Between now and Remembrance Day, The Australian War Memorial in Canberra has a display of 62,000 poppies. Each was hand knitted. We are here to see them and to have a look at some other attractions that are happening in the National Library. Every time that we have visited Canberra, there has been something new and special on.
This year marks 100 years since the armistice that ended WW1 – the ‘war to end all wars’. Australia’s involvement began when Britain and Germany went to war on 4 August 1914,The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia at the time, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm. Those that signed up thought that they were heading off on a great adventure.
The first significant Australian action of the war was the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force’s (ANMEF) landing on Rabaul on 11 September 1914. It took possession of what was then, German New Guinea on 17 September 1914 and of the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago in October 1914. On 9 November 1914, the Royal Australian Navy made a major contribution when HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden.
On 25 April 1915, members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed on Gallipoli in Turkey along with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with an evacuation of allied troops beginning in December 1915. The next year Australian forces fought campaigns on the Western Front and in the Middle East.
Throughout 1916 and 1917 losses on the Western Front were heavy and gains were small. In 1918 the Australians reached the peak of their fighting performance in the battle of Hamel on 4 July. From 8 August they then took part in a series of decisive advances until they were relieved in early October. Germany surrendered on 11 November 1918.
For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom 62,000 died and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Every single poppy on the lawns of the War Memorial today remembers a serviceman who died.
Also housed in the War Memorial, is the Long Tan Cross. It was made by members of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment in memory of those killed in Australia’s biggest battle in Vietnam. My fellow Vietnam Veterans will be pleased to know that it is now located in a small theatre with the cross on one wall and a TV screen on the other showing photographs of the placement of the cross on the Long Tan Battlefield.
The National Library currently has two exhibitions that we thoroughly enjoyed visiting. The first was about Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery around the Pacific Ocean.
Cook was the world’s most prolific explorer. He made three voyages – the first to observe the transit of Venus across the sun from Tahiti. On this voyage, he also mapped the east coast off Australia. On his other voyages, he mapped New Zealand and sailed north as far as Alaska. He was killed at Tahiti in 1779 at the age of 51 years.
I have seen statues of Cook in may places around the world – Australia, New Zealand, Alaska and Hawaii. They all have one thing in common – every one of them had a seagull sitting on his head!
There were many artefacts on display at the library including Cook’s telescope, sextant and other pieces of navigation and mapping equipment. I was fascinated by the log of his ship, the Endeavour, which was written in beautiful longhand script. It had been kept by Cook until the day he was killed. Afterwards his first mate took over the record of the voyage using another journal.
In another area, the Library had a fantastic audio visual display of Joseph Banks work in discovering plants and animals of the New World. The animations were excellent and the graphics were wonderful. I didn’t know that Banks paid 10,000 Pounds to join Cook on his voyage. That was an incredibly large amount of money in the 1770’s! Banks collected thousands of specimens and wondered at the Kangaroo – an animal the likes of which had never been seen before by Europeans.
In the afternoon, we drove out to the Cotter Dam to the east of Canberra . I don’t remember having been there before but Jill tells of it being a very popular picnic and swimming spot in the 1930’s. Her uncle (her mother’s brother) drowned there trying to rescue his girlfriend who got into trouble while swimming in the river. It took four men to rescue the panicked woman but Jill’s uncle did not recover from being pushed to the bottom of the river in her panic.
It seems hard to imagine such a tragedy taking place with the way then river looked today, but there are still signs warning of deep water around the picnic area.
At night, we went back to the Memorial and found the poppies lit by special lighting and the Remembrance Area open and lit as well.