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12 Nov 2014

RSL Virtual War Memorial

The PRESIDENT: How many times a day must I call upon the honourable and gallant Mr McLachlan?

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:31 ): There can never be too many, Mr President. With 11 November just passed, I rise to bring to the chamber’s attention the excellent work of the South Australian and Northern Territory RSL, which in August launched an online virtual war memorial. This project was conceived and advocated for by the RSL Deputy State President Mr Steve Larkins. The system architecture was designed by MindVision Interactive, a proud South Australian company.

No doubt all of us, when travelling through a country town, have stopped and looked at its war memorial, often lovingly carved from local stone with the names of the dead etched in rows. Even after so many years, these stones echo the unbearable grief of the families and their loved ones. The virtual memorial aims to record all these memorials and provide information about the men listed. In doing so, it endeavours to honour their exploits and their sacrifice. This memorial seeks to offer a definitive resource for anyone who wishes to research, study and even contribute to preserving South Australia and the Northern Territory’s military history and to understand the impact of war on our community.

This memorial was founded on four key principles: education, commemoration, community engagement and accessibility. The site will provide school students with a valuable resource and, most importantly, will allow us to explore the lives of the men whose names appear on our memorials around and throughout Australia. The community can also contribute to and build upon the information and view particular memorials anywhere and at any time.

Whilst other similar sites exist, this virtual war memorial will be the most comprehensive of them all, able to be accessed by people all over the world and interacting with other sites and databases. For example, it will interact with the Australian War Memorial and the National Archive by retrieving and cross-matching data from official sources, as well as allowing contributions from private records, including artefacts, images and stories. It will also connect and link names with places, organisations and events, adding further context to the stories behind our soldiers. Large public databases such as the entire World War One embarkation roll, which includes over 350,000 names, will be progressively added to the site so that they can be searched by the public.

By turning names into people, ordinary citizens will become heroes. It will ensure that we will never forget the sacrifice and the pain of war. The memorial has the potential to commemorate all servicemen and women from the Boer War to the present day who ventured into harm’s way for the sake of our country. Details for individuals included on the site will be name, rank, place of birth, schooling, military history, family history, cause and date of death, place of burial and much more.

The starting point for the website was the ‘Tributes of Honour’ database, which was carefully compiled by Will and Jacqui Clough. This database comprised 48,000 names from nearly every war memorial across South Australia and the Northern Territory. This foundation will be built upon so that all servicemen and women whose names have not been listed on physical memorials will also be remembered, and the content on the site will be progressively built over time not only by current databases and historians but also by any member of the general public, once information has been verified. Most importantly, it will allow for living veterans to tell their own stories. In this way it will complement the important work of the RSL in ensuring that there is an audience for veterans who have not yet spoken of their experiences. Our veterans need the opportunity to speak and to be heard.

Relatives will also be able to add stories, information, memories and memorabilia that have been passed down through the generations, so not only will it be a resource for research but it will also help to preserve important and valuable information that may have otherwise been lost. It will also offer information on conflicts, units, places of importance, cemeteries, statistics and information on the impact of war, all of which can be linked to an individual. It has been described as an ongoing research project that will never end.

I draw members’ attention to the ongoing need for funding to maintain and advance this new site. The RSL has made a significant investment. Its work has been assisted by commonwealth agencies, and some funding has been provided by the ANZAC Day Commemoration Council; however, more funds will be required if the site is to reach its full potential and enrich the lives of all South Australians. I encourage members to visit the site, and consider assisting the RSL and advocate for South Australians to support this important initiative.

I congratulate all those who have been involved in the development and funding of this project. I especially acknowledge the work of the RSL and its Deputy State President Steve Larkins. Our servicemen and women, especially those who did not return, deserve our recognition, both in the preservation of the memorials solemnly erected after the wars and also in the ever developing electronic world of the internet. I commend the site to the chamber.

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