War memorials as a symbol of commemoration in Australia


Australians tend to gather around memorials on special days of commemoration, like Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Memorials can come in all shapes and sizes, from the huge Australian War Memorial in Canberra to smaller cenotaphs, obelisks and walls in towns around Australia. You'll usually find the names of wars, conflicts or peacekeeping operations on a memorial. Sometimes they list the names of people who served or who died as a result of their service.

History of its symbolism

Memorials provide a place for people to gather and remember those who served from their local community, region, state or country.

War memorials are not really a new concept. In ancient times, the Romans celebrated military success with large stone monuments. However, these rarely displayed the names of soldiers. They usually promoted the military conquests and victories of emperors and other leaders.

After both the Second South African (Boer) War and World War I, the idea of building a monument to commemorate local people who had served became popular in Australian towns. Many communities spent years raising the funds to build lasting memorials to the war dead.

You'll usually find the names of wars, conflicts or peacekeeping operations on a memorial. Sometimes they list also the names of people who served or died during a war.

Memorial in Ipswich with wreath and Australian flag placed at the bottom of it

Locals gather at a memorial honouring people of Ipswich, Queensland, who served in the First World War, unveiled in December 1917. [AWM H17698]

What it means to us today

Community war memorials come in many forms:

  • avenues of honour
  • benches in parks
  • gardens
  • halls and other buildings
  • honour boards
  • memorial walls
  • obelisks
  • plaques
  • statues
  • swimming pools

Some memorials commemorate individual veterans who have served. Many memorials focus on a particular war or conflict, or the role played by a specific group of veterans, such as the Australian Light Horse.

A large stone memorial
A memorial obelisk in South Perth dedicated to all those who served Australia in wars and conflicts, Remembrance Day 2019

Engage more with this topic

Watch our 1-minute video, which supports learning in the Here They Come big book for primary school students.

This video focuses on war memorials. Memorials record the names of veterans who served or died during a war. Memorials have become a place where communities often gather for commemorative services on special days, such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. The video is part of a series developed to support our Here They Come—A Day to Remember picture book and animated video, designed for lower primary school students. 

Many schools have permanent war memorials. These are often honour boards or memorial gardens. Does your local school or community hall have a memorial?

Do a tour or a virtual tour

We are lucky to have so many significant military museums and war memorials here in Australia and overseas. Many of them also provide a digital experience so more people can reflect on the impact of wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations on all Australians.

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra offers tours for school groups. These tours help students and teachers to learn about the Australian experience of war and its impact on Australian society.

If you're unable to attend in person, you can try a virtual excursion.

Design your own memorial

War memorials help us to commemorate. In this activity, you can get creative and design your own memorial.

Use a cardboard box as the base of your memorial. You may like to add other shapes to your box or cut parts out of your box. Decorate your box with words, colours, symbols or pictures.

Before you get started, plan your memorial by answering the following questions:

  1. Who will your memorial commemorate?
  2. What symbols will you include on the memorial, and why?
  3. What will you inscribe on the memorial?
  4. What colours will be used on the memorial, and why?
  5. Will each side of the memorial be the same? How will they differ?
  6. Where would you display the memorial if it were to be built?

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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), War memorials as a symbol of commemoration in Australia, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 30 November 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/commemoration/symbols/war-memorials
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