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)
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
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
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
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.
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:
CONTAINED WITHIN THE CIRCLE SUSPENDED ABOVE ARE THE
NAMES OF THOSE AUSTRALIANS WHO DIED IN THE VIETNAM WAR 1962-1973
[Above, left] The Roll of Honour
[Above, right] The Segment of the Circle and the
[Below, right] The Regimental Sergeant Major of
the Army secures the Roll of Honour in the granite
[Photographs © Stuart Weller 2 July 1992]
|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
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.
|Mr Peter Poulton AM
Vietnam Forces National Memorial
|Mr Charles Wright
|Mr Trent Keary
|Mr Michael Grace
Architecture, National Capital
|Mr Andrew Baird
|Mr Bob Hitchcock
||Department of Veterans’
|Mr Bill Mitchell
||ACT Administration and
Secretariat of the AVFNMC
|Mr Lindsay Neilson
|Brigadier Colin Kahn,
|Ms Colleen Thurgar
|Mr Robert Meehan
|Mr Arthur Edgar
||Department of Veterans'
|Ms Jan Brown
|Mr Lenton Parr
[Mr Parr was unable to attend and was replaced
by Mr Tony Bishop]