Friday, March 25, 2011

SPRINGBROOK WAR MEMORIAL REVIEWED

There was just astonishment when the new war memorial at Springbrook was first encountered. The monument read almost as a parody of a shrine, seeming to mock the feelings that such places are meant to engender. As can be seen in the photograph, the memorial strives for a strict formality with its axial path leading to a circular place marked by a minute, almost ‘jokey’ obelisk – like a chess piece on the Champs Elysees. The sense of a pious parade promenading along this axis is laughed at by the playground that it passes. Likewise, any possibility of solemn reverie being likely when one is resting on the seat provided near the small entry rocks pretending to be boulders, would be tortured by the scramblings and screams of the children, even potentially, for just the frame for play suggests this outcome. Trying to hide behind the tree will not change this outcome - perhaps it may be aggravated - and shifting to the other seat is no solution as it faces the play area, supervising it. It is not as though the play space can be ignored from any location. It dominates the area, located in a central position in this clearing with the memorial slipped in beside it in a tight squeeze, fitting snugly, rather like the last piece of a jigsaw.
 
The scale of this memorial structure, especially with its relationship to the play area, makes it appear as a model of a memorial, a place for children to enjoy. It is this ambivalence that tests the integrity of this place with what can be experienced as a mock sincerity. While this is an emotional worry, there are practical issues to be concerned about. How does one declare the memorial a special place for remembrance and reflection when it occupies the same place as the play area – its juxtaposed twin? The memorial could easily be seen as an extension of the play equipment. It will certainly be seen as something to play on. This raises other concerns. As the photograph shows, the play equipment has a special soft fall area, with equipment detailed for the safety of little fingers, fine legs and gleeful faces all distracted by fun and forgetful about caution. With the attraction of nearby ledges, piers, steps and the tiny obelisk, the concrete, stone and metal memorial can easily be seen as a play space – ring a-ring o’ roses?; but it has none of the safety features necessary for such a purpose. What latent threats lie ready to trap a child?

So there is a twin concern: the mock, almost mocking sense of this memorial and its adjacency to a play space, with each concern generating further anxieties. It appears that there has been little attention given to these matters, while that given to the decorative illustrations on the panels surrounding the mini-obelisk seems to have been exuberantly excessive. It is a shame that so much money and effort has gone into making this place where the possibility of mystery and quiet awe is diminished by the trauma of raucous play - even as a ghosted presence – and the decorative exuberance of the illustrations.

One is left wondering: do proposals for memorials ever get reviewed prior to their construction? If the argument for this memorial is that it will give Springbrook a place for the Anzac Day march to congregate, then one has to express concern about whether the crowd (even a small one) could ever assemble in this place with some simple dignity and functional comfort for any ceremony, without the play space causing a problem, either just by being there or being used. The ground on the opposite side of the path falls away fairly steeply, making any assembly an awkward lopsided affair with a bias to the playground. Indeed, it is the sense of honest and dignified ceremony at this now cluttered forested clearing that is missing. The pieces are there, trying to look like a memorial, complete with most of the popular clich├ęs, when the eye is constantly engaged in the distraction of the colourful, and what could be seen as more interesting play equipment. One shudders to think of the possibility of this place encouraging children to participate in war games. There are enough clues in the decorative cutouts to stimulate such an interest, and the proximity to the playground suggests that such an interaction might be very likely.

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