It is difficult to say what motivates someone, or a group of people, to trash an object meant to remind us of the horrors and cost of war. When it happens, it is deeply shocking, almost incomprehensible to the average person, but it can leave scars long after the tribute – in stone, bronze, or perhaps granite – has been repaired. It has happened again in Australia.
At some point during the last few weeks, a beautiful memorial to the Australian soldiers who died in the Vietnam War was virtually ruined by vandals. Why? No one is precisely sure.
It is yet another example of some kind of mute rage that is at work almost everywhere today, perhaps by those feeling powerless and disenfranchised who need to vent their fury somehow.
The memorial, in Melbourne, bore tiles with the names of more than 500 Australian soldiers who perished in the conflict. Government officials and members of the committee who initiated the project were mystified – and outraged – by its destruction. Virtually all the names on the tiles have been badly damaged.
The Sunshine SRL Memorial was conceived last year. Gary Collins is president of the committee that helped bring the project to fruition. “I’ve been involved in the committee from the start, to get this where it is today,” he told ABC News. “I could see all the hard work that’s been put in by people, everyone’s quite proud of the outcome. For something like this to happen…” his voice trailed off, clearly in bewilderment. “I’m quite shocked. I think it’s so sad.”
The Sunshine RSL had been readying to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan. The memorial was first unveiled in December 2017 in the Keven Wheelahan Gardens. In addition to the tiles, the granite wall, which is a significant part of the memorial, has also been badly defaced.
A representative of Brimbank Council called the act of vandalism “shocking and disrespectful.”
The damage was inflicted by someone who took a hammer to the wall and tiles. Mayor Margaret Giudice said: “This senseless vandalism is disrespectful to [the soldiers’] memory, and to our community who rallied to support the creation of this memorial. Public spaces such as this play a significant role in reflecting and telling stories that are important in our history and culture. So to see this kind of vandalism is an insult to our community.”
Unfortunately, video footage of the area has not proven useful in helping police identify the culprits. But they are working to solve the crime, and the RSL and the Vietnamese community are now tasked with repairing the memorial.
This is not the first time a memorial in Australia has been targeted by vandals; nor, in fact, is it the first in Melbourne. Last year, one in Melbourne’s north, at Warrandyte, was ruined by graffiti only 24 hours prior to Anzac Day, an important day on the Australian calendar. Paint was smeared across the plaques commemorating the men who served in both world wars.
Anzac Day, on April 25th each year, is when services are held across Australia and New Zealand to remember those who “served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations,” and to remember the “contributions and suffering of all those who served.”
It is difficult to know why anyone would target a statue that, in essence, thanks those who served for laying their lives on the line and dying for their country. Perhaps, when Melbourne police have the offenders in custody, we will learn their reason. Likely, however, we will never understand it.