Boer War Memorial – ANZAC Parade, Canberra
The Boer War is intrinsically linked to:
- Australia’s nationhood, as we federated whilst engaged in the conflict
- The strength, resilience and courage of the young country’s ‘bushman’ soldier with their unique riding and rifle skills
- And to an impressive national tradition of outstanding bravery in the face of the enemy, with the first Victoria Crosses presented.
However it is also a conflict that saw:
- Over 600 young Australians perish, their bodies never returning to their homeland
- The great bond between horse and soldier painfully ripped apart as the horses that had fought so valiantly had to be left behind
- A conflict that, while commemorated on a small scale in halls, parks and cemeteries across Australia has never had a national point of reflection, a national monument.
Consequently, this proposed monument seeks to celebrate Australia’s coming of age and the valiant ‘bushman’ soldier, the men and women who answered the call to war, as well as commemorate those that died and the horses that were left behind. This monument seeks to create a highly symbolic site for people to reflect upon an important war in Australia’s history and to create a site that is worthy of its position in the nation’s capital – in Anzac Parade.
Sitting within an octagonal footprint – representing the eight states and territories of our nation – six pillars that range in length stand in two parallel lines. Each pillar, representing the six states that federated in 1901, also represents the six states that sent soldiers to fight the Boers. Constructed out of rammed earth, sourced locally, the six pillars (or six states) are connected by the soil of their nation’s capital. The use of rammed earth also symbolising the importance of the ‘bushman’, to the Boer War. These colonial soldiers excelled in battle as their accomplished riding and rifle skills had been developed in Australia’s harsh climate and terrain. This prepared them for the similar challenges of the South African conflict. The parallel pillars are aligned so that they create a roofless hall with three pillars on each side. Varying in size, to represent the number of personel that fought in the Boer War from each state. Their external face is smooth while their internal wall is faceted. The facets, sitting on top of each other like building blocks, represent the towns and cities of each state from which the soldiers were recruited. The facets therefore represent the diversity of communities invested in and affected by the war.
On the south-facing wall of the pillars, smooth side, sits a sandstone trough. Its inclusion representing the vital importance of the horse to the conflict, as the cavalry of the war. Its emptiness symbolising the horses that never returned to Australia and the hardships that the horses endured. The trough’s attachment to the rammed earth pillars not only unites the pillars with the common goal of fighting the Boers but also represents the incredible bond between horse and solider as the horse was quite literally the soldier’s lifeline. Constructed out of sandstone, its materiality is reminiscent of so much of Australia’s federation architecture.
For the vehicle moving down Anzac Parade, the staggered alignment of the six pillars allows the trough, materiality, smoth exterior and faceted interior to be seen as one. Their large scale and elevated position communicating the symbolisim of the site quickly and articulately so that the passing commuter can comprehend the importance of the Boer War to Australia’s history, and the sacrifice that our service men and women made. For the pedestrian, moving at a much slower pace, the monument offers a more embodying experience, an experience that unfolds slowly. Entering the monument from either the front or one of the two paths on the north and south side of the octagonal footprint, the pedestrian would be channelled into the pillars, and their hall, to look more closely at the detailed facets. On arriving at the heart of the pillars the pedestrians would then be greeted overhead by a canopy comprised of a large gold bough. Roughly the scale of a fallen soldier, the gold bough is representative of those who never returned to their homeland. It was common practice, during the Boer War, for local peoples to cover the bodies of fallen soldiers with tree boughs to protect them until they could receive a proper burial. This occurred regardless of the side the fallen soldier fought on, out of respect for the dead. The gold- plated bough is the heart of the monument. Its materiality both a reflection of the shared mineral wealth of Africa and Australia, and the preciousness of human life and sacrifice. It is envisaged that, at night, a strong golden light would illuminate the bough providing a glowing heart to the monument. It is at this point that the passing commuter would experience this element of the monument.
Continuing their journey west into the monument, the pedestrian is presented with a seat for rest and contemplation and then an incision, retained with cast concrete, cut into the earth of the. Sitting on the seat, the Banjo Patterson poem: With French to Kimberley, becomes visible at the end of the insertion, inscribed into a sandstone slab. With French to Kimberley is one of 20 poems Patterson wrote about his experience in South Africa during the Boer War. In this poem Patterson’s story of the battle for the town of Kimberly speaks of all the elements of the war; from the diversity of Australians on the front and their great ridding skills, to the often ‘gorilla’ nature of the conflict. With French to Kimberley is a wonderful insight into the Boer War, written in the language of the time.