Building of the National Memorial Walk

This history of building the RAR National Memorial Walk was written by Margaret Gibbons who with her husband Kiwi Gibbons (The Curator) were part of the group of pioneers who brought the NMW concept into reality. The Regiment is indebted to Margaret and Kiwi for their dedication to “Keeping the Spirit Alive”. In recognition of their contribution to the veterans community both Kiwi and Margaret were awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM)

THE PROJECT

On cessation of hostilities in 1945 the Australian Government made a commitment to contribute Australians to the Commonwealth Occupational Forces in Japan. The 34th Infantry Brigade was raised in Morotai, specifically for this purpose, and consisted of three Infantry Battalions, namely the 65th, 66th and 67th Battalions. In 1948 the 34th Infantry Brigade was designated as the Australian Regiment, with the Battalions becoming the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions, The Australian Regiment. In 1949 Royal assent was given and the Regiment became The Royal Australian Regiment.

The Regiment was deployed to Korea in 1950 at the outbreak of hostilities between North and South Korea, at the request of the United Nations and served there until 1956. For most of the next two decades the Regiment remained committed on active service operations in Malaya, Malaysia, Borneo and South Vietnam. In recent times the Regiment has provided elements for United Nations peace keeping operations, such as Cambodia and Somalia. During service in Australia the Regiment has made a significant contribution to national disaster operations such as cyclones Althea and Tracey.

The Royal Australian Regiment has a proud history of serving Australia in both war and peace.

The Royal Australian Regiment Association commenced building a National Memorial Walk, at Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera, Queensland, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the formation of The Royal Australian Regiment. Many of the Regiment dead are buried overseas in Japan, Korea and Malaysia and relatives and friends are unable to visit the graves of their loved ones. This project will provide a place of solace and focus within Australia for the commemoration of the sacrifices made by the men of the Regiment.

The National Memorial Walk consists of a path 700 metres long flanked by more than 1000 native Australian trees. At the base of selected trees is a plaque bearing the name and details of each of the 685 members of the Regiment who died on overseas service. A commemorative building was erected to provide a place for contemplation and remembrance. The building is for community remembrance activities on Anzac Day, anniversaries of Battle Honours, campaigns and unit birthdays

The Trees

The RAR Memorial Walk, Brisbane

`The idea is to produce a .fitting memorial to the 685 soldiers of The Royal Australian Regiment who died on overseas service during the past .fifty years. The concept of a National Memorial Walk was proposed and this project was adopted by The Royal Australian Regiment A.s.sociation with all battalion associations in support. The site at Gallipoli Barracks. Enoggera was chosen as it was the only site available to the associations which could provide the area needed.

The Memorial takes the form of a grove of Australian native trees with a bitumen path winding through the trees. While all the trees are Australian natives, they have been chosen carefully to provide different habitats reminiscent of that found in particular theatres of war. For example, that section devoted to the fallen from the Korean War will provide a veiy different perspective to the section devoted to the fallen from the South Vietnam conflict. A commemorative plaque for each of the soldiers will be placed at the .foot of selected trees. From ‘Duty First’ Vol. 2. No. 7

These are personal thoughts about the creation of the Royal Australian Regiment National Memorial Walk at Enoggera, which concluded with the dedication by the Governor General of Australia, as part of the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebrations of the Regiment, on Sunday 22 November 1998.

The trees were chosen and donated by Brisbane City Council—with some advice from ‘Greening Australia’.

There were almost 1,000 trees planted on one day—Saturday 9 November 1996. They were planted by members of the RAR Association Queensland Division, members of the Battalion Associations and many wives and family members. Some holes had been dug, but many more were dug on the day.

The ground chosen was appalling! The only preparation was a hole in the ground and some water and a pellet of fertiliser. But the work was all done, and it was assumed that because the trees were natives that they would just grow.

And mostly this is what happened. But then began the battle with weeds. The soil had been disturbed and soon weeds appeared and began to take over. We mowed and poisoned and used whipper snippers for months, and gradually we began to make progress.

