Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Anzac Square analysis

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Analysis of Anzac Square

In this essay I am going to apply the analytical concepts of Text and Culture to the war memorial of Anzac Square in Brisbane. In doing this I would like to depict the representative qualities of the Square itself and the various memorials within it, and the landscape of the Square and its surroundings. I will analyse what it is they symbolize and signify, and the signs and features that achieve these representations.

I would like to start by looking at the landscape of Anzac Square- not only of the Square itself but also of the immediate surrounding area. It is situated in Brisbane’s Central Business District, so the circum-textual framework of Anzac Square consists of high- rise buildings and the hustle and bustle of busy city life. It s directly opposite Central Station on Ann Street, so many commuters pass by it. The significance of this is that the park is visible to many people, who while going about their busy lives should be reminded that what they are doing is made possible by the sacrifice of those soldiers commemorated at Anzac Square. It is also a small area of peace and tranquility set in the hectic framework of city life. The contrast between the peace and the surrounding hustle is a poignant sign of the sadness of the loss of life of the men and women soldiers.

The built landscape of Anzac Square materializes the memory of these soldiers. Thus we can say it is a landscape of memory, immortalizing the bravery and sacrifice of Australian troops. It is also a landscape of sorrow, because it is in effect representing the deaths of many people. The landscape offers these elements to the public, allowing them to consume the various meanings in what way they will. Thus Anzac Square operates as an important landscape of consumption, allowing visitors to consume not only the statistical information of Australian battles, but also the emotional side of it- the sorrow, the memory. If we look at the built landscape one can see that both sides of the square perfectly mirror each other. This is to signify that this a place for reflection, for deep thought on what is being represented (

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Let’s look at some more important representations in Anzac Square, in particular how the concepts of metaphor and metonymy work amongst the memorials. Throughout the square there are numerous statues portraying scenes from battles Australians have been involved in. Each statue speaks metonymically for the similar scenes that took place in the wars. For example in the memorial for the Vietnam War there is a statue of an Australian soldier directing a chopper towards his wounded mate. This was a war fought largely by helicopter, so it is an apt metonymical representation of the whole war. The statues also speak metaphorically, because each statue represents the whole of the commemorated battle, not just the particular or similar scenes. Thus the statues are metaphors for the wars.

There are many other symbolic representations in Anzac Square. It is formally planned; so much of what is symbolized is intended by the architects or architects. The Shrine of Remembrance, perhaps the most striking features of the Square, consists of 18 columns built in a circle to represent the year of peace, 118, when World War 1 ended. In the same vein there are 1 steps leading up to the shrine on the one side, and 18 on the other- again referring to 118. In the middle of the shrine an urn, with a flame that never dies burning out the top, is situated. This urn traditionally denotes life after death, and is there to represent the gratitude of Australians to their servicemen and women ( The Grecian architecture of the shrine metaphorically adds to the historical implications of the Square. Its old style reminds us that the history of war extends far further into history than just the battles commemorated there. So in effect it pays homage to all wars of the past. Other representations exist the three paths that lead up to the shrine in a symmetrical, radial fashion stand for the three armed services of Australia. The palm trees represent Australian successes in the wars in the Middle East- they are also of a variety that in biblical times represented victory.

One of the more touching metonymical representations lies in the Crypt under the shrine. A rifle pushed vertically into the ground with a steel helmet placed on top of it represents the many temporary, makeshift graves of Australians that have fallen in wars around the world. Close to it is the base of the central pillar of the Shrine above. Around this base are boxes containing soil from the cemeteries around the world where Australian soldiers are buried. These metonymically represent all the buried Australians who have died for their country and never been buried at home. The somber, cathedral- like atmosphere created in the tomb adds to the sadness and reverence inspired by these memorials.

The range of representation of Anzac Square and what it means to Australians is greatly enhanced by the memorials’ ability to speak denotatively as well as connotatively. The denotative signs are physically visible to us- the statues of servicemen and women; the plaques bearing the names of those lost in battle; the Shrine of Remembrance. These pay tribute to fallen soldiers, but connotatively they conjure up different feelings- those of sorrow and of loss, and also of gratitude to those who gave their lives. These connotations will be different for different people, for example older people who remember the actual battles taking place will feel a greater sense of loss than a younger person, who may feel a greater sense of gratitude to the fallen. Such connotations are what make Anzac Square special to the individual Australian. They also add to the aura of reverence surrounding the Park. The fact that we are remembering the dead will usually connotate feelings of quiet reverence and thought amongst viewers. This adds to the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere of the Square.

On a similar vein to the above point is the concept of ‘preferred’ and ‘negotiated’ readings. Many of the separate memorials in Anzac Square have distinct preferred readings- the woman tending to the wounded soldier in the World War memorial has a distinct message that illustrates the bravery and usefulness of women in the war. This is enunciated by the insignia of women’s services around its base. The preferred reading is one of admiration and respect for the part women have played in Australian battles. A negotiated reading will arise from someone’s personal interests or beliefs on the matter- for instance if someone does not agree to the concept of women going to war then they will disagree with the scene that is depicted. Thus for different people different readings can be garnered from the memorials.

Preferred readings can be very important in monuments like this in helping to contribute to the Australian ideology on their involvement in wars around the globe. Many Australians were probably not even aware of their country’s involvement in some of the battles shown, for instance the Boer War, but the memorials create a national identity for them to relate to. They see images of suffering, images of heroism, and constant reminders of sacrifice. The fact that these are Australians being shown gives the nation something they can relate to together- it is an identity they can all associate with.

Strong ideological values underlie this identity. A lot of these have to do with Gallipoli. Australians have a deep sense of pride in their brave soldiers who united and fought the Turks there in the First World War, and Anzac Square is a symbol to that pride. On a local scale it is a centre of pride for Queensland- as many of the monuments are to Queensland soldiers. Perhaps a negotiated reading we can get from this pride is a sense of trust in our armed forces of today. We can see that they have achieved great and brave things in the past, so they will be able to do it again in the future.

So to return to landscapes, we can say that a landscape of identity is created in Anzac Square. This is heightened when we consider the locality of the artists and materials that contributed to it. The steps leading up to the Shrine of Remembrance compose of Queensland granite, and the shrine is made of Helidon sandstone from Queensland. The Shrine itself was built by the Queensland Patriotic Front. The Queensland Women’s War Memorial was designed by a Brisbane sculptor, Daphne Mayo. Examples like these show why Anzac Square is so important to Australian identity.

Perhaps the most stirring piece of text in the whole Square is this message from the Queensland Cameron Highlanders in the Crypt ‘When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.’ In effect these few words sum up the whole representative meaning of Anzac Square- it commemorates those Australians who were willing to pay the ultimate price to ensure following generations could prosper and enjoy peace and happiness. It also ensures we won’t forget- it allows Queensland and Australia to continue forging their identity on the heroics and bravery of these men and women.




• Don Mitchell, 000, Cultural Geography A Critical Introduction, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford

• Chris Healy, 17, From the Ruins of Colonialism History as Social Memory, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne

• Fiona Jean Nicholl, 001, From Diggers to Drag Queens Configuration of Australian National Identity, Pluto Press, Annandale NSW

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