05 May 2009

Melbourne's Shrine and the Great Depression

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, located in in Kings Domain along­side St Kilda Road, is one of our largest war memorials. The city did indeed need a monument built to the memory of those who served and died in World War I, but its timing and funding are as interesting as its purpose. In a serious recession, architectural and infrastructure projects can save workers from unemployment, and can create valuable and much needed facilities for the city.

Shrine, classical style

Designed by ex-servicemen architects, the Shrine was created in a classical style, as anybody who had seen the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus or the Parthenon in Athens would realise.  Built in grey granite, the open and sombre sanctuary was to be the heart of the building with an ambulatory allowing visitors to circul­ate.


Authorblog noted that when the Shrine was built, the architects were helped by calculations relating to astro­nomy and mathematics. The Sanctuary contains the marble Stone of Remembrance, upon which is engraved the words "Greater love hath no man". The in­tricate design means that a ray of sunlight shines through an ap­ert­ure in the roof on Remembrance Day (exactly at 11 AM, on the 11th day of the 11th month, the moment when when all the guns fell silent), to illuminate the word "love". Beneath the Sanct­uary lies the Crypt, which contains a bronze statue of a father and son and panels listing every unit of the Australian Imperial Force.

Father and Son statue in the Crypt

There was already a proposal to build some sort of shrine at the end of WW1, but it took from 1918 until 1922 to set guidelines; to ann­ounce the competition to architects; to collect and analyse the 83 com­peting plans; and to declare a winner. Five years later Austral­ia’s most famous general, Sir John Monash, was still lobbying for govern­mental and public support for the Shrine. The foundation stone was laid on 11th November 1927, but disaster stuck. A world wide depress­ion led to mass unemployment and failed banks.

Although both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments gave funds, just over half of the cost of the Shrine was raised in a short time by public contributions, with Monash as chief fundraiser. Bowalley Road blog was particularly impressed with the funding. At a time when every penny was precious, Victoria’s impoverished citizens found the necessary money.

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 had certainly slowed construction work. But soon the Depression actually assisted the Shrine's progress; large numbers of unemployed men were hired at barely sustenance wages to work on the project as a form of unemployment relief. Appropriately many of these were ex-servicemen.

After seven years, the Shrine was officially dedicated on 11th Nov 1934 by the Duke of Gloucester. 300,000 people, in a city of only 1 million people, gathered to watch the event. There was a commitment to those crowds that the shrine would always have an unimpeded and uninterrupted view from the city, and that the view would never be marred by buildings along St Kilda Road.

In Lest We Forget, Authorblog also talked about beautiful Legacy gardens that have since been created around the shrine, filled with bright red poppies. This was important both because poppies are the flowers of remembrance and because Melbourne is a garden city. And there is a Turkish pine tree, grown from a seed of the original Lone Pine from the battleground. For wonderful photos inside and out, see High Riser.

Unimpeded view of the shrine (centre) from the city (in the distance)

We've a serious recession in 2009. We need big infra-structure projects to save workers from unemployment.


John Hopper said...

It looks a little like the famous Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders. I wonder if there was any conscious, or unconscious idea, to incorporate an ancient mausoleum into a modern one.

Viola said...

Thank you for this post, Hels. I've visited the Memorial. It's very impressive and moving.

I agree with you that we need more infrastructure projects. Someone wrote to the paper listing all of the infrastructure projects that were undertaken in Australia in the Thirties - there were a lot of them and they were very big.

Hels said...

John, I never know with war memorials what the population wanted at the time. After all, the parents and siblings of the dead and mained teenage soldiers were still in active grieving.

Perhaps an ancient mausoleum would have been a great model, showing heroism, dignity, sacrifice and family grief. But how would the community have shared in a sense of Australian nationalism, of service to king and country?

Hels said...


nothing compares with the Great Depression, but 2011 is not looking very flash for employment. Steelworkers are being laid off in Victoria and NSW, young unemployed people are rioting in the UK etc.

I have added a link to NixBlog, for a thorough pictorial and text-based exploration of the Shrine.

Intelliblog said...

Thank you for the link and your kind comments about my blog and photos, Hels. The controversy surrounding the building of the Shrine is amazing reading!

Hels said...


I added a reference to an up to date (2013) series of photos inside and outside the shrine. Nothing seems to have been disturbed.