Friday, 7 October 2016

The National ANZAC Centre, Albany, Western Australia

National ANZAC Centre Albany
Perched on a cliff, high above Albany, the National ANZAC Centre looks out across King George Sound toward the Great Southern Ocean. In 1914 in response to the outbreak of World War I, Australia raised a new army -  the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). At the time Australia as a nation was little more than a decade old. The AIF was joined by a force from New Zealand and together they became known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs). For the 41,265 men of the First and Second ANZAC Convoys, the coast of Albany was their last sight of Australia. 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders perished in the war at a time when the two countries had a combined population of just 6 million people - every Australian soldier was a volunteer. The National ANZAC Centre is dedicated to telling the stories of the men and women of the First and Second convoys and the stories of the ANZACS who followed them. David's great uncle was among the Australian dead.

ANZAC day is commemorated each year on 25 April, the anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli Peninsula. The Gallipoli campaign against Turkish forces was the first major military action by the ANZACs in World War I.  ANZAC day has become a day of services, marches, wreath laying, remembrance and honour.

ANZACs marching at the National ANZAC Centre
I took this still shot of a moving image as we entered the centre. It showed column after column of ANZACs marching to war.

David and I visited the National ANZAC Centre on a grey, overcast and windy day, somehow fitting for the gate-keeper museum of such a terrible waste of lives. The National ANZAC Centre focuses on telling the stories of those who took part in the war in their own words and through their personal and official records.  As we entered, we were each given a small audio device and a card with a name and a photograph. The audio devices accessed a myriad of recordings including letters home, diary excerpts, official reports and other communications. A QR code on the reverse of the cards operated displays throughout the centre recording the personal war history of the person named on the card. By connecting visitors with an individual and encouraging us to follow their path through the war, the centre brought a personal dimension to the men and women who took part in the conflict.

Not all the cards related to ANZAC soldiers. There is a recognition of the sacrifice and tragedy suffered by those on both sides of the conflict. One card, for example, told the story of Sefik Bey, a Lieutenant Colonel with the 5th Ottoman (Turkish) Army, another of Olive Haynes, a sister with the Australian Army Nursing Service, while another told the story of Ernst Junger, a private with the Imperial German Army.


Audio device and QR code card at the National ANZAC Centre
The audio device and QR code card we given at the entrance - the QR code is on the reverse side of the card.
My ANZAC was Lieutenant Joseph 'Eric' Percy of the 16th Battalion. Percy was born in South Australia, grew up in Perth and joined the AIF when he was 23 years old. He left Australia with the First Convoy on 31 October 1914. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was wounded the same day. He recovered to rejoin the fighting in France. Despite being wounded several times, Percy survived the war and returned to Australia in 1919. He died on 27 September 1969 aged 77.

Lieutenant Percy National ANZAC Centre
The QR code allowed me to access Lieutenant Percy's individual records

David and I spent about two hours inside the centre. Although as museums go the centre is not large, if you try to read, watch and listen to everything you could easily spend days there.


David's reflections on the ANZAC Centre - 

The ANZAC centre concentrates on the two principal campaigns that the Australian and New Zealand forces fought in - Gallipoli in Turkey 1915 and the Western Front in France and Belgium 1916-1918. It gives the statistics on the horrific loss of life for minuscule gains in the offensives in 1916 and 1917. It has photographs showing the mud in the trenches and desolate countryside after incessant artillery shelling for years. No museum can completely bring home to those of us who live in the 21st Century how awful it must have been. There is always the question of why did it happen?

After visiting the Centre, I read an account of life on the Somme in 1916 written by a Lieutenant in the British Army -

'We seem to be here under the constraint of some malevolent idiot. In this sunshine it seems impossible to believe that at any minute we in this trench, and they in that, may be blown to bits by shells fired from guns at invisible distances by hearty fellows who would be quite ready to stand you a drink if you met them face to face. What base, pathetic slaves we are to endure such idiocy! No doubt it's good to fight when indignation and hatred boil up as they did in 1914. But these passions have long since spent themselves. Why are we fighting still? We are compelled. We have endowed machinery with the power once confined to a man's right arm, and now the machine continues to function long after our natural impulses have spent themselves. That's what makes this war so ghastly. It is machine-made. Even our opinion is machine-made by a press suborned with fear, and we who do the fighting have no say in when the fight shall cease. Man seems to have become the slave of his own power of organisation. If all the machinery of war were now suddenly taken from our hands, I am certain the war would stop at once.'

