Posts Tagged ‘history’

I’ll be a big noise
with all the big boys
– Peter Gabriel, 1986

autumn leaves 1It must be autumn in the Berra. Pedestrians wade through drifts of leaves, or skid down footpaths carpeted with acorns, and the Australian War Memorial has had its warehouse open day.

Big Things In Store is the clever name for the annual opportunity to go and have a look at some of the stuff the AWM has collected but can’t put on permanent display at the main complex where the actual memorial is at the top of ANZAC Parade.

On Sunday we went out to the warehouse at Mitchell. It really is a warehouse, and packed full of big things from concrete floor to soaring ceiling. The open day is popular; even some ten minutes before opening time a hundred or so people were already parked and streaming in for a squiz. If you’re not a former serviceperson or military buff, it can be an odd experience. I had to engage in some rigorous doublethink in order to admire the machinery on display for its design and historical interest and ignore the reality that it’s all built for the singular purpose of large-scale killing and/or causing havoc.

AWM plane 1Once I got my doublethinking cap on, I was very impressed by some of the items they’ve preserved. An actual German V2 rocket. Woah. I had no idea a V2 was so BIG. Its direct inspiration for the space race was evident. The V2 was displayed next to a prototype of another experimental rocket that the Third Reich never got to deploy across the Channel – one of only two such prototypes in the world, apparantly.
AWM plane 12A fully restored Centurion tank, repainted to original specs – who knew that inside all that steel, the bench seats and sections of the floor were still made of wood? All manner of aircraft – a Dakota, a Beaufort, a Canberra Bomber and a M*A*S*H-type helicopter all in a row. Anti-aircraft guns – the engineering differences between the German and Japanese weapons were so great, it was difficult to see that they served the same function. Transports, cannon, radial engines, field kitchens, shells, torpedoes, sea mines, a Salvation Army tea-and-cordial truck, modified farm vehicles turned to combat, ancient portable barbecues, a Singer sewing machine. AWM plane 2My doublethinking cap slipped momentarily when I turned a corner and saw tucked up on a shelf some little tin boats used to land troops on beaches; thoughts of Gallipoli mixed badly with images from the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (an otherwise terrible movie, those opening scenes still give me the horrors). To fight back is sometimes necessary, but war is a dirty business, and it’s good to remember that at both ends of all these machines – the pointing ends and the pointy ends – there are real human beings.

hand-made noticeSome of the items showed the social history of combat and service, and they spoke of a culture in which teamwork and getting on with the job were paramount. No doubt the ability to pull together meant the difference between life and death in combat. There’s both harshness and humour evident in those unofficial communications.

It was a family day for Berrans, and folk of all ages were out. A fellow helped his elderly dad out of a car and into the warehouse. A bloke talked to his friend about using ‘one of those’ in Vietnam. A father explained all the machines to his two little girls and took photos of them posing seriously before impressive items; on one hand it seemed inappropriate, but on the other hand the man evidently had only daughters, and he treated them just as he would have his sons. Food for thought.

a very disconcerting notice

a very disconcerting notice

Out the back there was the inevitable sausage sizzle, but the line there was even larger than that for the Centurion, so we passed.


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