The Australian Hellenic Memorial of Melbourne – a 20-year anniversary remembered

In the beautiful Domain Gardens of Melbourne, a stone’s throw from the Shrine of Remembrance, stands the Australian Hellenic Memorial, the result is testament to hard work and dedication of the Australian Hellenic Memorial Foundation Committee established in 1992.

The visitor who sets on the Memorial for the first time cannot help but be impressed by such an imposing classical achievement reflecting contemporary visual arts. Its construction consists of valuable marble, imported specially for this purpose from Greece. One cannot resist but contemplate the reason for the presence of such a Memorial in this part of the Domain Gardens raising questions about what makes it important, what justifies its existence what what the purpose is of this monument unveiled in 2001.

From 1992, the Australian Hellenic Memorial Foundation embarked on a project to erect a Memorial. It gained support and encouragement from the Victorian RSL, The Shrine of Remembrance and the City of Melbourne. In 1996, a site was chosen for the Memorial in the Domain Gardens near the Shrine of Remembrance. In 1997, a public Art Panel was convened, comprising the Manager of the Urban Design and Architecture Department of the City of Melbourne, a representative of the Victorian Government from the Ministry of Arts, an Academic from the RMIT University, a Curator from the Art Centre and member from the Arts and Heritage.

This public Art Panel selected the proposed Monument suitable for the selected site and a Marquette of the proposed Monument was revealed publicly aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Torrens on Sunday 2ND November 1997, in front of over 200 prominent Greek and Australian dignitaries.
In 1998 Town Planning was lodged and approved, and a Planning Permit was issued for the creation of the monument.

The Australian Hellenic Memorial was finally constructed and unveiled on 2 September 2001 by the former minister for Veteran Affairs Bruce Scott and Major General Christos Tzaferos of the Hellenic Armed Forces in a very unique and moving ceremony hosted by the Department of Veteran Affairs. On the day, the Royal Australian Artillery, the 2/10th Medium Regiment the 2nd/2nd Field Regiment and the Hellenic Presidential Guard presented the Catafalque Party for the Ceremony.

In 2007 the interpretive sign was unveiled and an olive tree was planted next to the Memorial.

The Memorial incorporates four distinct, yet integrated elements:

  • the 12 columns
  • the Crypt
  • the Oikos
    * the Ballot Vase

The 12 Columns mark the memorials boundaries, and each column has two fluted sides and two polished sides, creating a contrast that represents both Greece and Australia.

On approaching the memorial from certain angles, visitors may see either the polished or the fluted sides. The contrasting surfaces give the memorial site the appearance of being two columns in one. In the centre of the memorial is the Crypt. The Crypt contains historically significant documents and objects which, in future, will serve as a record of the events that brought two nations together for one cause.

The Crypt also holds the names of 841 Australians and 1040 New Zealanders who died in the Greek Campaign, and also the 148 Australians that are buried on the Island of Lemnos from WWI.

The Oikos is the focal sculptural element. It was inspired by the Cliffside monasteries of Mount Athos and the temple of Poseidon at Sounio. Significantly, the Oikos is made from two stones. The upper limestone portion came from Crete, while the bluestone base came out of an Australian quarry. This represents Greece supported by Australia.
The Oikos stands on a pavement as if it were the Island of Crete, dropped like a stone in the waters of the Aegean Sea. The Oikos reminds us of two diverse experiences: the pivotal role of Australian forces, especially in Crete and elsewhere in Greece, and the experience of Greek immigrants in Australia.

Through the experiences are extremely different, they represent people from different parts of the world who are identified by life changing events in each other’s distant lands.

The Ballot Vase, decorated with olive and gum tree branches, stands in memory of the events that brought Australians and Greeks together in a battle for justice and liberty.

The Vase is filled with black pebbles, representing the democratic method exercised in ancient Athens where citizens voted on every issue by using a white pebble for ‘yes’ and a black for ‘no. The Vase commemorates the resounding “Όχι” (No) given by Greeks to the Italian invaders in WWII.

The artist for the Memorial was Evangelos Sakaris, but it would not have been possible without the support of many people. It is important to acknowledge the funding that was contributed towards building the Memorial from the Federal and State Governments, the Hellenic Republic, the Greek Orthodox Community Melbourne & Victoria, The Greek Consulate in Melbourne, the Victorian Multicultural Affairs, the Cretan Associations, the Hellenic RSL Sub-Branch, and many other Community Organisations.

Each year, the Australian Hellenic Memorial is visited and used by many Organisations for wreath-laying ceremonies.

Steve Kyritsis OAM is the President of the Australian Hellenic Memorial, Melbourne.