The idea was to cover the area with mulch or woodchips and suppress the weeds that way, but we had to find woodchips and mulch, and hope we could get it for nothing. It began to work. We were given `stump-grindings’ and freshly chipped trees from local gardens. Sometimes they were good—others not so good.

Then we were given two huge piles of `stuff that came out of an old rubbish tip. It took ‘The Boys’ weeks of very hard work to clean out the rubbish from what we were given. These were days of horrible dirt and lots of mutterings. But eventually it was done and we went on to another idea for controlling weeds—carpet. I had heard that some people use carpet on farms to stop weeds, so I asked at Carpet Places in Pickering Street Enoggera if there was any old carpet. They gave us heaps and heaps. And as time went by lots of areas amongst the trees were covered in carpet, and then covered in woodchips or mulch.

Trees Planted
The trees were planted on Saturday 9 November 1996
The ground was appalling!
The ground was appalling!

After that it was a matter of spot spraying on a regular basis for weeds. Weeds will always be a problem, although as time passes the grass we have left to cut is getting in better condition, and most times it is cut with a mower and catcher.

And all the time the trees were growing. Ron Organ began to trim the lower branches and after 12 months there were lovely shapes coming on the Brush Box (Lophostemon confertits). None of the workers were familiar with botanical names, so we worked on common names.

We did have to replace some trees. For various reasons—one day we found all the Silky Oak in an area had died. Maybe from too much rain. Another time we lost some from careless spraying. Some areas grew better than others. But we kept on replacing trees with a fresh supply from the Council and others from ‘Men of the Trees’ at the Gap.

Some species too were nicer than others, and we could see it was more pleasant to grow for shape and variety of foliage rather than just gum trees.

There wasn’t a real need to water the trees. We were given access to a water line and so had water to plant new trees, and we used it sometimes for watering in some dry areas.

There will be a continuing problem with water from storm run-off. This year, 1998, has seen a very severe lot of thunder storms and the water races down the slope and washes in several areas. However there is very little we can about this, and we will just have to try and channel the water as best we can.

We have been given lots of medium size stones, and these have been used to line the water-courses.

In the beginning we had a work-party each month, and at times 30-40 people came and worked very hard. They had to cut out old trees, remove lumps of old concrete, pick up stones, cut weeds, spread mulch and sometimes wonder what was eventually going to happen. But they kept coming back with rakes and shovels and crow-bars and wheel-barrows. A few fellows had a truck and they moved rubbish and helped when the chain-saw was used to trim existing trees.

Kiwi had always wanted a ‘Lite’, so one day he saw one for sale at a local garage—out he got, had a drive and the `Lite’ became the work-horse. Week after week it was loaded with mowers and wheel-barrows and tools and taken to ‘the trees’. We borrowed a wheel ­barrow from friends. They were watching the news one night and they saw their wheel-barrow on TV.

Out of the monthly work-parties a group began to come and work during the week. At the beginning of 1998 we knew we really had to work to get things in place.

`Blue’ Parnell made all the little posts to fix the plaques into the ground—he made about 700, and they came in and were stacked about the grounds. They all had to be tidied up and each top was ground-down smooth and given a coat of fine cement. They were all painted green—two coats for each one.

By autumn 1998 most of the trees were growing well. It was a good season, but in mid-1998 we were asked not to use about 150 trees on the high ground. So we had to plant more and this was not so easy. Mature trees are expensive and from a nursery often not good quality.

The Brisbane City Council donated another lot of small trees, and now I hardly know where they are amongst the others. We also bought a number from ‘Men of the Trees’, and a few `unusual’ natives from a local grower. All the time a small group of helpers was developing. They came when they could, worked for a few hours and in the last months these were the people who understood how the plaques were to be placed and how important it was to check on details. The weekend work-parties continued and spread wood-chips and cut grass and carried rubbish. Everyone involved gave their best.

Wives and families came to help.
Wives and families came to help.
The weeds grew
The weeds grew

So much happened after August 1998. The building was commenced and this created a new interest. A work-party from 6 RAR came and dug the holes for the posts to hold the plaques.

