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History

06 May 2020

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Shrine of Remembrance

By Robin Grow - Aus Art Deco and Moderism Society

On Anzac Day this year, the Shrine of Remembrance was eerily deserted due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Its form and structure have existed since 1934 and for most Melbourne citizens, it has always occupied a striking position in the landscape. But how did it come to be designed, constructed and occupied?

The form and site of the monument to those who served in the Great War became a major point of conjecture in Melbourne almost as soon as the final shots of the war were fired in 1918. It was a debate that raged across the country (and around the world) as governments, returned services groups, churches, civic groups and other organisations grappled with design, costs and usage.

Should memorials be commemorative or utilitarian? Should a large memorial (with sculptures) be constructed, or should the memorial be in the form of a structure that contributed to daily life, such as a hall, bridge, hospital, gardens, libraries or swimming pool? But as the years began to pass, discord continued among “stakeholders”, each convinced that their solution was the right one, and enthusiasm for the Shrine was starting to wane.

In 1922, a competition was announced for a design for a National War Memorial, which was won by the young firm of Wardrop & Hudson. James Hastie Wardrop was later responsible for some of Victoria’s most dramatic Moderne/Art Deco buildings (such as the former pub that became McDonald’s in Clifton Hill) but is probably best remembered for his work on the Shrine of Remembrance.

Born in 1891, he had seemed destined for a highly successful career until WWI intervened. In 1919, he returned to Australia and formed a partnership with another ex-serviceman, Phillip Hudson. Their design would be constructed on an elevated site in today’s Southbank, able to be seen from vantage points around the city.

Construction required a massive fundraising campaign. Enter the celebrated former army general, John Monash, who led a major effort in 1927 that raised the funds from ordinary citizens, local Councils, businessmen such as Sidney Myer, and school children. With money in the bank, construction began in 1927 and was completed in time for Victoria’s 1934 Centenary celebrations.

It remains as a sombre building, finished in silver-grey granite and adorned with sculptural groups. Described as arguably Melbourne’s most important public monument, it owed much to classic Greek forms, leading to criticism of the design for looking backwards in time. But it is an enduring part of Melbourne’s built environment, zealously protected and highly regarded by the populace •

 

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