Ceremony of the Entombment of the Unknown Soldier, 11 Nov. 1993
Recording date:

*Speakers: Nick Swain (N), Brendon Kelson (B), Female (F), Michael McKernon (M)
*Audience: (A)
*Location: National Library of Australia 
*Date: 12 March 2018  

N: Okay, can you hear me? Good, okay. Welcome to the Canberra District Historical Society’s 2018 Canberra Day Oration. I’d like to make a special welcome to Angus Campbell, Chief of Army, thank you very much for coming along, and also to a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Alistair Coe, who’s earned himself frequent flyer points for this event, well done. My name’s Nick Swain, I’m the President of the Canberra District Historical Society and our Society is very grateful to the National Library of Australia for providing such a wonderful venue for this oration in a building that’s now celebrating its 50th year.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, I pay my respects for their elders past, present and emerging. Our Society very much appreciates their long and continuing contribution to the area’s history and custodianship. The subject of today’s oration is the return of the unknown Australian soldier. We share with our nation’s first people a strong need to return the remains of our dead to country, to bring them home. 

As many of you know today is the 105th anniversary of the naming of Canberra on the 12th of March 1913. This year the Canberra Day public holiday is actually on the 12th of March, the day we always hold the oration.


N: Yes. The Society has commemorated Canberra Day since its formation in 1953 and since 2002 we’ve invited prominent Canberra residents to reflect on aspects of Canberra’s past, to comment on the present and to contemplate the future. That is what the Canberra Day Oration is about. A quick thing about the format of this thing today. When I finish going on I’ll ask Brendon to talk, to give you the main course then there will be questions. The questions will be I’ll say controlled is the right word? By Esther Davies, our Vice President, who we’ll also give her a vote of thanks at the end, thank you very much. We need to finish around about 1:00.

Anyway it now gives me great pleasure to tell you a little bit about our 2018 Canberra Day orator, Brendon Kelson, who’s standing quietly behind me. Brendon describes himself as truly an old Canberran. Comfortable in his 80s his working life has been almost entirely spent in public service in the national capital. Arriving in Canberra on Labour Day in 1959 he joined the Public Service Board’s Colombo Plan team. He was with the Prime Minister’s Department from 1965 to 1977 and then went on to establish the Australian National Gallery, no mean task. His long association with the War Memorial began in 1981 and culminated in his appointment as the Memorial’s Director in 1990, a post he held until retiring at the end of 1994.

It was in this role that he led the renewal of the Australian War Memorial and the return of the unknown Australian soldier. Along the way Brendon had leadership roles in a number of other important cultural programs and institutions. Retirement has seen him active on a number of fronts, photography, genealogy tours, jazz festivals, producing [Kelly Country] 3:42 with a colleague and writing several publications. So now it’s time for me to hand you over to Brendon who will talk about bringing the unknown [Australia] back home. Brendon.


B: Let’s see if I get this right, can you catch me up at the back there clearly? Right, thank you. Let me acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered today and offer my respects to their elders past and present. This is the last year of the centenary of ANZAC, 2014, 2018 and today it’s the story of the unknown Australian soldier and some reflections on the centenary and ANZAC.

The great war accounted for around 10 million military dead. That bare statistic dumbs the fact that each one of that number was a human tragedy, perhaps a father, a husband or son likely leaving an orphan child, widow or grieving parents. Worse still if they were lost without trace or their remains could not be identified. For the families of such men a tomb of an unknown soldier came to be a symbolic grave for those lost. 

For Australia and members of the British empire it was the tomb of the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey, for God and King and country, for loved ones, home and empire. This was an imperial burial, the solider might have fought in any of the British forces and he lay at the heart of the empire to which so many held deep attachment.

The story of the empire’s unknown warrior began with the battle of the Somme, western front, 1916. Church of England chaplain, the Reverend David Railton, found in a back garden at Armentieres a grave with a rough wooden cross buried, in pencil the words, an unknown British soldier. It caused him to think what can I do to ease the pain for father, mother, family and friend? Then clearance from, he wrote, let this body, this symbol of him be carried reverently over the sea to his native land. 

David Railton took his idea to the Dean of Westminster Abbey and at 11:00 on the morning of the second anniversary of the 1918 armistice an unknown British soldier from the western front was buried in the Abbey’s western nave. France at the same time was burying its own unknown [palu] 6:31 under the Arc de Triomphe. And the United States would follow a year later with the burial of its own unknown in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. 

