Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Australian War Memorial

The idea for an Australian War Memorial in Canberra originated with CEW Bean, the official historian for World War I. He wanted a monument to honour Australia's war dead and to display memorabilia from the war.

On 8 November 1923, Cabinet approved a site for the memorial at the foot of Mount Ainslie, and agreed that the Federal Capital Advisory Committee and the War Memorial Committee should work together to organise a competition to design the building.196

A design competition was held in 1925 and the judges asked to select the 10 best designs for further consideration. All were rejected as unsuitable. However, two entrants, Emil Sodersteen and John Crust, were subsequently commissioned to work on a joint design. Their design involved a central garden court, along each side of which there would be a Roll of Honour of all those Australian service personnel killed in war (which, at that time, was approximately 80,000). The roll would be sheltered by arcaded cloisters, leading towards a domed Hall of Memory at the rear of the building.

The question of the building's construction was referred to the Public Works Committee in 1928. The committee presented its report in May that year.197 It fully supported the project but had concerns about the cost, which at the time was in excess of £300,000. One of the committee's cost-saving recommendations was to eliminate the proposed fire sprinkler system; believing that water from the sprinklers would cause more damage than fire, the committee argued that eliminating sprinklers would result in a saving of £5000.198

The committee fully supported the inclusion of a Roll of Honour and expressed its satisfaction with the design suggested by John Crust that names be recorded in bronze letters cast in synthetic marble and placed in panels on the walls of the cloisters on either side of the garden court. The committee agreed that names be recorded alphabetically according to towns of origin, with no reference to rank.

The memorial's foundation stone was laid on 25 April 1929 but the onset of the Great Depression later that year delayed construction. In 1933, Cabinet considered the memorial's construction on several occasions and ultimately agreed to a two-stage approach. The building was not completed until 1941; it was officially opened by the Governor-General, Lord Gowrie, on 11 November 1941.

The Hall of Memory was completed in 1959, while the Roll of Honour was finished in 1961. The names on the Roll of Honour are recorded in order of administrative units, not according to towns of origin as originally intended.

The memorial has been expanded on a number of occasions since 1941. The eastern and western 'wings' were added in 1971 and Anzac Hall, which houses the memorial's larger objects, was completed in June 2001.

The Hall of Memory also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, a member of Australia's armed forces who died on the Western Front during World War I, and whose body was interred on 11 November 1993. This was not the first time, however, that creating a tomb for an unknown soldier had been contemplated. In response to a public suggestion, Cabinet reviewed the matter in June 1926 but made no decision.199

National Archives
Australian national war memorial, 1919–20 A2, 1920/1318
National war memorial Canberra, 1921–26 A1, 1928/1514
Australian War Memorial, 1924 A6006, 1924/1/30
Proposed war memorial, Canberra, adjudication of competitive designs, 1924 A6006, 1924/08/13
Design competition, 1925 CP949/1
Architectural competition, conditions regulating submission of designs, 1925 A1818, 17
Australian War Memorial architectural competition, 1925–30 A292, C20068 parts 1A, 2A
Australian War Memorial Canberra, 1926–69 A3211, 1964/3666 part 2
Australian War Memorial Canberra, 1928 A11960, 1928/15
War memorial building erection, 1928–38 A292, C20068 parts 1–2
John Murdoch – Australian War Memorial, Canberra, architectural competition conditions regarding submissions for designs, 1929 M4447, 13
Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, 1936–71 A3808, 1973/330
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, official opening, 1941 A705, 129/1/22
Roy Rowe – official opening of the Australian War Memorial, 1941 M1598, 3
Collection of relics for the Australian War Memorial, 1945–46 A12214, 28/1/AIR
Australian War Memorial landscaping, 1961–75 A1144, P&G 1962/114
Australian War Memorial landscaping, 1961–75 A1144, P&G1972/158
Extensions to the Australian War Memorial, 1965–71 A3808, 1974/5042 part 1
Australian War Memorial extensions, 1967–69 A976, 1967/2334
Completion of the Australian War Memorial, official opening, 1970–71 A3808, 1973/358


Chapter notes | All notes

196 NAA: A2718, volume 1 part 1, 8 November 1923.

197 'Report together with Minutes of Evidence Relating to the Proposed Australian War Memorial, Canberra', 25 May 1928, Parliamentary Papers, 1926–28, volume 4, pp. 303–96.

198 'Report together with Minutes of Evidence Relating to the Proposed Australian War Memorial, Canberra', 25 May 1928, p. 7, Parliamentary Papers, 1926–28, volume 4, pp. 303–96.

199 NAA: A2718, volume 2, 1 June 1926.


Chapter 8
Iconic buildings and monuments