the gathered information in the proposed expanded galleries of the Australian War Memorial.

“This isn’t just about a national register, or even about building the online pictorial gallery, but about actually putting that into the memorial’s galleries, so that people can see their smaller cenotaphs within the larger war memorial,” he said.

“If you take a single name from any memorial or cenotaph, no matter where it is in the country, you can then step back and see how these layers of noble memory stretch all the way to here, to the heart of the country these people loved.”

The announcement of the website and the proposed expansion of the War Memorial comes as Australia marks the centenary of Armistice Day on 11 November.

“The timing is symbolically important because the centenary of the Armistice marks the end of the most significant event that wounded, scarred and ultimately defined Australians,” Dr Nelson said.

“In the lead up to the Armistice 100-years ago, all of these communities were starting to turn their minds to how to remember their loved ones, because in most cases there was never going to be a grave,” he said.

“And so the memorials themselves became critically important for emerging from the first world war.”

Dr Nelson says despite it being 100-years since the end of the first world war, even our oldest memorials and cenotaphs continue to be an important part of local communities.

“These cenotaphs and memorials, you’ll find them right in the middle of towns: on a tiny little roundabout in the middle of the main street, outside the Town Hall, in a memorial garden, occasionally in a place where a town no longer exists,” he said.

We cannot ever allow ourselves to forget from where we came and who gave us what we have. They were and remain so significant to our sense of who we are.

Dr Brendan Nelson

Australian communities have erected memorials to those who have served and died since the end of the Boer War, and the number of memorials throughout the country is expected to stretch to several thousand.

While many of these are well-known community locations, some are little-known places that haven’t been publicly documented.

“Our call out to every RSL, RSL sub-branch, every community club, every school, every local government authority, every church and faith-based organisation and to every individual is that if you see a place, or known where one is, take a photo of it,” Dr Nelson said.

“You don’t have to have a state-of-the-art camera, and it doesn’t matter if you have very little information, just enter the details you have, even if there are other photos of the same place,” he said.

“By doing this, what we’re hoping to achieve is that people will be reminded of what is really important in life and to never take for granted the life we have, the freedoms we enjoy and to remember those who have given their all for what we have.”

Place of Pride can be found at placesofpride.awm.gov.au