Plowman, Max. SUBALTERN ON THE SOMME (Kindle Locations 2001-2009).  . Kindle Edition.


Men in the trenches National Anzac Centre
In the trenches

Practical Information 

  • Ticket prices - Adult tickets cost $24, concession tickets are $20 and children $10 for the 1st child and $5 thereafter. 
  • Opening hours - The National ANZAC Centre is open every day except Christmas Day. Opening hours are from 9 am to 5 pm with last entry at 4 pm
  • Location - The centre is located in the Albany Heritage Park on Forts Rd, Albany. Click here for directions and a map. Parking is free and plentiful.

My tip
  • Try to visit outside the peak holiday season. One of the shortcomings of the museum is the noise level of the audio devices. While most other visitors kept the volume control low enough not to distract those around them, some of the devices were so loud that it made it difficult to focus on what we were reading or listening to ourselves.

The National ANZAC Centre
Inside the National ANZAC Centre

Nearby Attractions


The Albany Heritage Park has a number of other attractions which are well worth visiting along with the ANZAC Centre. They are all within a short walk and entry is free.

Note: David and I received complimentary entry to the National ANZAC Centre.

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Click on the titles below for other posts from our road trip in Western Australia: - 

34 comments:

  1. Such a fabulous place to reflect on the great wars. We were in Albany during the 100th year celebrations in 2014 and the entire place was set up for the event. The fact that the museum and old garrison is set atop the steep hill makes it all the more spectacular.

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  2. A very sobering experience, to realise just what people went through, and are still going through.

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    1. War memorials and cemeteries are always sad. This one had particular resonance with us because David's great uncle died in the the First World War.

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  3. Like Kathy we also visited the National Anzac centre in 2014 (but not Anzac Day celebrations). The location of the centre is very picturesque and like your visit our day was quite grey, overcast and drizzling which added to the sombre atmosphere. I have enjoyed reading about your take on your visit to our home state and hope we catch up again next visit. Thank you for linking with #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. We loved Western Australia. It is a truly magnificent place.

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  4. Thanks for enlightening us about the National Anzac Centre in Albany. I haven't heard of it before. Great tip about visiting outside the holiday season! Museums and the like are so much more enjoyable when they're not too crowded :)

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    1. The ANZAC centre is not well known. I don't think I had heard of it before we began planning this trip.

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  5. Lyn I learned a great deal reading your post. I humbly admit having heard the term ANZAC many times but did not know what it stood for. Also that having been a country for only 10 years such a significant amount of volunteers came forward. So many lives lost. Such a shame.
    Good tip about going in off season. I cringed at the thought of someone having their headset on so loud that others could be distracted. A little tough on the hearing i would say.

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    1. Hi Sue, About half the readers of my blog are from Canada and the U.S. I included the ANZAC history for them. The ANZAC story is so ingrained in Australia's national psyche that I doubt any Australian (or New Zealander) doesn't know it. One of the saddest things about the ANZACs though is that, like David's great uncle. many of them died young, before they had wives and children. Consequently the fact that they ever lived is only remembered by indirect relatives. I think that puts an obligation on all of us to keep their memory alive at least in some small way. The ANZAC Centre helps to achieve that.

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  6. We spent ANZAC Day in Albany a few years ago and it was a sobering experience. This Centre is quite new, we have done similar type experiences in Europe and have always found them interesting. I look forward to visiting and seeing this centre when we get back to WA.

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    1. You are right, the centre is quite new. It was opened on 1 November 2014. I am sure you will find it interesting if you ever visit.

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  7. I am looking into places we want to visit on our 2 months in 2017 in Australia. These are considerations - ANZAC and Princess Royal Fortress in Western Australia. I like your recommendation on accommodations at Frazier Suites. I am interested in recommendations for all of Australia and I have read all of your posts on Australia. Any other recommendations are welcome. Thanks!

