The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience

I have been dumbstruck only once in my life: upon leaving the museum dedicated to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, I found that for some time I was literally unable to speak.

Yesterday, once again, I came very close as I had the honour of a private tour of the Anzac centenary exhibition which opens today at the Eaton Recreation Centre.

Major General Brian Dawson AM CSC (ret.), pictured at left, of the Australian War Museum was my guide, and with the exception of the audio accompaniment available to visitors, I could not have hoped for a better one. His 40-year military career is remarkably distinguished: when you have been Australia’s first military representative to NATO and the European Union, there’s nothing else I can add here that would illuminate anything.

Suffice to say that the Major General is not just encyclopaedic but a kind and patient host who graciously stepped away and pretended to be distracted with details of the show’s preparation as my tears began to fall.

It did not take long for them to begin.

The exhibition is a triumph – a thorough, brutal, immersive experience, but astonishingly sensitive and considerate.

It was designed by a company called Imagination and the team responsible deserves a special mention. It is impossible not to emerge unmoved, whatever your thoughts on war, and also impossible not to feel grateful for how well and kindly you have been shown things that remain, to this day, quite unbelievable.

I’ve been trying to think of an exhibition I’ve seen that used technology as well as this one does. I can’t think of one. But make no mistake: there is not a gimmick in sight. This is technology in the service of understanding and without wanting to give anything away, you will be amazed.

Everyone knows the photograph of the pyramid on whose steps sit hundreds of Australian servicemen. A wall-sized enlargement of the picture awaits visitors in one room. Before it stand three old view cameras of the kind used at the time.

Point your camera at the scene before you, and watch what the exhibition allows you to do. As you will see, it is simply a triumph. More than once I gasped.

Yet what drives the success of the exhibition is a calm and measured need to bear witness and to honour.

Visitors emerge into a soothing space of contemplation. The words displayed there will haunt you. – Jeremy Hedley