The plaques had been made at a local foundry. All are gun-metal. Mick Servos and another group of workers were responsible for this. They had to be meticulous in checking records of names and dates. They set out the order in which the plaques were to be laid in the ground.

The little posts were placed in the ground in September—each one set with concrete, and checked. These were the days of sore knees and aching backs–there are 685 plaques.

And all the time the building was going up, the grass was being cut, the trees were being trimmed, wood-chips were spread and the area raked and really tidied.

Then it was time to put a surface on the path. A contractor came and rolled the ground, spread fine gravel, rolled that and finished it off with bitumen. It took a few days and while this was happening some big machines came to level the area around the building, which was beginning to take shape.

Signs were made to designate RAR operational theatre areas of conflict. These were to be hung on a log frame—there are seven frames. Kiwi put them together at home and they too were put in the around in the last weeks.

The big sign we had erected in April was moved to a place just off the steps near Sadlier Street.

Two large stones were set in place at either end of the walk—both carry a plaque.

In November 1997 the Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer had unveiled a plaque to mark the official opening of the Memorial Walk. This stone is still in place.

All the time ‘The Memorial Walk’ was being developed other groups of people were working for the weekend of 50th Anniversary Celebrations:

Maj Gen. M.P. Blake, AO, MC (Retd.)Chairman
Mr A.F. HandleyPresident, RAR Association (Qld. Div. Inc.)
Mr B. BladeConvener, Fund Raising
Mr R. PerkinsConvenor, Public Relations
Mr B. Smith, OAMConvenor, City March
Mr G. WillmannConvenor, Dinner
Mr A. Willemse J.P.Convenor, Merchandising
Mr K. Ryan, AMConvenor, Dedication
Mr. J. DwyerConvenor, Dedication Catering
Mr. R. SlaterConvenor, Travel & Accommodation
Mr. M. ServosProject Director Memorial Walk
Mr. M. GibbonsCommittee Treasurer
Mr. L. HallCommittee Secretary
Mr. M. HarrisBuilding Supervisor
1997 was very dry
1997 was very dry
The area was covered in woodchips and mulch.
The area was covered in woodchips and mulch.

These people all worked independently, but with wonderful cooperation. And as I am able to write about ‘The Walk’, each one of these men could write the story of what they did.

I did see what Kiwi did as Treasurer.

Donations began to come in quite early in 1997, accounts had to be established to keep this money separate from the usual RAR Association accounts. And as time passed a certificate was produced to be given as recognition of donations that were made. Hundreds of receipts and certificates have been posted to places all over Australia, and overseas.

The RAR Foundation in Canberra helped with many of the donations, processing them and sending on receipts.

Each certificate was typed and printed individually, and this entailed many trips to Helen Flight who did the computer work.

By mid-October 1998 we were all going flat-out. Everything had to be finished, and some of us spent 3-4 days each week at Enoggera. Alf Handley was often there all day waiting for people to come and do little jobs on the building. As well as this he was talking with the other Committee members to ensure the dinner and march and civic reception were coming along on time. There was so much detail to attend to.

We were expecting the Governor General to come to the Dedication, as well as State Governors and many retired Generals. The details of protocol for invitations were attended to by Laurie Hall. The planning for the ceremony rested with Kel Ryan. RSM 6 RAR, Ric Maunder, was busy arranging the ceremonial parts of the Dedication Parade.

Money was always a question. Brian Blade knew how much was needed, but if there was going to be enough to finish the building was another question. The ceiling had to be lined, the toilets were not finished, how much would the pavers cost—and is one lot cheaper than another? But somehow the donations kept coming and the work was paid for—except for the toilets, which will be completed later.

When the engineers had finished, the slope at the front of the building had to be leveled. It was planned to build a rock-wall here, but the cost was beyond budget, so it was leveled and top-dressed and just in the last week sown with grass-seed and sprayed with a sealer. There have been several storms since and some parts are washed a little, but it is on our list of work to do.

By October the little plaques were almost all made and The Boys’ began to fix them into the little posts, which were beside the designated trees. Each one was put in place with a special bonding agent. We hope they are all level! This meant another 685 little bits of detail. Gerry Woodrow read out the names and Ken Cupples or George McGovern or Mal Black or ‘Blue’ Parnell or Kiwi or Ron Woodrow or John Ehrich or Ron Organ checked the details on the plaque.