In Australia prominent figures including the Minister for Defence, George Pearce, were attracted to the idea of bringing home one of our own and incorporate his tomb in the planned war memorial museum in Canberra. John Treloar, Director of the Memorial Museum, had a different view. In an address to the New South Wales Congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, now the RSL, in November 1921 he declared his opposition to the return of an unknown Australian soldier, reminding his fellows of the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey represented all the empire dead. 

If we were to bury one of our own men in our own country, he said, it would take away the beautiful idea of the burial of unknown origin. Treloar believed that the federal Treasury might like on the tomb of the unknown soldier not as part of the memorial museum, official historian, Charles Bean, and he were dedicated to but as a cheaper option. 

The Australian War Memorial Act was passed in 1925 to establish a war memorial museum in the national capital. In his second reading speech on the bill Senator Pearce said that building would have a hall of memory bearing the names of all Australians who had died in the war. Standing in that silent hall surrounded by the names of those who fell, he said, visitors may be impressed with the sense that they are standing in the actual presence of the dead. But when the Memorial opened on Armistice Day 1941 Australia was engaged in a second conflict shaping to be worse than the first and this was not to be. The names of the war dead would instead be inscribed on bronze plaques lining the walls of the memorial’s cloisters. The central sacred purpose of the hall had gone and what function it might now serve was not at all clear. 

In due course Napier Waller, a muralist who lost his painting arm at Bullecourt was commissioned to design stained glass windows and intricate mosaic designs, figures and tiling for the dome and walls of the hall. And sculptor and world war one veteran, Leslie Bowles, produced a stylish and sensitive plaster model design for the [apps] 9:15 but this was rejected by the Minister of the day, Sir Wilfred [Cantuse] 9:23. It was replaced by respected world war two official war artist, Ray Ewers’, monumental warrior bronze, the Australian serviceman. The hall otherwise remained empty. 

The idea of repatriating the remains of an unknown Australian soldier had not been forgotten. It came at the end of world war two and again in 1991 during the memorial’s 50th anniversary. In 1992 an informal approach was made to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the body responsible for Commonwealth war graves worldwide. The Commission’s response was friendly but predictable, the tomb in Westminster Abbey stood for all war dead of the Commonwealth.

But times had changed and there was an Australian case for action in 1993. We were approaching the 75th anniversary of the armistice, the last significant occasion when veterans of world war one might gather with those from world war two, Korea, Vietnam and other encounters. The federal government was ramping up commemorative activity and Prime Minister Bob Hawke had not long before taken veterans back to Gallipoli for the 75th anniversary of the landing.

The Commission’s response while disappointing hadn’t closed the door. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs was sympathetic but guarded. We decided to go ahead. The Australian Defence Force promised support and we had the backing of the RSL and the League’s President who cleared the way with its UK counterpart, the influential Royal British Legion. I was in touch with Dick Smith, our London High Commissioner, a member of the Commission and he believed the Commission could be encouraged to change its mind. In Paris Ambassador Kim Hughes and our defence attaché, Royal Australian Navy Captain Michael Carroll, were confident we would have no difficulty with the French if as they suspected we were to look for an unknown soldier from the western front. 

We were going through the ceremonial and funeral issues that needed to be addressed when it came upon us that we had no undertaker. As it happened Rob Allison, world war two veteran, one of Melbourne’s most respected undertakers and the man responsible for the state funeral of Sir Robert Menzies learned of our situation, offered his services and of course we gratefully accepted.

The ABC said it would be happy to provide all television services but at standard commercial rates. The broadcaster did not consider the occasion to be one of national importance entitling us to free services. I was talking to the Prime Minister at this time and we raised this in one of our briefings. The ABC quickly decided that this was an occasion of national importance. There were no difficulties with Qantas, it would be the official carrier and a Boeing 747 on the Paris route was redesignated the Spirit of Remembrance for our purposes.

In March 1993 the Commission approved the exhumation and return of an Australian of an unknown soldier for entombment in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory thanks to the efforts of Dick Smith with the support of his Canadian, South African, Indian and New Zealand colleagues on the Commission. As to where an unknown soldier might come from there was little debate, it had to be the western front. It was there that five divisions of the AIF had fought their longest and hardest battles and suffered Australia’s heaviest losses of the war, more than 46,000 dead. 

