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Government House Precinct Land Dedication Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 1 December 2015.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 11:28 :48 ): I rise to speak to the Government House Precinct Land Dedication Bill. The South Australian community has been scarred by war. The hopes and aspirations of those who came before us were that no-one would have to experience the horrors of war that they had had to endure and that their children and children’s children would live in a lasting peace.

That dream has not become a reality. We live in a world where war is still a grim reality for many. Even as I speak, there are Australian servicemen and women in harm’s way serving their country in foreign lands. It is therefore fitting, having just commemorated the centenary year of the ANZAC campaign, that we acknowledge the service of South Australian men and women who have served in conflict.

This bill provides for the creation of the ANZAC Centenary Memorial Garden Walk. It is a worthy endeavour and the Liberal Party will support the bill through the chamber. We have been advised that the key aim of this is to improve understanding and awareness of Australia’s war time experience. This is a worthy aim, but is not, by implication, complementary to the state’s educational institutions charged with the duty to inform our children of their collective past and their obligations to our society.

We are also advised that the memorial walk will be designed around three pillars of symbolism: remembrance, service and loyalty. These are worthy sentiments, although there appear to be no pillars in the design. The walk will bear witness to all major conflicts since Federation and also include recent conflicts, including the one that I was briefly called upon to serve in. There will be an interpretive wall of black granite which will have images that depict Australian society through a centenary of conflict.

This bill is required because land is being taken from the surrounds of Government House. This has not been done since 1927. I query why this bill is only now before the chamber when it is clear that work has already begun. This is a minor matter, but it is a demonstration of the government’s contempt for the workings of this chamber and the government in general in the name of the people. It is also perturbing that the original legislation governing the land which is the subject of this bill states that the land will be reserved for all time. This very bill before us uses the same such language, yet we are seeing, in the tabling of this bill, a government not keeping the commitments of the past and ensuring the reservation of certain land. By doing so it undermines the confidence our citizens have in their parliament when we casually refuse to keep faith with reservations and commitments made long ago.

The design of the walk does not please my personal aesthetic. I think the modern trend to machine etch photographs onto stone diminishes the purpose of the memorial. Modern memorials, often made with an eye to cost rather than the sacrifice of our citizens, do not, in my view, adequately compare with the older memorials. Modern memorials often do not enjoy the craftsmanship that the old memorials exhibit, where the love and dedication of the maker add to the sacredness of the edifice. The work of the machine should not replace the work of the hand when building a reminder of the sacrifice of our dead.

There are pleasing examples of this type of memorial in the vicinity, cast in bronze from sculpture of talented artists. There are better examples of memorials in this city and our state. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that the design before us met with the approval of the consultation process. Perhaps what the design lacks is the purity of a single artist’s vision, rather than the design of a team of architects seeking to please committees and consultative forums.

I suspect that this is a problem Adelaide faces more generally, as mediocre and bland architecture, created by architects untrained or unaware of the rules of classical architecture and governed by their fragile egos, continues to inflict visual disappointments on our city. I do hope, however, that this initiative will draw more South Australians and visitors to the precinct.

War or the experience of it should not be glorified; its brutality should be acknowledged. It is my view that memorials such as this should particularly focus on sacrifice and the unbearable pain that war inflicts and endeavour to produce within each of us the quiet resolve not to forget the sacrifices of the past and to work hard to build a better future for our children. In this way we can attempt to address Wilfred Owen’s lament in his poetry that subsequent generations will learn nothing from the carnage of the trench.

I am reminded of The Iliad, which preaches to us of the impact of war and in particular the grief Priam felt for his lost son Hector. King Priam says:

For so many of my flourishing sons he killed: I did not mourn as much for them, for all my grief, as for this one, bitter grief for whom will carry me down to the house of Hades—Hector. Would he have died in my arms.

I like to think that, upon completion, this memorial will evoke such raw emotions. Although, from what I know to date, I suspect I will be disappointed.

It is proposed that the Dardanelles memorial will be relocated from the south Parklands and repositioned on the walk. While there is some nobility to the idea, I am not in favour of consolidating all our memorials into one place and forsaking its sacred and historical home in the south. I believe it is wiser and more respectful to leave it in the south, and I am not alone in this view. I tabled a petition that prays that we preserve the community’s Wattle Day Dardanelles Cenotaph in the south Parklands. The petition also prays that the chamber reject the bill; the Liberal Party does not agree with this position as the bill facilitates the walk and its clauses do not address the relocation of the Dardanelles cenotaph.

