SHOULD Newcastle build a new memorial to mark the centenary of the 1915 Anzac landings? If so, where should it be, what should it look like and who should pay for it?
Interesting questions, but time is running out to answer them.
If it’s going to happen in time for the big anniversary, we will need a good discussion and a good decision fairly soon.
Actually, people have already been giving the matter a lot of thought.
Like Pat Murphy, of the ‘‘Blue Orchid’’ RAAF group, who wants a memorial wall at Strzelecki Lookout, with the names of every fallen Hunter serviceman and woman in all wars.
Pat and his group have worn out a lot of shoe leather, talking to business people and politicians, all of whom apparently like his plans but none of whom are clear about where the money might come from.
Without wanting to undermine Pat’s plan, which is very good, I’ll fly a kite of my own.
Following Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy’s idea to shift the city library into the former post office building, I wonder if that project could be combined with a 2015Anzac memorial.
Three reasons occur to me.
One is that the post office is the home of the Gardner memorial, our famous soldier statue – the first of its kind in Australia – that was unveiled in 1916.
Another reason is that the library is now housed in the Laman Street building known as the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre, a major project undertaken by the people of Newcastle after World War II to create a lasting practical memorial for their city.
It’s worth noting that, after World War I, Australia built memorials and shrines. But after World War II, many returned men and women took a different tack, building instead libraries, swimming pools and other practical community facilities.
They wanted to focus on one purpose of the sacrifice of our citizen soldiers – making the world better for future generations.
The cultural centre filled a gap in civic life, serving as a library and art gallery at a time when such facilities were limited.
There’s a potential symmetry in moving some contents of the post-World War II memorial to the building that hosts the World War I memorial, especially if that also lets the art gallery expand into the cultural centre space.
I wouldn’t mind seeing the old post office building reopened in 2015 as our new Anzac Centenary Library. I’d be glad to see Pat’s memorial of names built somehow into the plan, and I’d be glad to see some government funds chipped in to help make this practical memorial a reality.
The federal government, in particular, should be approached, since it was a disgraceful federal decision to sell the old post office building into private hands that is primarily responsible – in my opinion – for the mess the iconic civic treasure has fallen into.
I’m not opposed, in principle, to the idea of incorporating the old war memorial cultural centre into an art gallery upgrade, but the mighty statues of ‘‘Him and Her’’ that stand in the foyer must be treated with the utmost respect. They were controversial in their day, with many objecting to their elongated forms, but I find them inspiring.
They were created by sculptor, returned serviceman and official war artist Lieutenant Lyndon Dadswell to represent youth emerging from the wreckage of war and looking to the future.
Hardly less inspiring is the nearby inscription in the cultural centre, written by Cessnock woman Jessie Sheridan-McLoughlin in response to a competition, to encapsulate the purpose of the memorial. It reads: ‘‘In minds ennobled here, the noble dead shall live.’’
Anyway, those are my thoughts on a possible Anzac centennial project for Newcastle.
Other people may not agree.
Many will probably have much better ideas. I hope they make their voices heard.