Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Lest we forget

I've made it to Canberra, and I was going to write a post about how it's so empty of people it feels like the Marie Celeste (or that stretch of the A406 on the way to Stoke Newington; those of you who've driven it will know what I mean); how the architecture in the parliamentary zone is as concrete and ugly as the South Bank, but without the latter's looming gravitas; how the best building is the National Portrait Gallery, filled with wooden struts going up the walls that make you feel as though you're in some MC Escher drawing; how the place lacks soul, because it's been constructed rather than allowed to evolve... And all of this is true, but I've just spent the morning at the Australian War Memorial, and feel too sombre to be a smartarse.

It's a combination of the Imperial War Museum and the Cenotaph, standing at the top of a hill running up from the centre of the city, a broad boulevard flanked by memorials to the Korean, Vietnam, First and Second World Wars. Inside there's a series of exhibition halls telling Australia's wartime history, with dioramas and paintings, photographs and personal effects... There are even recordings of former prisoners of war in the Pacific, which are incredibly moving - more than once I was wiping a tear from my eye. As I was, of course, over the exhibits on Gallipolli. It's all been done so well - it's dignified, and moving, and educational, all at once. And then you come outside into the searing heat (it's 35C today) and the dry smell of the eucalyptus, with no one around except in cars, and it becomes something you'll never forget.

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