The Australian Hellenic Memorial has been built with the support of the Australian, Hellenic and Victorian governments to symbolise the respect and love of Greek Australians towards the Anzac children who remain forever under Greek soil. Hence, the result of the Australian Hellenic Memorial Foundation committee’s hard work and dedication since 1992 stands beside the Shrine of Remembrance.
“They shall grow not
grow old as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
“It stands for the mutual faith and dedication of Greeks and Australians to the ideals of democracy and freedom as well as the bonds of blood and friendship developed on the battle fields,” says Steve Kyritsis OAM, president of the Australian Hellenic Memorial Committee in Melbourne.
“The artefact aims to teach future generations the importance of cooperation and mutual respect of the two countries.”
For the sixth year in a row, the Memorial Committee is holding a student competition, open to all 125 schools in Victoria where the Greek language is taught. The visitor who sets eyes on the memorial for the first time is very impressed by such an imposing classical achievement reflecting contemporary visual arts. Commemorations at the Australian Hellenic Memorial are held every year, such as the Greek National Day (25th March), Anzac Day, the Battle of Crete in May, the Pontian Genocide, the Cypriot Community in July, October 28 OXI Day and Remembrance Day in November.
“Last year, 400 students participated in the competition, at the cost of over $4,000, supported by the Consulate General of Greece, through the office of the Consul Educational Affairs,” Mr Kyritsis says.
“The memorial not only reflects the history of the Anzacs and Greeks but also justifies the ongoing efforts of Australian Hellenes to honour the two countries’ connections.”
From 1992 the Australian Hellenic Memorial Foundation embarked on a project to erect a memorial. It gained support and encouragement from the Victorian RSL, the Shrine of Remembrance and the City of Melbourne.
In 1996 a site was chosen for the memorial in the Domain Gardens near the Shrine of Remembrance, and in 1997 a Public Art Panel was convened comprising the manager of the Urban Design and Architecture Department of the City of Melbourne, a representative of the Victorian government from the Ministry of Arts, an academic from RMIT University, a curator from the Art Centre and a member from Community Arts and Heritage. This Public Art Panel selected the proposed monument suitable for the selected site and a marquette was revealed publicly aboard the HMAS Torrens. In 1998 town planning was approved and a planning permit was issued. The Australian Hellenic Memorial was constructed and unveiled in 2001. Fundraising and awareness continued and in 2007 the interpretive sign was presented and an olive tree was planted.
“Its construction consists of valuable marble, imported specifically for this purpose from Greece,” Evangelos Sakaris, the artist, explains.
“One cannot help but simply wonder what the reason is for the presence of such a memorial in this part of the Domain Gardens and what makes it so important, what justifies its existence and purpose.”
Its history begins from 1940, when the Australian and British armies were fighting heroically in the deserts of Africa and in the Middle East for the containment of the German threat, whilst Greece was forcing Mussolini’s armies from its soil, marking the first victories of the Allies on the northern frontier.
“These were difficult years for the whole world of course, but challenging in particular for Greece and Australia,” Sakalis adds.
“From a geographical point of view, they are two countries far apart in distance, yet, they stood side by side and gave everything they had, their strength, even their best-regarded children towards the struggle for the protection of freedom and democracy.”
“Greeks and Anzacs fought not only for themselves but for the entire world, since the struggle against Nazism and fascism had become a world matter,” he stresses.
Despite the Greek achievements, everyone knew that the war which was just beginning was destined to last for much longer. Although the Greek victories made things difficult for the Axis by delaying its plans and assisting the Allies to prepare themselves and organise their defence, they were unable to alter the outcome of the Axis invasion. Everyone therefore was expecting that the unsuccessful Italian attack would be followed by a new and more vigorous attack from the Germans, hence Greece needed to be assisted in order to resist for as long as possible. The period of time for the Allied troops in Greece to take up their defensive positions to prepare for the German attack was short. Similarly, the time given to their preparation was also insufficient, with the result being that as soon as the bombing and attacks by the German forces began, the soldiers were forced to retreat under very difficult conditions. Apart from the obstacles to be dealt with in an unfamiliar area, they also had to cope with the daily bombing of Russia, which changed the outcome of the war. Britain, which up until December 1940 was bearing the greatest part of responsibility for this war, proceeded with plans to send troops to Greece to reinforce the Greek war effort – since this was also the common military strategy of the Allies.
The British prime minister, Winston Churchill, raised this matter with Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, requesting the participation of Australia and New Zealand “towards the success of the Greek Campaign”.
“Both countries took part. Australia participated with its 6th Division, formed from volunteers in 1939, which is why the division historically is known as ‘the Thirty-Niners’,” Sakalis continues.
The first divisions of the ANZAC forces reached the Port of Piraeus at the beginning of March 1941 and after a few days’ orientation in Athens, and after making the first acquaintances with their Greek colleagues, they proceeded north in order to take their posts at the foot of Mount Olympus, which was the home of the 12 gods of the antiquity. This is where the artist drew his inspiration from.
The memorial incorporates four distinct, yet integrated elements: the Twelve Columns which mark the memorial’s boundaries, the Crypt, the Oikos and the Ballot Vase. Each of the Twelve Columns has two fluted sides and two polished sides, creating a contrast that represents Greece and Australia.
“On approaching the memorial from certain angles, visitors may see either the polished or the fluted sides,” the artist adds, explaining how “the contrasting surfaces give the memorial site the appearance of being two columns in one”.
“In the centre of the memorial is the Crypt, which contains historically significant documents and objects which, in the future, will serve as a record of the events that brought two nations together for one cause.”
The Oikos is the focal sculptural element. It was inspired by the cliff-side monasteries of Mount Athos and the temple of Poseidon at Sounio. Significantly, the Oikos is made from two stones. The upper limestone portion came from Crete, while the bluestone base came out of an Australian quarry. This represents Greece supported by Australia. The Oikos stands on pavement as if it were the island of Crete dropped like a stone in the waters of the Aegean.
“The Oikos reminds us of two diverse experiences; the pivotal role of Australian forces, especially in Crete and elsewhere in Greece, and the experience of Greek immigrants in Australia,” Sakalis explains.
“Though the experiences are extremely different, they represent people from different parts of the world who are identified by life-changing events in each other’s distant lands.”
The Ballot Vase, decorated with olive and gum tree branches, stands in memory of the events that brought Australians and Greeks together in a battle for justice and liberty.
“The sculpture is filled with black pebbles, representing the democratic method exercised in ancient Athens where citizens voted on every issue by using a white pebble for ‘yes’ and a black for ‘no’.
“This vase commemorates the resounding ‘NO’ given by Greeks to the Italian invaders in World War II, a ‘No’ we must never forget.”
In that historic ‘Oxi’ lies the challenge for the students, who with their works, will have to portray why the Australia Hellenic Memorial for the Second World War was built in Greece.
* Participants can submit drawings or paintings, poems, essays or even interviews with veterans. Students are urged to visit and write features about the memorial situated at Domain Gardens (Burwood Avenue) Melbourne, next to the Shrine of Remembrance. The competition is for all school age groups, and prizes range from $50 to $250 cash. All participants will receive a Certificate of Participation and a badge. Closing date for submissions is Friday 12 September 2015. For any additional information contact 0418 571 800 or 0400 629 597.