At the Shrine

By Nicolette Freeman

This short work, shot at the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance in 2009, is part of a larger omnibus film entitled How The World Is Made by Nicolette Freeman, Head of the Film and Television School at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), the University of Melbourne.


>> (0:26) WOMAN 1: My husband and I have always come to Anzac Day, the Dawn Service, and we've always found that extraordinarily moving. It's moving, watching the sun emerge, and the sky change, and this building against the skyline……So it holds those connections of war which are never ever happy….

>> (0:44) MAN 1: It, at that time, it was the only physical connection for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War. And of course they are all buried overseas….

>> (0:53) WOMAN 2: We had a very small population. And if it wasn't your grandfather, or your father, your brother, or your uncle, it was the man across the road, or the next door neighbour. And so the people needed somewhere to come and remember those that they had lost – so they queued for hours to give their money to build this beautiful Shrine…(1:17)

>> (0:59) WOMAN 1: I was born three weeks after my father's oldest brother who was killed, was killed in Alexandria, and so my middle name is Alexandria…and I was told stories of how my grandmother and my aunts were taken out of the church in East Kew, and were told that there was a telegram for them…and they were taken out during a church service, and shown this telegram saying that Phillip had died…and so yes, we’re brought up with these stories, and then of course there are all those underlying connections about war – the fact that my father would never, ever talk about it, and yet there was this sadness in the family about Uncle Phillip, who my mother had actually first gone out with before she met my father. (1:48)

>> (1:24) MAN 1: Unlike today, descendants, wives, sisters, and family couldn’t readily visit the graves of those that fell in the battlefields of France and Turkey

>> (1:50) MAN 2: Its a place for so many of those folk, where you can go and remember, think. Their grave might be on the other side of the earth. Their mortal bones. Their remains might be inaccessible, but that place is the place where they can go to remember that….

>> (2:08) WOMAN 1: And some of these kids were 15, 16 and 17, and they went thinking it was the greatest adventure. They didn't even know what overseas meant. They came from farms and everything all over the country, and of course they were never seen again. I mean its extraordinary to envisage it…

>> (2:24) MAN 3: The shrine acts a bit like a reminder of a set of values from which most people in society have moved on, and I think to me its a reminder of transcendental values – values which go beyond the material culture in which we are all constantly immersed.

>> (2:27) WOMAN 1: The whole understanding of death makes life more valuable, and I think that’s what they’re getting from it – that these young people died, and that they’ve got the opportunity of living (2:47)

>> (4:02) WOMAN 1: It sits on a hill, and interestingly enough, once you've been inside the Shrine and seen it, it's a man-made hill. And it was deliberately done so that it could be seen right down Swanston Street, and of course St Kilda Road…..

>> (4:16) MAN 4: I find it very hard to describe the building. It's like a Greek temple up on the hill, being the monarch of all I survey. I just sort of look at it as being almost divine

>> (4:32) WOMAN 1: …rise up and cut in and are going heavenward. And then of course you walked up a vast number of stairs to reach it, and that is indeed another humbling thing. There is something bigger than the individual about it.

>> (4:48) MAN 4: I was 22 when I joined up, yeah, I'd be 23 then. ….But I think that entrance that’s in blood red, I think maybe its the blood of those men who died that they are trying to represent there

>> (4:32) WOMAN 1: And even as you enter into the entry courtyard with, 'Lest we forget', in blood red on the walls, you know immediately you're in a sacred place.

>> (5:38) MAN 5: This area, we call the Sanctuary. It's a place for peace, for reflection, to remember, and put your own thoughts into what you feel when the light crosses the stone. We have people sometimes stand here and they cry…

>> (5:50) MAN 4: You know that they have a shaft of light shine through the building and onto the crypt, and shine it on ‘ Love Hath’ on ‘ Greater Love hath No Man’ ... But that only happens on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But they do have a reconstruction of that light shining through and to me, it was just so appealing to see that light. It wasn't the real light, but it was a reconstruction of it, and I thought it was just wonderful to see it. And you know on that crypt, you have to … it's below level, and you have to bow your head to read it. (6:31)

>> (6:30) WOMAN 2: And the rest of that verse is, "Greater love has no man that he would give us his life for his friend." And that's what a lot of the Diggers did, didn't they? They gave up their life for their mate that was fighting and next door to them….So do you think it's rather lovely?

>> (6:44) MAN 4: I seem to… I don't quite know how to describe it, but I feel that I'm lifted into another plane,…I feel as though I'm not there, but I'm looking down. I'm there, but I'm sort of not there. I'm just sort of looking down, and think about all those men who have given their lives. Yes it is. It's a place of very quiet reflection. (7:19)

>> (7:20) MAN 5: Now, you all heard of Changi? Anybody haven't heard of Changi? You should know about it.

>> (7:28) MAN 4: There was still a few of us with still a bit of beef on us. And the Japanese called us 'the good-looking boys'. Not because we were handsome, but because we had a good bit of work left in us.

>> (7:39) MAN 5: In Ballarat, there’s a monument to prisoners of war. This flag was captured by the Australian army, and kept in Changi prison through the war away from the Japanese. And it was hidden from them by passing it around to different people, and they would hide it in different places so that if they got wind of it, and went there, they wouldn’t find it…its got signatures of some of the people who were prisoners, and three of those people were here the day it was presented to the Shrine…(8:12)

>> (7:44) MAN 4: By now Japan was being very heavily bombed. They were flying in from China and their flight path was right above our camp - the coal mining camp called Ohama. Anyway, this morning, Burt was standing between the two doors, and the most beautiful, brilliant white light appeared, and it seemed to flow in like stage smoke - met Burt's body, rolled up his body, met at the top of his head, and formed a silver halo. My first thought, was "We've had a direct hit, and we're dead," because there's Burt with his halo. And I was always taught at Sunday school that if you saw this bright light, you're in heaven. Burt wasn't a very handsome man, but his face looked beautiful. I thought he was an angel. Then all at once, the vision faded. So we walked outside the eastern door, and we were hit by a wave of hot air. Then we looked up, and just emerging above the horizon was this odd-looking, mushroom–shaped cloud. It was a new type of bomb the Americans had just dropped on the nearby city of Hiroshima. (9:06)

Read next: Centenary Lectures

Read more Anzac stories

Want to get notified about updates? Subscribe
Subscribe for updates

The information on this form is being collected by the University of Melbourne for further communication regarding various courses, programs and events at the University in which you have expressed interest. Information collected will only be used by authorised staff for the purpose for which it was collected and will be protected against unauthorized access and use. You can access any personal information the University holds about you. Contact the Privacy Officer to find out more. The University’s Privacy Policy is available online.