And when they were all done they went around again and painted the top of each post—everyone was beginning to ache!

It was at this time that ‘something’ began to happen—perhaps I am the only one who noticed then. But the names on the plaques took on almost a personality, as did the trees. Many of the young men who were being remembered with a plaque were known to the people who were working. They had been friends—mates–and they were often able to recall the details of the death. At morning tea tales were told, incidents remembered, and we knew where people were amongst the trees. One morning I watched a group of old Korean veterans who were in the work party. The plaques were all in place and they walked around finding their mates. Each plaque had a story to tell, and what poignant, sad, stories they are.

And this feeling for me is still there. It has affected others too. One night we went and walked through the trees in the moon-light. To be moving about in the trees and find a familiar name on a plaque creates a special ‘something’.

While all this work was going on, and things were falling into place, the only real plan was the architects design drawing. In the early days there was an artist’s impression of what the area may look like, and recently a computer drawing, but the concept was all in thought. And so we made a lot of things just happen as we went along. The group who worked during the week seemed to know what to do, and with very little supervision they just got on with the job.

Work parties came each month
Work parties came each month
Work parties came each month
Work parties came each month

When the building was complete and the power connected people arrived to put up the large central plaque, and others put up the badges and writing. The large RAR badge on the front of the building was given by 8/9 RAR, because they have now been taken off the Order of Battle. A memorial stone from 8/9 RAR was also placed, and overlooks part of the South Vietnam area. The flagpole was put in place.

Things were looking good—but we had the first big storm of the season. Several trees were down and some others needed attention. The ground was very soft but the rain was good for the trees! The wind came and blew for a couple of days too, so we did some repairs to the trees and hoped it would be all right on the day.

Extra helpers came. They spread the wood-chips that ‘Stoney’ Bourke left for us and we bought some new chips. Chris Burgess came from Clifton with his wife and children on several days. We got more stones from Ernie Hardgraves of Beaudesert. The trees standing in grass areas were all given fresh wood-chips and we tried to ‘tidy’ each tree and plaque. A few trees we replaced because they were not so good, but two years ago all the trees were small!

Jack Catton came with his trailer and worked with Colin Bell to move some of the large stones into place. I went one Saturday morning and Tom Eaton came by mistake—so we moved woodchips for a few hours.

The Flematti family came to almost every work party, as did Rusty Smith with his ‘Lite’. Ken and Maureen Martin came from Esk with their chain-saw.

There had been several huge piles of rubbish over the time we worked, but when the final rubbish went I realised we would have to be satisfied and not rake too much more. There are several large old trees in the area that shed branches all the time, and some that shed bark during the spring. Ron Organ found a nest of bees in one of these old gum trees.

The 3 RAR Association had arranged an exhibition of photographs by Dr Dennis Gibbons. They were part of a collection from Korea, Malaysia and South Vietnam. They also produced a book: The Royal Australian Regiment 50th Anniversary 1948-1998. It contains a brief history of the Regiment and is a good reference for honours, awards and decorations.

The 2 RAR Association had a plaque in place to be dedicated on the opening day. It is to remember those who died overseas while attached to 2 RAR, but were not members of the RAR.

A race meeting was arranged for Eagle Farm. Members were invited by the Queensland Turf Club to be their guests on the Saturday afternoon. The RAR 50th Anniversary Cup run over 1,400 metres was won by ‘Toasted Gold’, ridden by M. Pelling. The presentation was made by Commander 1′ Division, Major General PJ Cosgrove, AM, MC.

Arthur Willemse had arranged stocks of memorabilia to sell on the Sunday­key-rings, mugs, bar-mats, pen sets and stubby-coolers. I think Arthur and his `boys’ came to every work-party.

The names of all the workers are recorded on special pages in the RAR Association visitor’s book. They had a `thank-you’ barbecue on Saturday 28 November 1998.

