Art Commission: The Anzac Memorial Centenary Project

The Anzac Memorial Centenary Project continues the tradition of artistic collaboration.

The art commission process

In November 2015 an Art Committee was formed to select an artist for the Anzac Memorial Centenary Project. The committee was chaired by Anne Flanagan, the previous Deputy Director of the Art Gallery of NSW. The committee established a short-list of senior Australian artists which would be invited to submit proposals for an artwork to be situated in the new Hall of Service. Seven proposals were received – each remarkable in their individual approach to the proposed theme of military service. The Art Committee judged the proposal by Fiona Hall to be the strongest submission. The committee’s recommendation was endorsed by the Trustees of the Anzac Memorial Building on 4 April 2016.

The artist - Fiona Hall 

Fiona Hall is one of Australia’s most prominent contemporary artists. She works across a broad range of media including painting, photography, sculpture and installation. Recurrent themes include globalisation, natural history and the human impact, systems of classification, domestic order and other comparative structures.

Hall’s works transform ordinary, everyday materials into organic forms with both a historical and contemporary relevance and her meticulous attention to detail emphasises the beauty and fragility of the natural world. 

Hall's career spans four decades, and continues unabated. Her work is represented in every major public art collection in Australia and she exhibits regularly in Australia and overseas.

"My proposed design for the Hall of Service is based upon material relating directly to service offered, across New South Wales. It utilizes the walls and floors, but leaves the interior of the Hall free of any 3-dimensional intervention. The absence of a 3-dimensional artwork in this space is intended to maintain and emphasize the spatial equilibrium and symmetry of the square Hall and its oculus. In design and content, it creates an informative and meditative place, at the threshold of the Hall of Silence and beyond." Fiona Hall, 2016

The art work

The Walls

The walls in the Hall of Service will display the names of the towns, suburbs and settlements across NSW where men and women enlisted from for the First World War. The list of names encapsulates our early colonial history, and registers the country’s long time indigenous presence. It displays the geographical reach of the call to serve, and signals the willingness and enthusiasm of so many from diverse regions who answered the call to join the War. Alongside each place name will be displayed a sample of soil, collected from each listed locale.

The Enlistment Locations

During the First World War, it was not possible for the bodies of fallen soldiers to be returned for burial on home soil. This has greatly heightened our continuing sense of loss and grief, with the First World War battle site cemeteries remaining places of commemoration today. 

Alongside each place name will be displayed a sample of soil, collected from each listed locale. "I regard the Hall as both an informative space, and also as a hallowed site to realise the enormity of the service and sacrifice given." Fiona Hall, 2016.

The Soil Collection Program

The walls in the Hall of Service will display the names of the towns, suburbs and settlements across NSW where men and women enlisted from for the First World War.

The list of names encapsulates our early colonial history, and registers the country’s long time indigenous presence. It displays the geographical reach of the call to serve, and signals the willingness and enthusiasm of so many from diverse regions who answered the call to join the War.

There will be approximately 1,700 locations from throughout NSW displayed and alongside each place name will be displayed a sample of soil, collected from each locale.

As planning for the project is finalised, local communities will be engaged to participate in the collection of soil or attend an event to witness the soil being collected. An interactive digital platform will be available on completion of the Memorial build which will display information about the location where the soil was collected and stories from the First World War which apply to that location.

The Floor

The floor design directly below the open oculus features a ring of samples of earth embedded into the floor. The earth samples will be from the 100 most significant sites of NSW’s military service. The list of sites from across the world runs through to modern-day Australian peacekeeping missions.

"Many of these sites are engraved in our national psyche: they are signifiers of the service and sacrifice of our military personnel and are names that have shaped and defined our sense of nationhood today." Fiona Hall, 2016

The botanic selection

Eight hand-etched glass urns, each with an image of a different plant species, will be located at the entrances to the Hall of Service. The eight plant species to be etched were selected by Hall because of their association “to Australia’s service in WW1, and to our national memorialising of it.”

Flanders poppy (Papaver rhoeas) - Immortalised by Lieutenant-Colonel John McRae's poem In Flanders Fields (1915), became the enduring symbol of the war for veterans and remembered as the only flower to bloom in the shattered landscape of no man's land.

Aleppo pine (Pinus halapensis) - Lone Pine charge survivor L/Cpl Benjamin Smith sent an Aleppo Pine cone from the battlefield on which his brother was killed to their mother. A sapling germinated from that cone now stands at the Australian War Memorial.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - Valued in ancient times for its believed ability to improve memory - a sprig of rosemary is worn every Anzac Day as a symbol of remembrance. Its links to Anzac remembrance are made stronger as it was found growing wild on Gallipoli.

Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’) - Intrinsic to the landscape of the Somme and Flanders battlefields of France and Belgium, the poplar became part of the collective memory of those who fought on the Western Front.

Gallipoli rose (Cistus salvifolius) - The delicate white flower grows wild in the harsh landscape of the Gallipoli Peninsula. When Australian historian Charles Bean led a team of historians back to Anzac Cove in 1919 they were moved to find Gallipoli Rose growing on the old battlefield.

Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) - The Waratah was among the first examples of Australian flora incorporated into our military heraldry and can still be found on the badges of NSW units.

Sydney blue gum (Eucalyptus saligna) and the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) - The families of Australian soldiers would often enclose gum and wattle leaves in their letters to the soldiers as mementos of home. The soldiers would burn the leaves to produce the evocative Australian scent of eucalyptus smoke.

On this day
22 October

1916 — HMAS UNA (ex German sloop KOMET) arrived at Malekula Island, New Hebrides, to mount a punitive action against rebellious natives. 40% of UNA’s crew were struck down with malaria

1942 — Battle of GOODENOUGH ISLAND, New Guinea.  This island was occupied by the Sasebo 5th SNLF (Japanese) and securing it was part of the build-up for a major offensive at BUNA

1950 — Battle of YONGJU / The Apple Orchard. This was the first action that Australian troops saw in Korea when they were called to support American troops. Capt Denness won a Military Cross, Lt Butler won a Silver Star and 7 Australians were wounded in the action