Australians have created their own traditions, symbols, and commemorative spaces with which to honour those who served. From small-town memorials and local rituals to the housing of a National Collection at the Australian War Memorial, people all over the country have reflected on our involvement in conflicts across the world. 

On Anzac Day and Remembrance Day we pause to remember the people who have died as a result of service, and as our understanding of war grows, the way in which we commemorate has grown with it. Veterans, families and the wider community have all sought to identify the lessons of conflict and what it means for the individual.

The Australian War Memorial's special exhibition, After the War, explores the personal and societal impact and legacy of war and is coming to a close on 15 September. 

Developed as part of the Memorial’s commemorations of the Armistice that ended the First World War, the exhibition explores the personal and social consequences of war over the past 100 years. It features a wide range of objects, works of art, letters, and documents predominately drawn from the Memorial’s own collection. 

Some of the themes, memorials, and photographs from the exhibition are featured below.

Victory at a cost

The First World War remains among the costliest conflicts in human history. It is estimated that 18 million people, including civilians, died as a result of the war, and many more were wounded. The end of the fighting brought a mixture of relief and heartbreaking loss, and for many these feelings would remain for decades after the guns fell silent. 

During the First and Second World Wars, families in communities across Australia had loved ones who served overseas. Many were never returned. Of those who came home, many suffered psychological wounds.

The mass celebrations of the war’s end, the tender moments of families reunited, and the struggle with grief and mourning are all experiences that have marked the end of warfare. 

During and after the First World War, cities and towns across Australia began planning and erecting local memorials to honour the service of those who had enlisted and those who never returned. Such memorials were not part of an official program, but were instigated by and funded by local communities. 

Man-made and natural memorials

The Ballarat Venue of Honour was one of Australia’s first and largest commemorative plantings. Each tree stands for a particular soldier or nurse who served in the First World War from the Ballarat area. Trent Parke set out to photograph each tree in a way that represented the physical description or ultimate fate of the person it

Photo Trent Parkes, 2014, Ginner Joseph Roy Kinsman 34405, AWM2016.538.1
Photo Trent Parkes, 2014, Ginner Joseph Roy Kinsman 34405, AWM2016.538.1

Laurence Aberhart has been photographing man-made memorials across Australia and New Zealand for 30 years. His photographs document the uniqueness of each memorial in its setting and how they have changed over time as we move further away from the First World War.

As documented in Ken Inglis’ book, Sacred Places, after the First World War, Australia ‘embarked on a remarkable programme of war memorial construction...’

These photographs document the memorials that came out of this post-war period and depict them as found in recent years. The images are a visual study of memorials showing both similarities in form but also their uniqueness as each was created by their communities to mark their mourning and loss.

One of the photographs in the exhibition is the Pimpama war memorial, located in Queensland and recorded on Places of Pride. 

Photo by Laurence Aberthart, War memorial Pimpana, 19 March 2013, AWM2017.1118.9
Photo by Laurence Aberthart, War memorial Pimpana, 19 March 2013, AWM2017.1118.9

Honour boards

Honour boards and rolls were erected in many local schools, halls, churches and offices as a means of acknowledging the commitment made by the community to military forces. This collage is made up of 65 local soldiers was made up by the Wilunga Cheer-Up Society in 1920, and was displayed in the Willunga Festival Hall and is now recorded on Places of Pride

Photo: Pictorial honour board from the Willunga Cheer Up Society, 1920, AWM2017.944.1
Photo: Pictorial honour board from the Willunga Cheer Up Society, 1920, AWM2017.944.1

A community's loss

The scale of loss during the First and Second World Wars was unprecedented in Australia. With so many young lives lost in such distant places, it was impossible for their loved ones to grieve in traditional ways. Many soldiers were only ever reported as “missing in action”. Families were left without closure

The men and women who died on active service were mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, colleagues, team-mates and friends. These connections with family and their communities are seen in memoriam pages, where often multiple entries from different people were submitted, each in their own way showing grief and the impact of their loss.

'Footballers Movement to Perpetuate Memory'

Warwick Amateur Rugby League Footballers Memorial
Warwick Amateur Rugby League Footballers Memorial

Attached to the Town Hall in Warwick, Queensland, is a marble monument with the inscription “Warwick Amateur Rugby League – Memorial to Footballers”. This monument is a tribute to members of the Warwick football community who enlisted during the First World War and didn’t return.

The first name to be inscribed on the monument was Private Bert Taye Woodward Harris, who was killed in action in France 26 November 1916. Shortly after his death, members of the club initiated a “Footballers Movement to Perpetuate Memory” inserting an in memoriam notice that reflects the community’s loss and their coming together during grief. An Original Verse was also inserted for Private Harris. The names of nineteen footballers had been added to the monument by the end of the First World War.

Maintaining connections

Clubs and reunions often provided former servicemen and servicewomen with the opportunity to gather and remember their fallen comrades. They also offered veterans the chance to reconnect with mates in a positive social environment. The rekindling of friendships at such events fostered informal systems of welfare and support that were often absent in wider Australian society.

Below is a photo that is featured in the After the war exhibition which shows the Tasmanian Quota of the First Australian Division, AIF, at the Hobart Memorial in Tasmania. 

Taken at Hobart Cenotaph on 18 October 1930, Joseph Barnett, P00210.002
Taken at Hobart Cenotaph on 18 October 1930, Joseph Barnett, P00210.002

Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial

On 3 October 1992, decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial was unveiled on Anzac Parade in Canberra. In his dedication address Prime Minister Paul Keating acknowledged: 

“No war divided Australia like the Vietnam War. There is no doubt that in all the turmoil we lost sight of the reality of Vietnam. We lost sight of those who did the fighting and the waiting, and in doing that made their reality worse.”

A march was held on the day of the unveiling and families proudly cheered on their loved ones. The event was another step in the journey of recognition and healing for all affected by the conflict.  

National Vietnam Memorial
National Vietnam Memorial