Senator the Hon. Robert Hill,
Minister for Defence
Leader of the Government in the Senate

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16 Feb 2004
27/04
  Day, Date Month 2003
   

 

50TH ANNIVERSARY OF AUSTRALIAN-AMERICAN MEMORIAL

 

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the Australian-American Memorial in Canberra, Defence Minister Robert Hill said.

Opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 16 February 1954, it expresses the deep gratitude felt by Australians to American service personnel for their assistance to Australia during the War in the Pacific from 1941-1945.

"The memorial is an inspiring symbol which pays tribute to comradeship in arms and shared sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom," Senator Hill said.

"Unveiled only three years after the Governments of the United States and Australia formalised the defence alliance by signing the ANZUS treaty, the memorial stands as a proud and lasting reminder of the enduring relationship between our two countries.

"The ANZUS alliance and our defence relationship with the United States are as vital and relevant today as they have ever been. The men and women of our armed forces are still working side by side around the globe and in our own region – in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq."

Australia invoked the ANZUS treaty for the first time following the September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, and the United States was quick to offer us practical assistance in the wake of the Bali bombings.

"Whilst the nature of the challenges to international peace and security may have changed since this memorial was unveiled, the need for close cooperation with friends and allies in countering them has not," Senator Hill said.

"In an uncertain world, strong alliances such as that we enjoy with the United States have become even more important to our national security.

"I hope that all Australians will join with me in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Australian-American memorial and the continued defence cooperation between our two nations."

Photographs recording the construction and dedication of the memorial will be displayed publicly in the foyer of the Department of Defence’s Russell 1 building this week.

 

BACKGROUND

 

Queen Elizabeth II opened the Australian-American Memorial, affectionately known as 'The Eagle', on 16 February 1954. It stands at an imposing 73 metres in the forecourt of the Defence Offices at Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square, Russell. The memorial symbolises both the deep gratitude felt by Australians to American service personnel for their assistance during the Second World War (1939-45), and the close ties which were established during that conflict.

In 1948 the Australian-American Association resolved 'to establish a Memorial in Canberra in the form of a monument or statue, to perpetuate the services and sacrifices of the United States forces in Australia and to symbolise Australian-American comradeship in arms'. To give effect to this resolution, a Federal US Memorial Committee was appointed. Among the members of this Committee were the Rt. Hon. R.G. Casey, Federal President of the Australian-American Association (later to become Governor-General of Australia), and Sir Keith Murdoch, Victorian President of the Australian-American Association and father of media owner Rupert Murdoch.

It was thought that a Memorial of considerable size and striking design was essential, and an Australia-wide competition was held in 1949. From the thirty-two entries received, the design by Richard M. Ure won the competition.

The search for a suitable site for the Memorial extended from 1948 to 1951. Eight different locations were considered before the site now occupied, at the apex of the Kings Avenue, was selected and approved by the Commonwealth Government. The area at the time was bushland.

In 1950 the Prime Minister R.G. Menzies launched a nation-wide appeal to raise the amount of 50,000 pounds, a vast sum at the time, to build the Memorial. Within six weeks, more than 63,000 pounds had been raised. The population of Australia was only eight million people. The Commonwealth Government later made a substantial donation to cover rising costs and the Memorial was finally completed at a cost of 100,000 pounds. Work commenced in December 1952 and was completed in just over one year. Vice President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon, visited the site in the early stages of construction.

The Australian-American Memorial has a hollow octagonal column with a steel framework, which is sheeted with aluminium panels and sandblasted to give the appearance of stone. Two murals feature at the base, one relating the story of American combat in the Pacific and the other a profile map of the United States in copper. The column is topped with a bronze sphere surmounted by a stylised figure of the American Eagle by the distinguished sculptor, Paul Beadle.

'The Eagle' was constructed in Sydney and transported to Canberra by road. The eagle and sphere alone are 11 metres high. Calm weather conditions were needed to place the eagle on top of the column, which was done by crane at night. The Memorial's height and unique design make it one of Canberra's best-known and most recognised monuments. From the surplus funds available after the appeal, state memorials were erected in Brisbane and Adelaide.

Given the natural wear and tear on the memorial over the years, the National Capital Planning Authority is intending to undertake a program of restoration to the memorial over the next few years.

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