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The unknown War Memorial - the politics of remembrance

By David Faber - posted Wednesday, 16 May 2007

An unobtrusive war memorial stands at the heart of the well groomed Lundie Gardens at the western end of Adelaide’s South Terrace. Generally not much attention is paid to this cenotaph. Nor does it seem to have been accorded military honours since the Armistice which brought to a close “the War to End all Wars”. Certainly no ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day observances have been conducted before it in living memory.

Yet a moment’s attention to its three epigraphs immediately suggests that it is unique in the history of the Australian cult of commemoration of our war dead.

The ledge of its abacus bears a dedication to “Australasian Soldiers” inclusive of our Kiwi brethren, and the moulding beneath dates the assault at ANZAC Cove in “the Dardanelles”, the scene of the naval operations with which the Gallipoli landing was so imperfectly combined.


Clearly, as Professor Inglis, historian of our national cult of commemoration of the fallen notes in his Sacred Places, this cenotaph was erected before references to Gallipoli and the expeditionary corps became ritualised. Indeed a plaque fixed to the pedestal of the obelisk records that it was “unveiled by his Excellency the Governor General Sir R. Munro Ferguson, Wattle Day Sept 7th 1915”.

The men were still clinging to their foothold on that faraway peninsula within cooee of Troy, mythical locus of the most classical traditions of our culture concerning the tragedy of war. The following day the Adelaide Register reported His Excellency as declaring that:

“… this initiative had caused Adelaide to be the first city in the Commonwealth to erect a memorial to the landing of the troops on Gallipoli …”

The Wattle Day League, a “ladies auxiliary” in the language of the day, of the Australian Natives’ Association (ANA) planned the cenotaph. Nativist nationalism was nonetheless British to the boot heels advocating Boy Conscription, military preparedness and the rights of property.

Despite being scrupulously loyal to the monarchy, some conservative quarters suspected it of republicanism. The League was intended to promote the wattle as a national floral emblem, and it was historically successful. As recently as the last decade of last century the SA ALP distributed wattle seed as a symbol of nativist patriotism.

Walter Torode, a well known master builder then active in the city [where he built the stock exchange among other edifices] and its southern park side suburbs was the designer and builder of this human scale monument standing about seven feet tall as it was originally designed.


In those days before political correctness “gentlemen” were known to assist “ladies” in their work, advising or even holding office in their associations. We may consider this anomalous, but that would be anachronistic. The ladies’ auxiliary was a feature of the life of many organisations within living memory.

The President and historian of the League was William Sowden, the antisocialist editor of the Adelaide Register. Its editorial line was so virulent that one competitor, the Adelaide edition of Truth, described it as “the official organ of the Tory Party”.

He had founded the League as Vice President of the ANA in 1889, obtaining in that year the approval of the Association’s SA Board for “the formation of a ladies society in conjunction with the ANA”. In March 1890 the SA ANA Conference ratified the formation of the League as “a body of ladies working to advertise the objects of the ANA … to be managed independently ... by a committee of ladies and gentlemen”.

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About the Author

Dr David Faber acts as historian for the Australian Friends of Palestine, Adelaide SA. AFOPA can be reached at

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