One of the organisers of the petition was the grandson of Colonel Walter Dollman, commander of the 27th South Australian Battalion at Gallipoli and subsequently in France. It is a strongly held view of the petitioners that the removal of the memorial is a misappropriation and utter desecration of the cenotaph. To move the memorial from the south will destroy its primary context; in other words, desecrate the reason for its being.

The memorial’s current home in the southern Parklands also has strong links to the state’s military history, dating from as early as 1885. When the memorial was unveiled it was sited in a wattle grove in the southern parklands. The creation of the wattle grove and the construction of the cenotaph were the work of the Wattle Day League, a women’s group that raised funds to supply amenities to the troops. The memorial was dedicated by the then governor-general Sir Ronald Ferguson on Tuesday 7 September 1915. Importantly, ANZAC services were conducted at the memorial in subsequent years. It is an important memorial and represents an early attempt by our South Australian community to grapple with the losses of our sons on foreign shores. In time the wattle grove was lost and the cenotaph was moved to its current location.

The Dardanelles memorial is the first memorial in Australia erected to soldiers of the First World War. It commemorates the landing of ANZAC forces on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915 and the many casualties suffered. The memorial was erected and unveiled when troops were still pinned down and suffering heavy casualties on the Gallipoli peninsula; nevertheless The Register’s report of the occasion emphasised not grief but pride and a call to service.

The rough stone base represented the rugged hills up which the Australian soldiers had to climb. The smooth stone at the apex symbolised victory. Initially the obelisk had a flat stone surface on which a vase of flowers could be placed, but it was later topped by a stone cross. The inscription carved into the granite block beneath the cross simply acknowledged the Australasian soldiers at the landing.

It is my view that the sacrifice of those who have come before us should be woven throughout the fabric of our city, not all corralled together. We should be encouraged to think of the sacrifice of all those who gave their life to our state, wherever we toil in the confines of this city. We should respect the past gatherings of our kin and the ground upon which they dedicated their memorials. The dedication of the builders and the solemn gatherings of mothers mourning their lost sons has made part of the southern parklands sacred to the memory of lost youth sacrificed for empire.

We should not relocate their tribute on a whim. We should not relocate their tribute because we have an eye on the cost of the new walk. We should not relocate their tribute because we no longer have the vision, will or resolve to create new physical public acknowledgments of the sacrifice of our war dead and those injured in conflict. A more respectful action by the state would be to recreate the grove and leave the cenotaph close to the ground where the tears of mothers, inconsolable with grief, have fallen.

I suspect it will be difficult to reverse the course of action now decided, to uproot the cenotaph and drag it to the location of the walk. I console myself that if the relocation proceeds it will at least provide an example of loving craftsmanship against the modern ways bereft of creation by the loving hand—which, it appears, will unfortunately populate the remainder of the trail. Despite my aesthetic reservation, I strongly support the creation of this walk. The walk will be an important reminder of service and sacrifice. I hope it will ensure that the noble sacrifice of those who came before us remains firmly in our community’s collective consciousness.

I have some questions for the minister to which I seek a response at his second reading summing up. Were any significant trees cut down during the works? If so, what were the species of those trees and their ages? Were any of the trees cut down of historic or cultural significance? Are any trees going to be cut down in the immediate future? If so, what species and ages are those trees? Are any of the trees that will be cut down of historic or cultural significance? If trees have been or will be removed, will these trees be replaced? Will they be replaced with the same species and what age will the replacements be?

I ask members to have regard to the petition and also to the lack of judgement in moving the cenotaph. I commend the bill to the chamber and leave you with the words of Achilles as told to the embassy:

…i f I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life for me left, and my end in death will not come to me quickly. And this would be my counsel to others also, to sail back home again.

The greatest warrior of the classics is telling us: savour life; it is more important than glory. We should remember the deeds of past soldiers, not just commemorate, which is why we must respect the grief of the mothers who lost their sons at Gallipoli and not disrespect their memorial by moving it simply to complement a city path. Their soldier sons did not come home. The mothers never recovered from their grief. I commend the bill to the chamber.

See full session on Hansard