On my way to a matinee at the Melbourne Theatre Company, I hopped a tram up St. Kilda Road to the Shrine of Remembrance, to try out my new camera. The Shrine sits on a hill in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
It was originally built as a memorial to the men and women of Victoria who served in World War 1, but is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in war. Commemorative services are held here on Remembrance Day (11th November) and ANZAC Day (25th April), which remembers, in particular, the armed forces of Australia and New Zealand.
I climbed the steps, passed between Doric columns and entered the dark, quiet space of the Sanctuary, with its tall, vaulted ceiling.
It contains the marble Stone of Remembrance, engraved with the words, Greater Love Hath No Man. Once a year, at 11am on Remembrance Day, a ray of sunlight shines through the aperture in the roof to light up the word, Love, marking the hour and the day of the armistice which ended World War 1.
I climbed more steps to the balcony. From here, Melbourne’s panorama opened up around me, from the skyscrapers of the city to the north, to the east where the tower of Government House rises through the trees, to the south with glimpses of the coastline of Port Phillip Bay, and across to the Westgate Bridge, the gateway to the Princes Highway, which takes you through the west and down to Geelong and Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road.
Recently, exhibition galleries have been installed beneath the Shrine, between the memorial’s original red brick foundation columns, with displays of over 800 objects: photos, uniforms and works of art, illustrating the experience of Australians at war and in peacekeeping operations, from the 1850s till now.
Featured is a lifeboat from the ship SS Devanha, used during the landing at Anzac Cove at the start of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.
It’s all beautifully done, very educational, very moving, the building itself, rising from its hill, supremely theatrical. Still, I came away a little dispirited, as I usually do after visiting war memorials, that old question rattling interminably in my head. Does war actually create peace or could there could be another way around settling conflicts? Not sure.