Anzac Day 2017 is now over and so too is a travelling commemorative exhibition that ends its two-year journey in Sydney tomorrow.
The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience, which has been seen by more than 300,000 people at 23 locations around Australia, is an interactive exhibition featuring artefacts from the Australian War Memorial, and award-winning technology, to illustrate “Australia’s history of courage, service and sacrifice” from the First World War to the present day.
Hatch visited the exhibition at Darling Harbour’s International Convention Centre this week and found it a poignant representation of the spirit and selflessness marked around the nation yesterday, Anzac Day.
This interactive experience is a true depiction of the military history of our country and the sacrifice made not just our diggers but by soldiers from around the globe.
Australia was a young, untested nation at the start of the First World War, having just gained independence from Westminster in 1901.
The experience begins with Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on August 4, 1914, then takes us through the events that helped shape our country as its youth prepared to join the war in Europe.
It tells the story of the Anzacs’ deployment to Egypt to prepare for the war. A great exhibit here is of a picture of Anzacs climbing one of the pyramids, it is up on the wall and you can use screens disguised as 1920s-styled cameras to pick out specific diggers and learn more about the individual people who headed towards the European conflict.
It recalls the plight of the embattled Anzacs at Gallipoli Cove and describes the war on the Western Front, in Sinai and in Palestine.
Much of the war in Europe was fought in trenches, small ditches dug into the ground for the soldiers to use for protection when in battle. A large part of the exhibition was the depiction of those trenches and other ways of creating cover in the battlefields. The exhibition provides a taste of life in the trenches, with screens showing what it would have been like to be within them, looking out over the battlefield during a firefight.
There is a simple yet effective audio track of bombs landing and artillery firing all around as one explores this section of the exhibition, rather than the narration common to other areas. It is a powerful experience.
The most touching element of the exhibit is the digger lying in his trench bed, talking about how hard it was to try to sleep and live in that dirty, noisy environment.
The section of the exhibit titled Lest we Forget touched me the most. It was the true representation of what Australians commemorate every year on April 25 as we pay tribute to the sacrifice of the men and women who went off to battle, not only in the First World War, but on all battlefields where Australians have served.
In a lump-in-the-throat display this section tells of the massive loss of life between 1915 and 1918 – figures almost impossible to fathom. They deserve to be lingered over rather than read quickly before moving on:
— France, more than 1.3 million military deaths
— Russian Empire, more than 2 million military deaths
— New Zealand, more than 18,000 military deaths
— German Empire, more than 2 million military deaths
— Australia, more than 60,000 military deaths
Those figures, along with those from other nations involved in World War I, lined the walls that wrapped around a display showing photos of soldiers who fell, driving home the inescapable reality of the horror of war.
Anzac Day is not just about what happened on the Gallipoli Peninsula 102 years ago, but it is also about the many sacrifices made since. I was reminded of that by the final zone of the exhibit where displays and timelines tell the story of the Anzac spirit on other battlefields where conflict continues today.
It served notice that, although the exhibition is ending, our commemorations will continue. – John Hall
Main photo shows Lieutenant-Colonel Adrian Harding, Commanding Officer of the Army Reserve’s 8th Engineer Regiment, at the 2017 Anzac Day Dawn Service at Nobbys Beach, Newcastle. Lieut-Col Harding has served in Iraq and with the UN peacekeeping commission in East Timor. Photo by James Mott.