We began to wonder who would come. About 300 invitations had gone to guests and Association members to attend a Civic Reception at the City Hall. The Convention centre was ready to cater for the almost 900 who had paid to go to a dinner on the Saturday night.

But how many would march? And how many would come on Sunday to the Dedication Service?

Kiwi and Alf with the ate
Alf Handley and Kiwi Gibbons with the Ute
...and then. we discovered carpet.
…and then. we discovered carpet.

It was time for everything to be in place. There were lots of frantic phone calls over the last few days. And quick meetings at the trees.

But try as he might Ron Perkins was not able to generate any real interest with the media. They were all told—lots of times, but it was only at the very last that anything came out.

This was a red:). special occasion—the guest list included:

The Governor General of Australia, Sir William Deane, AC, KBE

His Excellency the Governor of Queensland. Major General Peter Arnison. AO and Mrs Barbara Arnison

His Excellency the Governor of Western Australia, Major General Mike Jeffrey, AC, AO, MC

Premier of Queensland, the Hon Peter Beattie, MLA and Mrs Heather Beattie, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Bruce Scott, MHR and Mrs Joan Scott, Lord Mayor, Cr. Jim Soorley and Ms Mary Philip

State Opposition Leader, Mr Rob Borbidge, MLA and Mrs Jennifer Borbiciue and Brisbane City Council Opposition Leader, Cr. June O’Donnell

National President RSL of A, Major General P. Phillips, AO, MC

Queensland State President RSL of A, Mr Ray De Vere, MC, OAM and Mrs Marie De Vere, General Sir Francis Hassett, AC, KBE, CB, DSO, LVO and Lady Margaret, General Sir Phillip Bennett, AC, KBE, DSO and Lady Margaret

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly, KBE, CB, DSO and Lady Heather

Colonel Commandant, The Royal Australian Regiment, Major General BW Howard, AO, MC and Mrs Carmen Howard

Commander Australian Theatre, Major General JM Connolly, AO and Mrs J. Connolly, Mr Keith Payne, VC and Mrs Florence Payne

By Thursday we could do very little more. We knew there would be leaves on the walk-way, and some sticks would fall. The building was swept, the surrounds were as tidy as we were able to make them. ‘The Boys’ trimmed the bushes in front of the Officers Mess, where the Governor General was to be greeted. And they swept the gutters along Lavarack Parade. The cross from 6 RAR was put in place in the Contemplation Building. I took out the last of the stakes we had put beside the trees. We had a cup of coffee and some biscuits for morning tea and went home.

And the weekend was a wonderful success. You have all shared some part of the emotion. On Sunday almost 500 people signed the RAR Association Visitor’s Book, hundreds more didn’t.

Pte. PJ Kelso of 2 RAR composed a special tune to be played on the bagpipes.

The ceremonial part of Sunday had many in tears.

We have gone back to the trees. There is still work to be done. Each time we go there is someone there. They come to find someone special—someone whose name is ‘resting quietly in the trees’.

Margaret Gibbons 22nd November 1998

A stone marking the official opening was put in place in November 1997.
A stone marking the official opening was put in place in November 1997.
It rained at the official opening—November 1997.
It rained at the official opening—November 1997.
Stones were used to line the water-courses_
Stones were used to line the water-courses_
Saturday work parties kept spreading woodchips.
Saturday work parties kept spreading woodchips.
There are seven signs in the area—to designate areas of conflict.
There are seven signs in the area—to designate areas of conflict.
How many marched?
How many marched?
How many marched?

Here Again

Your name is here again—
Resting quietly in the trees,
With the flame trees and the brush box
And the tiny native bees.
With the grey-gum and the iron bark
And wlispering Bribie pine—
The crows ash and the black bean
Silky-oak and turpentine.

Magpies calling in the morning—
Butcher birds and curlew fly.
Lilly-pilly’s soft pink colours-
Bloodwood reaching to the sky.
The flagpole stands and watches.
Mny the trees grow straight and tall
And the she-oaks murmur softly

Thanks for answering the call.
Thanks for answering the call.

“In Australia they will remember me” Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved. And here we guard the record which they themselves made

G.E.W. Bean – Official War Historian

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