HMAS Sydney Memorial II – Artists Descriptive Concept

Artist’s Concept: 1999.

Purpose:

To design a Memorial of National Significance, which commemorates the loss of HMAS Sydney II, the greatest single tragedy in Australian Naval History, and dedicated to the lost Crew and their families.

CRITERIA:

  • To create a special space of contemplation and reflection within a memorial setting.
  • To develop the area to its full potential with regard to it’s function as a sacred site.
  • To create elements and features which will embody all the necessary symbolism and commemorative aspects for this memorial to fulfil its function as a memorial to HMAS Sydney II.
  • To express particularly the concept of loss and emptiness in relation to this tragedy where no survivors or bodies were recovered or the whereabouts of the ship identified.
  • To create a place suitable for ceremonial occasions, commemorative events, flag raising, wreath laying, in order to facilitate both public and private remembrance.
  • To create a design suited to the spectacular and unique site at Mt. Scott, while allowing for the difficulties of the location with regard to its exposed nature and with particular regard for its ability to be viewed from the town and countryside around.
  • To allow this space to be utilised comfortably and with suitable access in relation to all age groups and physical abilities.
  • To function as an informative area with narrative elements which serve as educational instruments for the general public of all ethnic backgrounds children and overseas visitors.
  • To incorporate symbolic as well as narrative features.
  • To include the names of all those who were lost.

Description:

The Memorial to HMAS Sydney II is to be situated at Mount Scott, Geraldton Western Australia. In it’s entirety it will encompass the designated site which comprises the top of Mt. Scott. The design can incorporate the landscape plan already in place with some modifications. This allows for extensive low planting of native shrubs, access pathways and a central circular area which has been designated for the principal Memorial features.

This central area contains several features, all with varying functions and symbolic elements. It is approached by a path, curving upwards to what is in fact a plateau at the top of Mt. Scott. This path becomes a ceremonial entrance ramp to the dedicated area, which is comprised of a domed structure forming a Sanctuary, a vertical structure forming a Stele and a Wall forming a semi-circle, split in two to allow access to the interior of the inner circle. The path follows the outside of the circle from which it extends to the Stele, on the right. Another branch turns towards a bronze figure of a woman looking out to sea, on the left.

It should be noted that while all elements of this design combine to form the entire Memorial, each can also stand alone in its own right.


 

DESCRIPTION OF INDIVIDUAL ELEMENTS AND SYMBOLISM:

1.0 The Central Memorial Building:

1.1 Dome of Souls:

This is the centrepiece and inspirational heart of the entire complex. It is the starting point for the Memorial concept and has been the source and wellspring of the most fundamental basis to the idea. It’s validity as a concept is based on the fact that it was directly inspired by the incident, which took place at the Dedication of the Memorial site on 19th November 1998. A flock of sea gulls swooped over the assembled crowd at the setting of the sun, while the notes of the Last Post rang out in the evening air, over the Indian Ocean on the West Coast of Australia where HMAS Sydney sank without a trace, 57 years before. This inspiring moment is encapsulated and frozen in space and time by the formation of the domed roof by a flock of stainless steel sea gulls, comprising 645 individual elements, representing the Crew of the Sydney, who died. Birds are symbolic, as spirits of the dead; the soul freed from the body: ascent into heaven; the ability to communicate with God or entering into a higher state of consciousness. They depict the celestial realm and powers opposing evil. The birds are symbolic of the Souls of the departed, expressed in this ethereal way, serene, elemental and as Spirits flying free between water and sky. Historically, the souls of the drowned sailors were believed to be embodied in Sea Gulls.  It was as if, on that moment of Dedication, they flew past to give their imprimatur to the building of the Memorial and confirm their transcendence.

This incident has created an opportunity to produce a totally unique concept, specific to the      Memorial to HMAS Sydney II at Mount Scott, individualising the Memorial in a distinctive way for all time.

This cupola of birds, 9 meters high is intended to be uplifting in nature while providing a sacred space of remembrance and a symbolic link with the men of the Sydney ,forms a canopy which is a filigree of stainless steel and an open weave dome. The whole effect of distilled light reflects the silver sea, creating a sense of disembodiment and peace. Standing at the centre of this empty space, one becomes aware of the vastness of the ocean; this great open grave and as one’s eyes are drawn upward towards the light, there is a sensation of looking up at the surface at the sea from below. By day, the beauty of the Geraldton blue sky can be glimpsed, filtering light through the silver winged shapes, into the Memorial inner space; while at night, the cupola lit internally, would form a dome of gold, glowing on the top of Mt. Scott.

This inner space in itself, is highly symbolic and is designed to be evocative of the emptiness left behind by the missing men.