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    1. Two months should give you enough time to really see Australia. It is a big country. If you are interested in wildlife, I would definitely try to fit in The Great Ocean Road. If you look in the right places you will see koalas. To find my blog post on it click on the tab 'Australia & New Zealand' and then 'Victoria'. It is only a small place but I love Raymond Island for the same reason. You can't not see koalas there, they are everywhere. I have done two posts on Raymond Island which you will also find under 'Victoria'. If you decide to go to Raymond Island you will have to go through Paynesville. If you look at my Paynesville post I tell you where to find kangaroos. I would definitely go to Canberra. It is an under-rated destination but quite interesting and quite pretty around the lake. Tidbinbilla nature reserve is a good place to see kangaroos in the late afternoons and if you want to see a platypus it is definitely the place to go. You will find my post under 'A.C.T'. Queensland is stunning - Cairns is a great place but don't go in summer - it is very tropical. Lizard Island is fantastic - but hideously expensive and you have to be comfortable with flying over water in a small plane for an hour or so to get there. It is the best place I have been for snorkelling, although I have heard Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is stunning.

      The Red Centre is a personal favourite of mine but again don't go in summer and don't just see Ayres Rock. Kings Canyon and the Olgas are close by and, in my view, better than the rock. I am in the process of hassling David to go back there - lol!

      If you want a nice hotel in Melbourne, my personal favourite is the Hilton South Wharf. Ask for a high floor overlooking the river.

      Feel free to send me an email if you want any specific advice. I am sure you will love Australia.

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  8. I took a special interest in your article about Albany because the town next door to mine in California is also Albany. Maybe I'll be able to visit the Australian Albany someday. Meanwhile, this was an interesting introduction to the National ANZAC Centre there.

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    1. Funny you should say that because every time I googled Albany I kept coming up with U.S. towns of the same name, although I think the main one was in New York.

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  9. The National ANZAC Centre looks like a very interesting place! Thx for sharing it with us, Lyn.

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  10. 've never taken the time before to figure out where ANZAC came from, so I've learned much from your post. What an amazing tribute to those who sacrificed so much for all of us in the world!

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    1. I am glad you learned a bit about the ANZACs. I included the explanation for international readers, such as yourselves, knowing that the history of the ANZACs is probably not well known outside Australia and New Zealand.

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  11. Canadians share similar history re. the wars. All of our soldiers were volunteers as well. My Dad (93 next week), and his 3 brothers all served in WW11. I wonder how my poor grandmother survived with the four of them overseas at the same time. All of the troops left Canada by ship through Halifax, and I have stood on the spot where my Dad and his brothers would have departed from. It's a strange feeling. Thanks for the interesting post!

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    1. David and I have been to Halifax. I remember learning about and then reading a book on the Halifax explosion. It occurred in WWI and was the most devastating man-made explosion before the atomic bomb. It is a sad and compelling story. It killed more than 1,800 people and injured 9,000.

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  12. This is somewhere I've yet to visit and it's on our list for the next time we're down in Albany. Your post makes it very appealing, and also poignant, which it is. Such tragedy. Needs to be remembered and laudated.

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    1. It has only been open for a few years so I guess there are a lot of Westralians who haven't got there yet.

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  13. What a wonderful monument to those who have fallen~

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    1. It was a tragic time in Australia's history as it was for so many other countries on both sides of the conflict.

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  14. Lyn, We visited Gallipoli a couple of years ago, and I had read up on ANZAC before that. We really enjoyed the memorial and cemetery, but of course we didn't have a personal connection like you did. I'm glad your ancestor made it to 77!

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    1. Hi Corrinne, sadly, it was David's ancestor and he died in France during the war.

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  15. Such an interesting article. I enjoy history, museums and memorials when they are done right and this one was!

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    1. The centre is only a few years old so it has the advantage of modern design and ideas on how to present its material.

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  16. I have yet to visit a museum where one follows the life of one person through the various exhibits and I think it is a brillant idea, which must have made the tour even more interesting. I gather from your comments that the audio devices did not come with earphones but were on speakers, which seems unusual. Thanks for a very interesting article!

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    1. Following a real person through the events detailed in the centre gave the exhibits a personal dimension which you don't usually get at museums. The centre was only built a few years ago allowing it to use uptodate technology without having to back engineer anything. Most people were quite considerate of others when they were using the audio devices but not everyone has brilliant hearing and so sometimes the devices were too loud for the surroundings - and one couple were just plain rude.

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  17. This looks like an enlightening and educational experience to visit such an important museum. I was aware of what ANZAC was after visiting ANZAC Square in Brisbane. I really like how this museum took on a very personal tone with giving each visitor more information about real people.

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    1. I am not normally a 'museum person.' David spends far too long reading every caption and I find I get to the end way before him, but this museum was an exception.

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