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The imposing buildings of Keswick Barracks on Anzac Highway are home to a number of units of our armed forces including the Royal South Australia Regiment, the 9th Brigade, Navy Headquarters SA, and the Australian Army Cadets.
The Australian Army also hosts the Army Museum of SA at Keswick Barracks, and it is accessible via Gate 4. It is the only military museum in SA and proudly showcases army equipment, realistic displays of historical campaigns, a large and valuable collection of military medals and special interest displays.
Outside the Museum is an impressive display of vehicles and artillery including a Saracen armoured personnel carrier, a World War 2 M3 tank, and a Rapier missile system once deployed at Woodside in the Adelaide Hills. This collection of vehicles is bound to keep kids entranced, although they are not permitted to climb aboard.
On entering the museum I was greeted by a friendly volunteer, who explained the layout and offered to answer any questions. The museum is supported by a large number of dedicated volunteers who have done an incredible job of restoring damaged equipment, setting up displays, researching and maintaining them.
One of the things I liked about the museum is that there are informative signs everywhere to describe the items on display. They tell the basic statistics, and also often have background information which helps to bring the displays to life. A number of the displays which kids particularly enjoy are interactive - my favourite was one where you have to guess what an object is in a dark case by touch alone.
There is a large collection of medals, awards and trophies just in a room to themselves, all painstakingly documented and displayed to be accessible to visitors. A wall hanging proudly lists all the recipients of the Victoria Cross from 1900 to 1969.
The displays are logically arranged so that you start with the earliest campaigns in history (such as the Boer War), and as you move further into the museum the displays relate to more recent wars. There is even an area reserved for a display about the war in Afghanistan.
One of the special exhibits highlights the role of women in war, both in combat and non combat roles. There is even the original piano used by the Cheer Up Society in their Hut near the Adelaide railway station during the first and second world wars. The Society was founded to support servicemen and bring them into contact with the 'highest type of womanhood'.
One very personal touch are the signatures that literally cover the entire surface of the piano, written by people a lifetime ago. They have now been faithfully transcribed by volunteers into a document, so it is possible to look up your relations or ancestors in alphabetical order.
Further on there are some very realistic displays from Tobruk and the Kokoda Trail, showing the equipment and the environment that soldiers fought in. There is a lot of painstaking detail - something that volunteers have clearly spent much time over.
An item that caught my eye was a map of the military camp that took over Wayville Showgrounds during World War 2. Another was a most intriguing invention - a periscope rifle that allowed soldiers to shoot behind cover without exposing themselves. Very ingenious.
If you would like to show your appreciation to the volunteers (many from the armed forces) who put on this fantastic military museum display, then you can buy a Digger, the Museum Ambassador for $15. They are made by inmates at the Northfield Women's Prison and proceeds are used to support the Museum.
For those with an interest in Keswick Barracks, there is an excellent article by Peter Donovan of Donovan & Associateshere.