I remember laying eyes on the Shrine the first time, while passing on a tram. Having never seen pictures of it before, curious, I immediately felt drawn towards it. Its rustic charm, simple, yet powerful grandeur concurred images of the ancient Mayan architecture of Central America. The two had a lot in common vis a vis the form of the pyramidal roof and the rustic colours. But, as I later found out, much inspiration had come from classical Greek architecture.
I reached the CBD and kept glancing back to the monument, realising that Swanston Street drew a direct visual axis to the Shrine. Being placed atop a slope, the Shrine sits like a watchful eye over the city's inhabitants. Wow! This was a constant patriotic reminder. Urban design done well!
At the very first chance I got, I went to spend a day at my new found object of wonder. Approaching via the St Kilda Road, I was greeted with the bronze sculpture of two soldiers named 'Cobbers'. The expression on their faces seemed so real and tactile!
One has to walk a steep climb to approach the shrine, akin to paying a pilgrimage to a temple. The walk built up an anticipation as to what lay inside this great sanctuary.Climbing the rustic steps, seeing statues at the four corners (representing peace, justice, patriotism and sacrifice) and words engraved onto the stone surface brought about the aura of sacredness.
The view of the Melbourne CBD from the entrance of the sanctuary is astounding. The surrounding landscape made by square patches of grass gives a contemporary feel to the complex. The Shrine doesn't feel out of place at all.
Going past the Greek doric columns, the inside with black columns and dark stone, is more mystical than I imagined:light entering from a lone square opening from the top, softly illuminating the sculptural frieze. On the ground, at the centre is engraved on black stone in gold: 'Greater Love Hath No Man', a tribute to the soldiers and war veterans. The stone is naturally illuminated by a ray of light at 'the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month', better known as the Remembrance Day. On all other days, the stone is artificially lit every half hour and visitors observe a minute's silence.
The Ambulatory contains flags and names of Victorians serving overseas during the first world war. A visit to the Balcony holds more breathtaking views of the city while the crypt below bears secrets of the past.
The Crypt can be accessed via the Visitor-Centre entrance accessible from Birdwood Avenue. 'Lest We Forget' sprawled across the funky red angular walls gives a modern twist to the otherwise classical architecture of the monument. Inside, a raw space done in exposed bricks, the crypt takes one back to telling the stories of the war heroes with various images, videos and relics. One can even see the uniform worn by the brave men dating back to the World Wars.
The Changi flag on display with a short video explaining its journey to the Shrine brought me goosebumps and the 4000 medals lined up in the Gallery of Medals, is quite a sight! Each one representing 100 Victorians who have served in different operations, putting mere numbers to a physical reality. At this point, my friend and I, already overwhelmed, got into a deep conversation with one of the very knowledgeable guides about Gallipoli, ANZAC Day, the World Wars, Australian history and our world now. What is the point of wars? At the end of it all, innocent human lives lost. Lives like yours and mine. Hopefully, creating places like the Shrine, to remember heart-wrenching stories of the past, can help amend our present and better our future.
The grand, yet humble and serene Shrine complex seems to keep calling me back. A recent stroll on a breezy summer night felt absolutely surreal. The flame at the forecourt always alit, brings the complex, even though empty at night, to life.
The Shrine is open daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with guided tours at 11:00am and 2:00pm. Accessible via tram, the stop name is 'Domain Interchange' on St. Kilda Road and free tourist shuttle service runs everyday via Birdwood Avenue.
There are other upcoming events one can attend at the Shrine-
17th February at 2:00pm & 18th February at 11:00am: Shrine Monthly Remembrance Service 20th February at 12.30pm: A talk on 'Carers in Captivity: Australian Medical Officers in the Second World War' 22nd February-28th July: Exhibition- The Enemy Within 27th February at 5.30pm: Talk on 'Behind Barbed Wire: POW and Internment Camps in Victoria 1939-45'