The Australian War Memorial in Canberra has real personality, and it has a fascinating and important story to tell.
Why would you want to go to Canberra? That’s a fair question, and it’s one that’s been asked more than once. For good reason, Canberra doesn’t have a great reputation as a top-tier travel destination. Considering it’s a national capital, it has none of the world-class drawing power of Sydney or Melbourne, or, at around 350,000 people, nowhere near their populations; it most certainly is not in the league of London, Paris, Washington, Berlin, or Tokyo. It was a city born of compromise, and compromise still very much hangs over the city.
At the time of Australian federation, at the turn of the 20th century, both Sydney and Melbourne were vying to become the Australian capital. Neither gained the upper hand, and competing political and business factions struck a deal that resulted in the establishment of a new, planned city part-way between them (in reality, it is much closer to Sydney) within its own territory (Australian Capital Territory), effectively forming a federal government enclave within the state of New South Wales. And it’s the very presence of the seat of the federal government that instills significance and symbolism to institutions seeking to influence policy but also to act as guardians of Australia’s cultural and historical memory.
But there are a handful of very good reasons to venture to Canberra, and two of the best are to visit Australian Parliament House and the nearby Australian War Memorial.
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is really two related parts. At the complex’s center is the domed Hall of Memory housing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The walls of the cloisters on either side list those who have died and are often adorned with symbolic poppies. It makes for a quiet and solemn tribute to those who have died in war for Australia. Significantly and symbolically, it stands in direct and unobstructed line of site from Australia’s Parliament House.
The second part is a museum dedicated to Australian participation in wars. And there have been many–the experiences of war make a major contribution to the makeup of Australia’s cultural heritage and national self-image. What makes it even more remarkable is that Australia has always participated alongside more powerful allies–notably Britain and the United States–and at times such as World War II, its troops have been committed “over there” even when “over here” has come under direct military attack.
The Australian War Memorial Museum is patchy, uneven, and some of it is cringingly dated. And thanks to some odd decision-making, the most dated and cringe-inducing sections are the ones you first see when you walk in. The last time I was there was almost a quarter of a century ago, and when I walked in again recently I could have sworn nothing had changed. Luckily I didn’t walk out in the first half hour, though–the newest and best exhibits are deepest inside the museum and furthest from the entrance. They’re very impressive indeed and make the visit well worth the effort.
The Australian War Memorial has real personality, and it has a fascinating story to tell. Less encumbered by the political correctness that restrains the storytelling of some of its American and British counterparts, it is nevertheless respectful of once hated and feared former enemies like the Germans and Japanese. War Memorials cater to veterans’ groups, and not surprisingly veterans often have rather strong views on how to present the history and causes for which they risked their lives. But the museum overall does a commendable job of letting history trump legend.
The most dated exhibits include a hodgepodge of artifacts and memorabilia scattered amongst a truly impressive array of model dioramas depicting significant battles and scenes. I can’t think of seeing such a collection anywhere else, and if they seem a bit quaint and old-fashioned, they nevertheless contribute to visualizing the conditions of war. And diorama aficionados will be in heaven.
But it’s the more modern exhibits that really shine. Visitors can stand on the bridge of the HMAS Brisbane, and watch fascinating immersive sound and light shows on a Lancaster bombing run and the history of fighter aircraft.
Photos of the Australian War Memorial
More About Australian War Memorial Canberra
- Opened in 1941
- Located in the national capital, Canberra
- Commemorates the sacrifice of Australians who have died in war
- Designed by architects Emil Sodersten and John Crust
- Houses the Hall of Memory, containing the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier
- Features a Commemorative Area, including the Roll of Honour listing over 102,000 names
- Exhibits military aircraft, vehicles, and artillery in its Anzac Hall
- Holds a Research Centre providing access to military history collections
- Hosts the Last Post Ceremony daily, which shares the story of one person on the Roll of Honour
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra serves as a national tribute to the brave men and women of Australia who have served and died in war. This important historical site was opened in 1941 and stands as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought to defend their country. Designed by architects Emil Sodersten and John Crust, the memorial is an architectural masterpiece that houses a range of commemorative spaces and exhibits.
The Hall of Memory, situated at the heart of the memorial, contains the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. The Commemorative Area features the Roll of Honour, a list of over 102,000 names of Australians who have died in conflict. Anzac Hall displays various military artifacts, including aircraft, vehicles, and artillery, providing visitors with an insight into Australia’s military history.
In addition to the physical exhibits, the memorial also hosts a Research Centre, offering access to an extensive collection of military history resources. Each day, a Last Post Ceremony is held, during which the story of one individual on the Roll of Honour is shared, honoring their service and sacrifice.
What’s Nearby to Australian War Memorial Canberra
- Parliament House
- National Gallery of Australia
- National Museum of Australia
- Australian National Botanic Gardens
- Lake Burley Griffin
How to Get to Australian War Memorial Canberra
The Australian War Memorial is located in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. The nearest major airport is Canberra Airport (CBR), which offers both domestic and international flights. From the airport, it is a short 15-minute drive to the memorial. Public transportation options are also available, including buses and taxis.
For hours and other visitor details, see the Australian War Memorial website.
Being an easy 3-hour drive southwest of Sydney, Canberra isn’t exactly on the way to anything else, but it is easy to get to. There are also regular flights from many Australian cities, along with intercity train and bus services.
The city’s layout is a series of uninspired geometric patterns. And however much this constrains urban character, it does make it easier to find one’s way around.
If you really want to see the Australian War Memorial at its finest, go for Anzac Day (April 25), but be prepared for crowds, make your hotel reservations early, and start early with the dawn service.
Australian War Memorial FAQs
Where is the Australian War Memorial located?
The Australian War Memorial is located in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, at the northern end of Anzac Parade.
What are the opening hours of the Australian War Memorial?
The Australian War Memorial is open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except for Christmas Day.
Is there an entrance fee for the Australian War Memorial?
No, there is no entrance fee to visit the Australian War Memorial.
What can I see at the Australian War Memorial?
At the Australian War Memorial, you can explore the Commemorative Area, the Hall of Memory, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Roll of Honour, and extensive galleries showcasing Australia’s military history, equipment, and artifacts.
Is the Australian War Memorial wheelchair accessible?
Yes, the Australian War Memorial is wheelchair accessible, with ramps, lifts, and accessible facilities available for visitors with disabilities.
How long should I spend at the Australian War Memorial?
Visitors typically spend around 2 to 3 hours exploring the Australian War Memorial, but the time may vary depending on personal interests.