1.2 The Seven Pillars:

The dome surmounts seven pillars, representing the seven States and Territories of Australia.They are also symbolic of the Seven Seas. These would be constructed of  Stainless Steel and can carry various emblems or insignia. They are set at intervals, which allow for open viewing at the west side of the Indian Ocean. Symbolically, the pillar is the world axis, the vertical axis which joins Heaven and Earth. Pillar and tree symbolism are connected and the pillar in this context represents the Tree of Life. The pillar is also wisdom, power, goodness and strength. The pillar surmounted by a crown is the architectural symbol of the highest point and is the most direct way of spiritual ascent, from darkness into light. These pillars support the crown of birds, and  traditionally, the bird itself on a pillar, is symbolic of the union of spirit and matter.


1.3. The Podium:

The podium of the Memorial is circular in form, echoing the shape of the dome above. It would be composed of cut stone from all the seven States and Territories of Australia, symbolising the National composition of the crew of HMAS Sydney II. Thereby, the National quality of this Memorial is established. The design is based on the Nautical Compass incorporating various symbolic elements based on the Sea Gull and the Stele motifs.The filtered light flowing through the canopy of birds, will throw reflected shadows on the ground, creating through the shifting light, a sense of movement, like clouds passing over the sea or the flight of the sea gulls which inspired the concept.


1.4 The Floor:

The circle forming the floor of the Memorial is symbolic in itself. It is a universal symbol of totality, wholeness, infinity, eternity; time enclosing space, but also timelessness as having no beginning or end and spacelessness as having no above or below. It is the abolition of time and space, but also signifies recurrence. Steps are formed at the base of the Podium, for ceremonial wreath-laying or personal dedication. These steps also can serve as seating, for rest and contemplation, allowing the visitor a superbly breath-taking view out over the Indian Ocean.


1.5 The Altar:

From the podium at the centre of the circle, an altar rises. This is optional, but would provide a formal place for wreath-laying at ceremonial occasions.It is hoped to procure an authentic ship’s propeller for this feature, which being cast in bronze, could be polished to a mirror finish.


1.6 The Eternal Flame:

The domed roof forms an inverted bowl shape, which could hold an Eternal Flame. This would provide lighting effects, which would be particularly evocative at night. It would also form the centrepiece for ceremonies and keep alive, symbolically, the spirits of the men. The Flame is symbolic of eternal life and spiritual power, unseen energy in existence. It is a manifestation of the soul. It is proposed to create a double lantern feature; one red and one green, symbolic of the Ship’s Port and Starboard lights.


2.0 The Wall of Remembrance:

A semi-circular wall in West Australian Black Granite encompasses the South West sides of the Memorial.  This represents the ‘encircling arms of the Nation’, welcoming home it’s Lost Loved Ones.The wall is divided in the centre, to allow access to the Memorial from the Ceremonial Pathway. The exterior convex side of this wall, which faces visitors as they ascend towards the top of the summit, will bear a ‘wave motif’ in low relief, symbolic of the Indian Ocean where the men of the Sydney now lie.

The interior concave sides bear the names of the 645 men who lost their lives. At the Entrance Portal, also on this concave surface, composite images, from actual photographs, are photoengraved into the Black Granite, depicting the Sydney in action and intimate scenes from life aboard the Ship, including a group photo of the full ship’s company. This concept of graphic portrayal has been selected as a means of communicating the complexity of imagery and detail in its most direct and immediate form.  Two other panels carry the history of the Sydney and the artists statement  of concept and design.The technique of grit blasting has been used to stunning effect in other places and gives a sense of realism to the visitor, especially to future generations, for whom the historical detail of the incident might become lost. The Black Granite panels have been spaced slightly apart to allow for Poppies to be placed beside individual family names.


3.0 The Stele

The Stele, which is based on the concept of ancient Standing Stones found throughout the World, were used as markers of graves or commemorative sites since time immemorial. This is expressed in the form of the prow of HMAS Sydney II.In this context the striking shape has been developed from a process of reductionism in which the ship concept is distilled into a single dramatic gesture. Its function as a towering symbolic grave marker, while constituting an imposing vertical element, would be visible from many miles in all directions. The mast element can be further used to carry all necessary flags and insignia for the Memorial as a whole. It is designed to be fabricated in stainless steel to link with the Dome of Souls and to symbolise HMAS Sydney II, herself. It incorporates all the symbolism of the pillar concept, as a tall upright column in its own right.