Things were underway in London and Paris. In late October Richard Reid, the Memoria’s Executive Officer for the project, and I set off for France with Rob Allison, a bearer party of six warrant officers first class from the three services led by Army Major Warren Young and an Australian Army honour guard of some 50 soldiers. In Canberra arrangements for the 11th of November were in the hands of the Memorial’s Deputy Director, Michael McKernan, and his team.

The Commission would deal with all local arrangements and procedures for the selection and exhumation of the unknown soldier in a simple and straightforward way, not at all like 1920. At midnight on the night of the 7th of November 1920 - are now steeped in myth and ritual - two high-ranking British officers entered a chapel near [Eras] 14:21 and blindfolded, the senior of the two pointed to one of four sacks covered by Union flags containing the remains of unknown British soldiers from four separate battlefields in France. Together they transferred the remains to a coffin before the chapel altar and carefully screwed down the lid for the return home.

In 1993 the Commission selected the graves of four Australian unknowns in Adelaide Cemetery near Villers Bretonneux where Australian divisions fought a last German thrust in 1918. Adelaide Cemetery was one of concentration, bringing together remains from small surrounding cemeteries and isolated battlefield gravesites. Unlike areas further north where the earth may often be boggy here at Adelaide Cemetery the base was limestone and the graves likely to be dry, sound and not too deep.

At Adelaide Cemetery on the 2nd of November we opened just one grave. Commission staff exhumed the remains in the presence of Rob Allison, Michael Carroll, Richard Reid and local gendarmes. The remains were then placed in a handcrafted Tasmanian blackwood coffin presented to us by the Australian Funeral Directors’ Association to bring him home. 

Solemn occasions may still have light moments. At the local gendarmerie those present found it hard to stop themselves falling about as they watched six raw French national servicemen learn from the ever-patient Rob Allison how to lift, carry, slow march a coffin shoulder high with dignity and no missteps. The young servicemen actually did very well. Led by a Breton piper they carried the coffin up through the graves at Villers Bretonneux Military Cemetery to the Australian National Memorial. There the coffin and its remains were passed to the Australian bearer party and the Duke of Kent, President of the War Graves Commission formally handed the soldier to our Ambassador to France.

The soldier rested in the memorial tower while we hosted a [van de ner] 16:27, an acknowledgment to the people of Villers Bretonneux in whose presence the soldier had lain since 1918. That evening he was carried by military ambulance to Ypres in Belgium and borne through the streets of the town to Menin Gate Memorial where the names of the 54,000 British missing in Belgium are engraved on its paddles. More than 6,000 are Australian. 

Local and Australian buglers sounded the last post over the coffin at 8:00 in the evening. Northern France and Belgium were areas of largescale Australian losses and strong associations and the mayors of Ypres and Villers Bretonneux were pleased to accept our invitation to return to Australia as our guests for the funeral on the 11th of November, another acknowledgement of those many connections the AIF had with communities along the old western front. 

Before dawn on the 3rd of November we made a special visit to the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ypres with our bugler, bearer party and honour guard. The cemetery in Europe with more Australian burials than any other, 58% unknown. Next day we took the young Australian service guard to the battlefields and cemeteries of the Somme with the last post at the impressive ThiepvalMemorial to the Missing of the Somme, the largest Commonwealth memorial to the missing in the world. 

We had early returned the soldier to the Australian National Memorial at Villers Bretonneux and there he rested until the 5th of November when we drove to the French military airforce base at [Conbray] 17:59. From the base he was airlifted by military helicopter to Charles de Gaulles Airport in Paris to be returned to Australia by the Spirit of Remembrance. 

In Ypres people’d watch quietly as the military coffin-bearing ambulance and escort passed by, heads bowed, hats off and at [Combray] there was a moment when our undertaker bearer party with coffin materialised beautifully from a white [orny] 18:26 mist into brilliant sunshine and a full dress military parade. In fact they’d got lost at the mist for about 10 minutes and they couldn’t find their way out.

The Spirit of Remembrance arrived in Sydney on the 7th of November and the soldier was transferred directly to Canberra by RAAF Hercules aircraft then to King’s Hall, Old Parliament House where he lay in state as Prime Minister John Curtin had 48 years before. He remained there for four days, his coffin draped in the national flag with a slouch hat and bayonet on top. 

