I envisage this memorial in Hyde Park to be a special and powerful place for contemplation and remembrance, a space for all our stories to be heard and recognised.
– Tony Albert, 2014
Because of my own family history, I have a fascination with what we generally call ‘war memorials’. I find that term problematic, however, because most memorials seem to glorify battles won or lost. So, when I come across a memorial that is very clearly an antiwar memorial, and directly seeks to honor the people who fought and died, then I am especially interested.
A few months back I discovered Yininmadyemi (Thou didst let fall), the memorial to Indigenous people who have served and died in Australia’s armed forces. This dramatic sculpture was created by Tony Albert, an artist who is now recognized as being one of the most significant creative forces in the country at this time.
This astonishing memorial consists of seven enormous bullets, four standing and three fallen. They are meant to represent both those who fell and those who survived in the many wars in which Indigenous people have fought. The artist was inspired by a story from his grandfather, an Australian soldier in World War II; a story that gives the seven bullets a much more personal meaning.
Tony’s grandfather was captured along with six of his comrades by Italian infantry forces. They were put on trial and sentenced to death. Three of these soldiers were shot before a senior officer put a stop to the executions. He ordered that, because the soldiers were under British command, they had to be sent to Germany as prisoners of war. The artist’s grandfather was among the four survivors.
In addition, the artist highlights the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander service men and women on their return to Australia. While ‘white’ veterans were given grants of land in appreciation of their service, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans were not. In fact they were still having their traditional lands stolen. It wasn’t until 1966 that Australia’s Indigenous peoples were even counted in the census as citizens.
I find this site moving and emotionally powerful; I am continually being drawn back to it. In these visits I see people posing in front of the bullets; I have even seen some climb on the memorial. In the many times I have visited this site, I have very rarely seen people read the information or dedication plaque alongside the memorial.
And, perhaps even more significantly, I have yet to see a single person sit or even appear to stand in ‘contemplation and remembrance’ as envisaged by the artist. Except for me that is. While I would like to think that I am mistaken here, and that we all remember and think about war and its horrors in our own ways, I don’t think this is so. I believe that it is the forgetting of the costs of war that contribute to the ease with which our so-called leaders have lead us into what has now become a constant state of war.
There is a phrase that is used on every Memorial Day in the English speaking world and perhaps in other places too; it’s used every ANZAC day here in Australia, and at every ceremony connected with war and the dead of war: Lest We Forget.
Seems to me that we have forgotten: We do not remember; we do not contemplate the costs, the horrors, the damage that comes from war. It is my dream that memorials like this one will work to restore in us that capacity for remembrance.
Lest We Forget