Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday 26th March

Today we moved from Crestwood Gardens Motel to the Canberra Motor Village but between times, we visited the Australian War Memorial. This is a vast building, which doesn’t just house all the names of those killed in Australia’s conflicts, but a fascinating history of all those conflicts.

Our first visit was to the Lawrence of Arabia exhibit where there was a talk by one of the curators. Much of the exhibit has been loaned from the Imperial War Museum but some comes from letters, pictures and books that are held at the Australian War Museum. The curator was a young lady whose knowledge was quite impressive although her oration was not so hot! The importance of this exhibit is the relationship between Lawrence and the Arabs and the Australian Light Infantry who fought together against the Turks in the middle east. Fascinating stuff, and some amazing original manuscripts, letters and photographs, as well as the actual arab clothing used by Lawrence in the desert. Among other items, it holds a complete Lancaster aircraft, G for George, which flew bombing missions during WWII, a Spitfire, a Mosquito, a Sea Fury, a German Me109 and a Mig fighter. The main bridge of the HMAS Brisbane was removed when she was decommissioned, and has been re-erected inside, with a sound and light show of two of the missions she took part in. There is a Japanese midget submarine (midget being a relative term as it’s 24m long) made from salvaged parts of 2 of the 3 midget subs that attacked Sydney Harbour in 1942. A life size Iroquois helicopter from the Vietnam war is the centre of a realistic sound and light re-enactment of a mission to re-supply troops on the ground. One of the star exhibits is a long range desert land-rover used by the Australian SAS, called a 150 from the additional AU$150 per day mission allowance paid to them. This particular one ran over a land-mine, and although the crew escaped, it suffered major damage, and was returned to Australia, and presented to the memorial. There are numerous other sound and light shows, all done using original radio transmissions and/or films, with some digital augmentation, of WWII bombing missions; the sub attack on Sydney; the sinking of the German ship Emden by HMAS Sydney (they have the original ship's bell from the Emden, which gives some idea of the damage it received), a bombing attack on Berlin and a battle with North Vietnamese troops in a rubber plantation.

There is so much there, we spent 6 hours and still didn’t see everything. It’s one of the most moving and saddening places I have ever been. It was heartening to see that there is a section devoted to education about how Australians have fought for their country and school groups use this facility daily. There were several groups of various ages there today as well as groups of Australian naval and airforce cadets. We arrived at just after 10.00am and the main car park was already full, and it’s BIG.

Anyone wishing to see more can access the website I could fill pages with what we saw and experienced but it’s not something I can adequately describe. The photographs along the corridors are enough to move you to tears never mind the exhibits.

Tom was delighted to be able to find 2 errors in the displays – both to do with rank braids on uniforms of 2 RAAF officers. He made a note in the “Comments Book” before we left, having had a word with the research staff.

We signed in here at 5.30 and have a very roomy cabin with full cooking facilities. Tom’s managed to post the blog for the last few days, as you will have seen if you’ve been keeping track of us so I’m keeping up my side of the writing. I even have the choice of 4 spare beds (although they are bunks) in a spare room if sleeping next to the “king of snoring” becomes too much. I’ve been able to bake potatoes for the first time on ages to go with our meat and salad and we’re now watching “The Rock” on TV. Tomorrow, we’re off to Parliament so watch this space. Goodnight.

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