We had national television coverage in France but little interest had been shown here until after we landed in Sydney. From that moment until after the funeral the story was on the front page of every major Australian newspaper. Hundreds lined up every day to file past and place one or more flowers around the coffin. The idea to lay a single flower caught the public imagination. Flowers from everywhere and the catafalque party stood quietly by as the people of Canberra paid silent tribute to one of our own.

On the morning of the 11th of November the soldier was taken from King’s Hall to the lake end of ANZAC Parade where the funeral cortege was assembled to escort the coffin now set on a gun carriage to the gravesite in the Memorial’s Hall of Memory. A crowd of 25,000 or more had assembled along the parade and around the Memorial’s forecourt. Service associations across Australia, about 900 in all, had been invited to participate and an estimated 600 with their banners made the journey. This collection followed the procession up ANZAC Parade and gathered ‘round the parade ground giving the occasion a further sense that the soldier belonged to the people. Charles Bean once said the AIF was incorrigibly civilian.

The media coverage was now extraordinary. ABC was carrying the occasion for all Australian networks and providing links to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and France. We were told later that some Australian towns had come to a halt to watch the ceremony at television sales outlets or at home. Service bands with solemn funeral music set the cortege off in slow order. The guns of Royal Australian Artillery at one-minute intervals fired a field marshal’s 19-gun salute. A mounted troop, heritage contingent and a tri-service guard along with the chaplains from the three services, Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian led the way. Following them by the gun carriage bearing the soldier accompanied by eight pallbearers led by Prime Minister Paul Keating and Leader of the Opposition John Hewson. 

The chief mourner, Governor General Bill Hayden, in a similar role to King George V in 1920 followed immediately behind the gun carriage then the state premiers and territory chief ministers. A catafalque party was mounted with the soldier’s coffin on the stone of remembrance at the entrance to the Memorial, the first and likely only time the stone would be used in this way. When the time came Prime Minister Paul Keating rose from among the ranks of former Governors General and Prime Ministers, members of the judiciary and other dignitaries to deliver the eulogy. It stands as one of the finest speeches ever delivered by an Australian statesman and in the minds of many ranks with those of Pericles over the Athenian dead and Lincoln at Gettysburg.

The bearer party with its precious charge, pallbearers, the Governor General and dignitaries then paced their way slowly through the Memorial’s courtyard and into the Hall of Memory for the interment. Prayers were read for those of a Christian or similar spirit, the dreamtime and those of no faith at all. And precisely at 11:00 the coffin was lowered into its final resting place as the service’s firing party delivered a three-volley salute from the Memorial’s courtyard.

Governor General Bill Hayden dropped a sprig of wattle on the coffin as world war one veteran Bob Coombes, military medal, scattered soil we had gathered from the windmill site, a little piece of the old western front actually owned by the Australian War Memorial at Pozieres where in Charles Bean’s words Australian troops fell more thickly than on any other battlefield of the war. Major Ray Curtis, supporting Bob Coombes, alone heard him whisper, you’re home, mate. 

The tomb remained open for a week and 50,000 or more visited the grave before it was permanently sealed. Historian Ken Inglis wrote that the entombment of the unknown Australian soldier was a national ritual valediction to the old AIF and a climactic event in the making of a place in the national’s capital sacred to the spirit of ANZAC.

The Hall of Memory had become what Senator George Pearce spoke of in 1925, a silent hall where visitors might sense the presence of the dead. The Memorial gained a soul if you like with the coming of the soldier and Canberra’s commemorative culture changed. It opened up the Memorial to acts of personal remembrance and visiting dignitaries would in future enter a space of recognisable sanctity. On that November day for the first time a young woman managed to wedge a red paper poppy between the panels of the roll of honour beside the name of one who died in the great war. In a week the cloisters were a sea of red paper poppies and it’s been the same ever since. British historian Jay Winter was to intone on the 11th of November 1993 the Australians broke ranks. We were the first but in time Canada and New Zealand followed. 

The last word from Lieutenant General John Grey, Chief of the Army, he had an army corporal gathering up horse droppings to avoid embarrassment to any of the dignitaries on the step up ANZAC Parade. To the soldier he said, corporal, you’re on my Christmas card list this year. The corporal replied sorry, sir, you're not on mine. 

The centenary of ANZAC 2014-18 marks 100 years since Australia’s involvement in world war one and the service of later generations of our servicemen and women. To a nationwide family exhibition, commemorative activities and a wide range of other programs the aim has been to improve understanding of our wartime history and start family, school and community conversations to ensure, I quote, an enduring and unifying legacy for current and future generations. 