4.0 The Bronze Sculpture: “The Waiting Woman”

As one moves through the spaces of the Memorial, absorbing the feeling of quietude and contemplation induced by the serenity of the surroundings, one’s eye is drawn towards the horizon, along the pathway towards the sea. At the edge of the cliff stands a figure of a woman. At first glance, this will appear almost real: just another visitor, holding her hat against the sea breeze, her skirt blown back by the prevailing wind. She is anxious, tense, her gaze forever fixed patiently on the horizon. It only becomes apparent as one waits for her to move away, that her stillness is otherworldly, like the young man she is seeking, already in another realm. She is in fact, frozen in time and bronze. She is eternal, all-encompassing; the figure of the waiting woman, grieving for her lost father, husband, brother, son. Through her, we can feel the pain of that loss, the everlasting waiting of those who did and of those who still do; those who will come to this place, still hoping that the ship will be found, to close this tragic chapter in Australian history and those who will at least find comfort in the existence of this sacred site; this place of contemplation which honours and remembers the great sacrifice of those who gave their lives, to make Australia safe and free for those who live today.

This concept was evolved as a fitting expression of the people involved in this terrible tragedy. To portray the men from the ship herself ,would be very difficult as any particular scene would personalise a single group too much, at the expense of others. All were equally involved and all suffered a similar fate. However, no matter what role these men played, they all had loved ones: wives or mothers, girlfriends, sisters, daughters; someone to mourn them; a woman somewhere who didn’t experience this terrible drama, but felt the connection through the eternal pain of loss and emptiness for the long years that have passed. The men of HMAS Sydney II will always be remembered by these women, and surviving families.

So it is to them this Memorial is also dedicated.


5.0. ( The Fifth Element-2008).

The Pool of Remembrance: “ Closing the Circle “

Artists Concept

On 16th of March 2008 the wreck of HMAS Sydney II was found in position 26 14 45 S – 111 12 55 E.

The intention is to complete the original HMAS Sydney II Memorial project by incorporating concepts that were not possible for the 60th Anniversary in 2001 and which could only be implemented upon the discovery of the location of the Sydney. This occurred on 16th March 2008 and the Pool of Remembrance Project was launched.

This would be achieved by the creation of a dignified commemorative area of contemplation and remembrance, complimentary to the existing Memorial precinct, without intruding on any previous symbolic elements. It is a ‘ circle within the circle’ of the original Memorial, which symbolizes the ‘circle of life and death’ and the concept of Eternity and the Infinite.

The centerpiece and heart of this ‘element’ is a Pool of Remembrance. As an appropriate place of commemoration and contemplation, it was decided that no new vertical elements or major dramatic features would be used in the design.

The final concept is a simple, recessed pool, approached by circular terracing symbolically descending ‘down’ into the depths, as it were, evocative of the war grave where the ship now silently rests on the sea floor, 120 nautical miles off Steep Point.

The floor of the pool is a map, 5 meters across, showing the location of HMAS Sydney II, embedded in coloured granite. A 2-meter high Stainless Steel gull is fixed to the exact spot where the Sydney lies, with the co-ordinates radiating out from this, both on the exact bearing towards the wreck site. 26 14 45 S – 111 12 55 E. A circular waterfall pouring out from under the bottom terrace dramatically reinforces the concept of ‘going down into the depths.

Inspired by the shadow pattern of the gulls under the Dome of Souls, the lowest terrace circling the Pool is formed in polished black granite, into which is engraved images of 644 Silver Gull shadows, enclosing the pool and the ship. The 645th Sea Gull stands alone on the co-ordinates of the Wreck site in the centre of the Pool.

This two meter high vertical Silver Gull is Number 645.

The polished black granite symbolically links this final terrace to the Wall of Remembrance. It is a powerful illustration of the original concept describing the two curving walls as ‘ the arms of the Nation welcoming back it’s lost loved ones’.

At night, circles of under-step LED Lighting create a somber, haunting effect, underscoring and amplifying , the quiet contemplative atmosphere of the surrounding Memorial precinct.

Close by, the Waiting Woman waits no more. Now she watches over her loved ones, eternally at rest. A major further aspect of the idea behind  the Circle of Life and Death, was the concept of the Arms of the Nation welcoming back it’s ‘Lost loved ones’in effect what the Waiting Woman is waiting for, has now been found. She is no longer ‘alone’    her loneliness, sense of loss & waiting has been tempered by the discovery of the ship where her men lie. By enclosing the Pool of Remembrance, with all its own particular symbolism, we are in effect ‘enclosing’ the Lost Loved Ones in a final embrace of comfort and love- giving them back…as it were…to their families and friends in an ultimate gesture of peace…… This is the principle reason why we chose this location for the Pool of Remembrance beside the Waiting Woman.


The circle of life and death embodied in the design of the National Memorial to HMAS Sydney II has now been closed.

Charles Smith & Joan Walsh-Smith: 2008

Artist’s note: “by strange coincidence ,upon surveying the site, for the Pool of Remembrance, to establish the exact bearing of the wreck, we discovered that the “ Waiting Woman” is gazing exactly along this bearing, although we had no idea where the ship lay when we installed her on site in 2001”.

 

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