New Boer War Memorial captures the emergence of mateship and heroism amidst the harsh conditions and suffering of war
The Governor General has opened Canberra’s new National Boer War Memorial at a ceremony held at Anzac Parade on 31 May 2017. Designed by GroupGSA in conjunction with public artist Jane Cavanough and Sculptures created by Louis Laumen, the memorial commemorates the nearly 23,000 adventurous young Australian men, 60 nurses and 40,000 horses who answered Britain’s call to fight the South African Boers in 1899 – and forged a new national identity.
The $3.5 m project saw GroupGSA deliver a concept design, design documentation, undertake design management and a construction review for the new memorial after winning an international competition for the project. Careful consideration was given to developing the sculpture ‘setting’ to the quality and distinction required for the project and with respect to the national significance of the Memorial Avenue.
The memorial design creates a unique space on Anzac Parade, establishing a landscape that echoes both the Australian outback and the South Africa veldt, where the war was fought. The undulating landform, red gravel, stone shards and semiarid plants evoke both the veldt and the outback, while the canopy of eucalyptus brings a distinctly Australian character to the space.
The folding landscape framed by copper walling invites visitors to engage and reflect on a specific moment in Australian history as four bronze light horsemen sculptures gallop across the memorial, representing the first emergence of Australia’s bushman folk hero: an independent and resourceful Australian acclimatised to a tough existence on the land.
The sculptural depiction of both the riders and horses draw attention to the harshness of the conditions in South Africa and the suffering in times of war. The mounted infantry are represented as a four-man section in action – a formation for fighting and patrolling that was established during the Boer War.
When the group went into combat, three men would dismount to fight as infantry, while the fourth would lead the horses to cover. This display of interaction and observation is reflected in the placement of the horses in the landform.
Forged-copper walls define the internal and external memorial spaces, guiding visitors through an experiential journey and providing a tactile backdrop for the sculptures, a place for interpretation and an opportunity for wreath placements around and on top of the wall and single poppies up and down holes in the panel edges.
The commemorative wall fronting the site is a composite of separate panels paying tribute to the Australian colonies. “On the Trek,” a poem by Boer war correspondent and Australian icon, Banjo Paterson features on the front wall, while further primary and secondary war accounts are located along the top of the front wall, including a series of etched bronze diaries describing the soldier’s trek through the landscape.
View project: Boer War Memorial
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Photos by: Ben Wrigley
Artist Jane Cavanough
Sculptures by: Louis Laumen