The centenary has been built around the stories of the first AIF embodied in the ANZAC legend. Drape ANZAC over an argument and like a magic cloak the argument is sacrosanct, observed historian, Peter Cochrane, in the Griffith Review. By day’s end it will have cost $600m, more than five times the combined commemorative spending of the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. One commentator thought it enough to say it would make a Sultan swoon.

Many have contributed to the centenary at national, state and local levels, public and private but I shall touch on only a few things that captured my interest. The Australian War Memorial was at the forefront and took a leading role in the successful national travelling exhibition spirit of ANZAC centenary experience. The Memorial’s world war one galleries were redesigned for the beginning of the centenary and continued to enjoy wide popular approval. It has run a range of programs during the centenary and I draw particular attention to those highlighting the service of the indigenous men who managed to join up. Here though as elsewhere the stories of the shattered lives of many returned servicemen and women and the consequent pain often inflicted on families still fail to receive the attention they deserve. 

An exception is Melbourne Museum’s small and intense exhibition, Love and Sorrow, described by one reviewer as in a class of its own. The ancient hospital bed that greets you on arrival bearing the caption, could you spend 43 years in this bed? As Albert Ward did immediately sets the mood for what you’re about to encounter. An unexpected an interesting story from the other side of the hill is that of two Jewish brothers from East Prussia, [Salo] and [Mouritz De Mant] 28:10, both of whom served in the German army. [Salo] died in the German spring offensive of 1918. [Mouritz] survived the war, studied to become a doctor, lost his post in 1933 and fled to England. He had two sons and one, David, has his family, made their future in Australia and live in Melbourne to this day. 

The Australian War Memorial in Wellington – Wellington’s National War Memorial Park was unveiled by Prime Minister Abbott on ANZAC Day 2015. The Memorial features 15 columns of rugged red sandstone blocks described by the architects as a landform of Australian red sandstone, symbolic of the red centre. The stone was in truth quarried in India. Veterans’ Affairs’ snap answer was that it didn’t matter because Australia and India had once been both part of Gondwana land. Clarke and Dawe. Wellingtonians were not impressed and one Australian commentator declared the Memorial forever flawed by this sleight of hand.

Also in Wellington the Kiwis mounted two excellent exhibitions, the Great War at the Dominion Museum and Gallipoli, the Scale of our War at the National Museum, Te Papa. The eight two-and-a-half life size figures of actual participants in the Gallipoli campaign are quite overpowering. Both exhibitions are the work of the people who gave us the Lord of the Rings. 

The $100m Sir John Monash Centre at Villers Bretonneux is a lavish high-tech sound and light operation aimed at telling Australia’s story of the western front in the words of those who served. A Prime Minister Abbott’s captain’s call it has caused a stir in a number of circles and some believe it will add little, may even detract from the experience of a thoughtful exploration of Villers Bretonneux and the region. 

A great friendship exists between Australians and the people of Villers Bretonneux and it would be a shame if something of that were lost to technology and short stay pit stop coach tours. Visitors are likely to miss much of the town and its history, the Victorian school, the excellent Franco-Australian Museum and that simple message still by a playground wall, do not forget Australia.

The Monash Centre opens on ANZAC Day. Four years is a long time in the life of any centenary and this one has had its run. There are commemorative events still to come and of course the 100th anniversary of the armistice but attendance and participation numbers have long been sliding sideways. This they say is a consequence of centenary fatigue. Whatever the centenary’s legacy it’s still going to be the question of the cost that people remember.

I left home in Adelaide in 1959 to make a career in Canberra. I married in St John’s Church Reid in 1960 and our two boys grew up and were educated here, both have made their careers in Canberra. I used regularly to attend ANZAC Day services in the 1960s when the significance of the day looked to be fading. My late brother-in-law, Frank McMahon, after service in the RAAF also made a career move here to Canberra. He became a respected and highly awarded Canberra poet. He and his family lived in Ainslie, a stone’s throw from the War Memorial. 

Of the dawn service he wrote at this hour the lists are still invisible, the light from half-extinguished stars drifts down and fades before it’s reached the balustrades and night hides galleries where costs are counted. Day will bring in drums and colours later, sun will fill this chill uneasy place between the parapet and panels then the names will crowd the colonnades again but now they’re filled, not seen. 

