The Australian Vietnam Forces
National Memorial

The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial is located on Anzac Parade in Canberra, the Nation's Capital.

This document is divided into four sections:


(Adapted from Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial Commemorative Booklet 1992)

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The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial

Immediately to the front of the memorial is the ceremonial entrance ramp which rises gently towards the imposing central ‘building’ of the memorial site - three huge monolithic slabs or stelae rising from a low triangular shaped plinth surrounded by a shallow moat.

To the right (north) there is a small forecourt area covered in gravel, to the rear of which is a wide flight of stairs leading to the exterior of the northern stele, and beyond that to an entrance ramp at the north-western edge of the central structure.

Looking to the left (or south) there is a larger forecourt area also surfaced in gravel. At the southern edge of this forecourt there are three 9-metre flagpoles. At the rear of western edge there is a retaining wall with a low shelf. This is an area designated for the laying of wreaths. Surmounting this low wall are large steel letters spelling VIETNAM.

Further to the south is a landscaped turf ramp also leading from street level to the level of the plinth and to the rear south-wester ramp. In the landscaped turf area surrounding the central building there are three concrete memorial ‘seats’ commemorating Australia’s six servicemen missing in action (MIA).

The memorial under construction
The Memorial under construction
[Photograph Stuart Weller 25 April 1992]

Surrounding the whole site and forming a frame-like canopy are numerous blue gums. Light is filtered through this canopy so that there is a continuous display of shimmering, flickering light and shadow on the external walls of the memorial.

The exterior of the Memorial is constructed of three cast in situ concrete forms or stelae, which project 9.5 metres above the base podium or plinth level. Each stele is tapered and inclined to the centre of the Memorial. These forms have been inspired by ancient standing stones or monoliths and by classical stelae. Forms such as these have always marked sacred sites, symbolising spaces for commemoration and contemplation. Such sites remain among the most enduring and powerful of human creations. Each stele is a uniquely twisted helical section and has acutely pointed edges; the result, a contrast of shape and scale which gives form to the emotional responses of war.

These great ‘stones’ stand in a shallow cordon in a shallow moat, protection against the bustle of the outside world. The corners of each pair of stelae are open, inviting entry and providing a passage into the interior. Access is gained through the main entry ramp and by the side stairs and ramps. From Anzac Parade the open corners allow glimpses of the interior, enhancing the desire to stop, walk up the ceremonial ramp, to enter, to contemplate, appreciate and remember.

The interior space is the dramatic centre of the memorial. Here, directly representational images are united with abstract symbolism to convey a series of comprehensive interpretations and memories of the war.

Partially glimpsed from Anzac Parade and growing in size as the visitor walks into the memorial inner space, the larger-than-life sized image on the rear-most stele (Stele C), reproduces in etched polished granite a photographic icon from Australia’s experience of Vietnam. This wall shows a platoon of Australian troops about to board helicopters for their return to Nui Dat.

Granite Wall

Stele B, the northern or right-hand stele is adorned with a series of 33 quotations fixed in stainless steel lettering. The quotations have been selected from the unique operations language developed in Vietnam, from the letters and other writings of service personnel and from other public documents containing ‘typical’ responses to the War. This ‘wall of words’ will enhance the figurative image deepening the recollections of those who were there, and educating those future generations of visitors about the special nature of Vietnam.

To the left of the inner space the inner wall of the southern stele (stele A) is left as plain unadorned concrete and functions as a site of personal contemplation, separate but not divorced from the specific memories recalled by the other walls. In front of this wall and off centre of the entire internal space is the ‘Memorial Stone’ - a monolithic of black granite, which functions in part as an altar, in part as the earthbound component of the contemplative inspirational function. The badges of the three armed services are fixed to the front of the stone. One the top surface of the stone is the inscription:


The Roll of Honour
[Above, left] The Roll of Honour
[Above, right] The Segment of the Circle and the Key
[Below, right] The Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army secures the Roll of Honour in the granite segment
[Photographs Stuart Weller 2 July 1992]
The Segment of the Circle and the Key
The RSM of the Army secure the Roll of Honour
Inspiration finds soaring expression in the ‘roof’ of the memorial space. Seven metres above the podium floor, suspended from the internal walls of the three stelae is a ring made from 24 sawn black granite segments each supported by three suspending cables. Sealed within one of the segments (it is marked with a simple cross), is a scroll upon which have been inscribed the names of the dead. The whole array forms a beautiful cat’s cradle of wires, granite segments and transparent but substantial shifting patterns of light and shadow. In this the designers felt that the ring’s ‘seemingly disembodied earthliness’ would recall ‘the sacrifices made by the individuals who fought and dies’ and yet in its inspirational form would effect a transcendence of the past, a denial of simple mortality.


(Adapted from Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial Commemorative Booklet 1992)

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In May 1988 the Federal Government announced its support for the project. In August 1988 the first official Vietnam Veterans’ Day was held. In September, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Ben Humphries, launched two television commercials designed to encourage donations and handed over a cheque for $12,500. Subsequent support from the Federal Government brought this to $250,000. However the bulk of the funds cam from public donation, together with some corporate sponsorship. The final cost for the memorial was just over $1.2 million.

A site was allocated on Anzac Avenue opposite the RAAF Memorial, and a judging panel established. The steering committee drew up a set of criteria for the memorial.

After a rigorous selection procedure, the winner of the competition was announced on 3 October 1990, by the then Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke. The chosen design was created by the combined team of Ken Unsworth AM, a very well known and highly regarded sculptor and spatial performance artists, and the architectural firm of Tonkin, Zulaikha and Harford (TZH).

The ground breaking ceremony for the new memorial was conducted by Ben Humphries on 6th September 1991, more than one year before the memorial was completed and dedicated. The dedication ceremony took place on 3rd October 1992, when approximately half of Australia’s Vietnam veterans marched past the new memorial.

Steering Committee as at August 16, 1989

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Mr Peter Poulton AM Chairman, Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial Committee (AVFNMC)
Mr Charles Wright AVFNMC
Mr Trent Keary Secretary, AVFNMC
Mr Michael Grace Director of Architecture, National Capital Planning Committee
Mr Andrew Baird NCPA
Mr Bob Hitchcock Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Mr Bill Mitchell ACT Administration and Secretariat of the AVFNMC

Assessor Panel

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Mr Lindsay Neilson Chairman-Chief Executive, NCPA
Brigadier Colin Kahn, DSO AVFNMC
Ms Colleen Thurgar AVFNMC
Mr Robert Meehan AVFNMC
Mr Arthur Edgar Department of Veterans' Affairs
Ms Jan Brown Sculptor
Mr Lenton Parr Sculptor

[Mr Parr was unable to attend and was replaced by Mr Tony Bishop]


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