An artist’s impression  shows the
An artist’s impression shows the

‘Soul of the nation’ gets $500m overhaul

EXCLUSIVE: A PLAN hatched with military aplomb three years ago by a media baron and a former politician will be revealed today with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to unveil a $500 million Australian War Memorial overhaul to tell the 'true story' of what it means to be Australian.

The huge project will involve the demolition of the Anzac Hall with a new two-level structure to more than double exhibition space that will largely tell the story of the men and women from military campaigns of the past 20 years including East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

News Corp Australia can reveal the side forecourts will be spectacularly encased in a huge glass atrium - similar to the British Museum's Great Court in London - to showcase new acquisitions including bombers, fighters and land fighting vehicles with new stain glass windows to feature images of the modern warrior.

An artist’s impression  shows the overhaul of the Australian War Memorial. Picture: Gary Ramage
An artist’s impression shows the overhaul of the Australian War Memorial. Picture: Gary Ramage

The exhibition space increase from 3280 sqm to 8300 sqm also includes a huge underground hall and underground central entry that features a big screen to live stream unclassified Australian Defence Force news and movements.

Likely to raise some controversy, the exhibition floor would also be made available to be commercially hired for private dinners and other night functions.

The unveiling today caps off a three-year campaign by former defence minister and Australian War Memorial (AWM) director Brendan Nelson and Seven West chairman and AWM council chairman Kerry Stokes to redevelop the "soul" of the national psyche.

Dr Nelson said when he started in the director role he was told the stories of the 30,000 contemporary Australian warriors engaged in conflicts abroad including 64 peace keeping missions could not be told in present day, only until after a generation of politics and welcome home parades.

The radical plan features stunning glass atriums. Picture: Gary Ramage
The radical plan features stunning glass atriums. Picture: Gary Ramage

That attitude set him and Stokes about looking at the memorial's future.

"We felt we had to do it now and maybe if the Vietnam War had been told more broadly and deeply in the mid-1970s some of those men may not have suffered as much," Dr Nelson said yesterday.

"Kerry said 'here is a window, we need to put everything into this to persuade the country and the political class, not just the government but the Opposition, that this is something that has to be done'."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will commit $498 million to make the project a reality.

"There are more than 102,000 names on the Memorial's Roll of Honour and we want to do everything possible to ensure their service is honoured," he told News Corp Australia.

"Whether it's our veterans from conflicts decades ago or the last few years, we're delivering the practical recognition and support our service men and women deserve."

Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson says the renovation is all about telling the stories of the men and women of our recent past. Picture:  Gary Ramage
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson says the renovation is all about telling the stories of the men and women of our recent past. Picture: Gary Ramage

From late 2015, the men began a behind-the-scenes targeted lobbying campaign, using internal architects to scope concepts, recruited a property manager and quantity surveyors, reviewed various designs with the final cost to be $500 million over nine years.

Even the powerful National Capital Authority was briefed monthly with what the redevelopment of the heritage building looked like from the top of Mt Ainslie deemed critical.

"Within a few months of getting here I realised the immense amount and intensity of emotion that is released here," Dr Nelson said.

"I would commonly see two or three young men with dark sunglasses on standing in front of the Afghanistan Roll of Honour with tears streaming down their faces, I would find someone in the Vietnam gallery a trembling mess and that's just me walking through, our staff deal with this every day.

"This is primarily for operations that have happened in the last 20 years … this is all about telling the stories of these men and women of our recent past not about bringing out dusty guns as some will say from the First World War.

"So the amount of money involved in this over the period of time, it is a significant part of the investment we have to make not only in these young men and women and their families but also in our understanding of what it means to be an Australian.

"I think in the lifetime of every nation there comes a time where you have both an opportunity and responsibility to invest in telling these stories and I simply say that anyone that thinks that in some way this is not worth doing is not been to this place in recent times.

"We've been working hard here to bring the stories to life, the histories to life to make it engaging and engage a new generations of Australians; in this place we reveal our character and our soul as a people, it's hard to understand us until you come here."



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