On this day before the day begins the courtyard stirs, programs open, torches search for words we read each year and should remember, lines that guide us back to distant lists again, to other lists in dusty streets, to all the names we knew and grew with, names that share this space behind us, a place the sky will light while our minds are elsewhere, names used briefly and then left to haunt a wall.

The poem is at a time when the dawn service could be accommodated in the Memorial’s courtyard and cloisters, occasions with moments for quiet reflection, catching here and there by torchlight familiar faces among the ranks of veterans, always of course the sulphur-crested cockatoos. Today a Canberra dawn service draws a congregation of 50,000 or more and I wonder what possible moments there might be for individual reflection in those numbers. Young people again in their thousands, many wrapped in the national flag sit, squat and lie around ANZAC Cove entertained in the dark hours by the Bee Gees and others, waiting for the dawn service. Few there have any idea of what the war was about as they sentimentally chatter about the sacrifices of ancestors of whom the majority know nothing, who once headed off for God, King, country and empire. 

Dad was an ANZAC, Gallipoli to the song and I grew up among and worked with for a time the men who shared his four years of war. My affection and respect for those men and ANZAC runs deep. They never felt there was much to celebrate and might have joined those Melbourne veterans who argued in the 1920s against the building of the Melbourne shrine because they believed it glorified war. As a youngster Dad would take me to the ANZAC Day march in Adelaide. He was never a member of the RSL and he never marched but he would talk to me of people and battalions and where they had been as they passed by. He would later gather with old friends who would shake me by the hand and pat me on the back. They’d chat for a while, shake hands again, say their goodbyes and head home until the next time. Fond memories.

The centenary of ANZAC seems to me a great opportunity lost, to examine and look afresh at the Australian experience of war in all its many and varied aspects, at a time when we might begin to settle our military history into the broader framework of the national story. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all I have to say. Thank you.


F: Thank you. Brendon Kelson has told us that he is happy to have some questions so if you would like to have a question can you raise your hand very clearly so that the two people with the microphones, one on either side, can see you? Or are you so spellbound you haven’t got there? Marilyn. So – hang on, one there.

A: Is it on? Thank you very much, Brendon. As you know as somebody who once worked at the War Memorial I was very interested in your reflections at the end of your talk. It very much – thanks very much, Brendon. As you know I did work at the War Memorial a while ago but you said some things at the very end there that very much reflected my thinking in terms of the centenary and perhaps the sort of sense of glorification with no disrespect to the attempts of memory and respect of all of those that fought, died or came back and many as we know very troubled. My question is really about how do we go from here in regard to the centenary and how it’s being played out and how we now think about things or might reflect into the future in another way?

B: The centenary took as its starting point basically the Australian legend, that which was largely produced by Charles Bean and has followed through. What has happened is that a lot of the rough edges along the way have been knocked off and I know that friends of mine and colleagues have spoken of the sorts of things that they were asked to leave out or not discuss in relation to the centenary.

I think it’s just a case that there’s a pendulum. ANZAC Day has always been on the one hand solemn, reflective and all those things. On the other hand there’s always been that celebratory sort of sense as well and if you go back to the veterans in 1930 they – parading around Sydney and doing all sorts of things you know all these things have passed. I just think that the pendulum’s swung a little bit too far to the right and I think that probably over time and with the good writing of many historians and things like that the pendulum will ultimately swing back towards the centre. But that’s just a thought. 

A: Thank you very much for that talk. It was absolutely riveting. I was one of the crowd outside. How many thousands did you say? And I remember Mr Keating in his speech outside got quite emotional. I was wondering - of course only a small number of people got inside to the Hall of Memory for the burial service - can you tell us anything more about the atmosphere and what actually happened inside the Hall of Memory? It was very emotional. I don’t know what else I could ask about that but your reactions can tell us more about what happened inside the Hall of Memory.

B: Sorry, you’re talking about what happened on the day inside the Hall of Memory or something of the atmosphere?

A: Yes, exactly it.

B: I would have to say it was incredibly moving, it was just one of those things. Got to all of us. And I mean I think of one army friend who said afterwards I was thinking of mates of Vietnam. You make those connections as you do but I don’t think there was anyone there that wasn’t incredibly moved by the whole thing. Even in rehearsals it was touching, wasn’t it, Kevin? You’ll remember. No, it was a quite amazing atmosphere. 

A: Excellent talk, loved it. I have a technical question that takes us back to Adelaide Cemetery. You exhumed a grave, the remains of which had been lying there for probably 80 years. How could you be sure, absolutely sure that the remains were of an Australian soldier?

B: Well we were in the hands of the War Graves Commission in this but their procedures and the way they identified the things I think - I would simply take it that they were absolutely right. There were enough means to identify the person as an Australian soldier without being able to identify the person himself. There was no question about that. And though I’ve never said this before it was one of the things that I was fairly insistent upon, I wasn't prepared for us to bring back a collection of bones, we would bring back skeletal remains and that we did. But I’m in the hands of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on that but all - I think four at least of the Australian divisions if not the fifth but at least four were in that area and it was an area – the grave was recovered from an area where in fact Australians had been. I can’t offer you anything better than that.

A: Thank you. It’s just to find out a bit more about the actual process within the War Memorial, about how you managed to cut into the floor of the Hall of Memory. Structurally that must have given you great difficulty in such a space that hadn’t been designed for this.

F: The difficulties of actually creating the space, yes.

B: I can’t really help you a lot on that one. I was running around in all sorts of places and so were others and Michael McKernon might have a better view on that but it was largely in the hands of the architects and the contractors that were doing it, they were given the specifications, they planned the whole thing. Can you shed any light, Michael?

M: Thank you. The first thing that had to be done was of course remove the Ray Ewers statue and you went to see Ray personally and explain to him that the statue was being moved and that was done and then we had a design competition for the creation of the space. And it was a selected competition and only I think the successful competitors put the grave in the ground and almost every other design idea had the grave standing above ground. And it was decided by yourself and members of council that it would be so much more appropriate that it be inground. And that gave Richard Llewellyn who was your delegate in that matter an enormous headache because directly below the Hall of Memory is one of the Memorial’s Galleries. In fact the V C [Cornam] 45:08 exhibition and the tomb rests between the floor of the Hall of Memory and the roof of the exhibition gallery but to ensure that there was no structural damage a quite heavy amount of steel work went into supporting the tomb. But the decision to put the tomb in the ground I think was the key decision in the whole design process.

F: Thank you. I’ll take one more question if we have any? Right, thank you very much for everyone for your attendance. Brendon, thank you so much for a wonderful address. Most of us would have been aware of the idea of the concept behind an unknown soldier but many of us including me would not really have known of the events leading up to the original unknown soldier burial in the UK. Fewer I suspect still would have been aware of the huge amount of planning and preparation that you had to do for this event and to hear about it firsthand with someone – and someone else with key knowledge of this is a really wonderful experience for all of us and a rare privilege. From a personal perspective this has been a journey back in time. My own father who died when I was 18 months old was a world war one veteran. He never missed an ANZAC Day in Melbourne.

I do know that ANZAC Day for us was for him - on a more recent note I was actually out in the audience with a delegation from Telopea Park School which included primary children and secondary children while we watched the processions and the events. My memory is that I rewarded these little people with an ice cream each for being so well behaved. For them and me it was a great event. Your reflections on the nature of commemoration and remembrance after the centenary celebrations for the first world war have given us all something very important to think about and to consider, particularly in this age of modern media. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to hear this talk and Canberra District Historical Society would like to present you with something we hope will be of use for you. Thank you. Another round of applause for our speaker.


F: I’m completing a little early so some people will actually have time to come and talk to Mr Kelson. To conclude the Canberra Day Oration there are many people and organisations to thank. Nick has already thanked the National Library and its wonderful staff. I would like to reinforce that thanks, it’s a very great privilege for us to be able to host this event every year in this great venue. Events like this don’t happen without a lot of planning and preparation. Thank you – thanks are due to Nick Swain, our President and our Council. Unfortunately the very person who was most instrumental in bringing this talk to you, Dr Richard Reid, got his planning a little wrong and he’s double-booked, he’s actually talking in Sydney at a conference so I’m saying thank you, Richard, I hope this message gets to you through the ether.

Finally I would like to thank each and every one of you for turning out today and coming. Support for organisations like the National Library, the War Memorial and local historical societies is vital if we are to keep our knowledge of our past and ourselves. In this current climate it seems that history and heritage has become a very low priority for many people and many levels of governments including – and there are cutbacks on funding particularly for local historical societies and peak organisations. Please consider joining an organisation including ours, the Canberra District Historical Society, there’s some brochures out there and while you think about all of that please have a safe journey home. Thank you for coming.


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