Cenotaph | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Cenotaph

Item details

Name of item: Cenotaph
Other name/s: Martin Place Memorial, The Cenotaph
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Monuments and Memorials
Category: War Memorial
Location: Lat: -33.8675124863 Long: 151.2077787770
Primary address: Between George and Pitt Streets Martin Place, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT7006 DP1120394
LOT1 DP571839

Boundary:

The curtilage includes the entire block of Martin Place between George and Pitt Streets.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Between George and Pitt Streets Martin PlaceSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
City of SydneyLocal Government 
Department of Trade & Investment, Regional Infrastructure & ServicesState Government 
EnergyAustraliaState Government 
RSL (NSW)Community Group 
RSL (Returned Solders League)Community Group 

Statement of significance:

The Cenotaph is of State historical significance for its embodiment of collective grief at the loss of life by Australian servicemen in World War I. It is also of historical significance to the State for its role in inaugurating the 'Dawn Service' on Anzac Day in 1929, the year it was opened, a tradition now observed on Anzac Day throughout Australia. Unlike most other war memorials in Australia, the Cenotaph, meaning 'empty tomb', does not name individuals, but instead mourns and commemorates the communal sacrifice of lives lost at war. This makes it both representative and rare as a war memorial. The Cenotaph is of State significance for its historical association with those who lost their lives at war and with those who have mourned them. It is of State aesthetic significance as an Australian reworking of the British prototype cenotaph developed by Edwin Lutyens for Whitehall in 1919, and as an example of the monumental sculpture work of Bertram Mackennal. Its design shows restrained symbolism in the simple granite altar guarded by two servicemen. The Cenotaph is of State social significance as a powerful focal point for memorial services in NSW associated with all wars and conflicts.
Date significance updated: 12 Nov 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Bertram Mackennal
Builder/Maker: Dorman Long & Co
Construction years: 1927-1929
Physical description: The Cenotaph in Martin Place is a restrained memorial designed as an granite altar with a bronze serviceman at each end. The altar stone, quarried in Moruya in 1927, is 3.05m long, 1.65m wide and 1.25m high sitting above a 970mm stepped base, which runs east to west following the street alignment of Martin Place. It is positioned directly over the Tank Stream which flows in an underground channel beneath it.

The larger than life size sculptures of servicemen at the east and west ends are by Australian expatriot sculptor Bertram Mackennal and stand on Moruya granite plinths. The eastern sculpture is of an infantryman from Gallipoli, Private William Pigot Derby, the western is a RAN signalman, John William Varcoe. Both are depicted realistically, wearing their uniforms, packs and carrying weapons. The men stand in the 'at ease' position, guarding the Cenotaph. On the top of the altar is a bronze wreath. The servicemen each face a flagpole approximately 3m from the monument.

The north face of the cenotaph is inscribed on its north face, 'TO OUR GLORIOUS DEAD' (similar to the words used in the London Cenotaph at Whitehall, 'the glorious dead'). On the south face are the words: 'LEST WE FORGET'. The Cenotaph and flagpoles is narrowly enclosed by a low fence of metal bollards linked by a metal chain. A white poplar tree was planted several metres from either end of the Cenotaph during the 1970s.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Excellent physical condition.
Date condition updated:20 Jul 09
Modifications and dates: Bollards and chains around cenotaph apparently added by Sydney City Council in 1950s.
Populus alba were planted on the axis of the Cenotaph at eastern and western ends 1970s.
Current use: Monument
Former use: Monument

History

Historical notes: Coastal Aboriginal people who lived around Sydney lived off the rich plant, bird, animal and marine life surrounding the harbour for tens of thousands of years. Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. Their ancient lifestyle was catastrophically upturned when the site was chosen by Governor Phillip for an English penal settlement in 1788.

One and a quarter centuries later, the independent nation of Australia volunteered to help Great Britain when it declared war in 1914, and despatched troops to fight in what soon became known as the Great War (later known as World War I). Australians fought in the Middle East and Europe. Casualties were severe. By the time of the Armistice in November 1918, of a total of 331,781 enlistments who had embarked for overseas, 215,585 service personnel, a proportion of nearly 65%, had become casualties. Many of these men had died rather than being wounded (Scott, 1941, p 874). Grief was widespread across the community.

Due to a delay in the completion of the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, the Cenotaph was built in Martin Place to serve the needs of people who needed a focus for commemoration and mourning for the sacrifices of the Great War. In November 1924, the Sunday Times reported a plea by Fred Davison, a senior RSL member. He advocated building a memorial in Martin Place where so many appeals and recruiting rallies had been held during the war, and where so many commemorative events had been held since the end of the war. Hugh D. McIntosh, proprietor of the Sunday Times persuaded the new premier J.T. Lang in 1925 to set aside 10,000 pounds to erect a cenotaph.

Unlike most other war memorials in Australia, the Martin Place Cenotaph, meaning 'empty tomb', does not name individuals, but instead mourns and commemorates the communal sacrifice of lives lost at war. It was based an Australian reworking of a new type of memorial developed in London by Edwin Lutyens for Whitehall in 1919 as a 'tomb on pylon, inscribed only with words composed by the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, 'The Glorious Dead' '. Installed temporarily to be saluted by troops of the empire during the victory march through London on 19 July 1919, the London Cenotaph spoke so powerfully to bereaved people that Lutyens had to make it again in stone' (Inglis, 1998, p 155).

It was unusual for the State Government to fund a war memorial, since almost all memorials were organised and funded by voluntary committees rather than by government. However, Jack Lang had opposed conscription during the war and had been involved in anti-imperialist movements. Promoting a new image of himself and his government as 'the Soldier's Friend' was one response to the growing strength of veterans' organisations (Inglis, 1999, pp 298-9). Positioned where so many recruiting rallies and wartime events occurred, the Cenotaph was directly linked to the events of the Great War.

The 'Memorial Committee' of the State Government, City Council and ex-service organisations oversaw the project. A proposed competition to design the Cenotaph did not eventuate because Premier Lang instead approached sculptor Sir Bertram Mackennal when he was visiting Sydney from England and commissioned him to undertake the work. A contract was signed with Mackennal on 9 March 1926 (Tranter, 2004. p 102). Mackennal had designed the tomb of Edward VII at Windsor and the medals for the Olympic Games of 1908. He also constructed the statues of Cardinal Patrick Moran and Archbishop Michael Kelly which stand at the southern end of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney (Franki, 2000)

For the Cenotaph in Martin Place, Mackennal designed a 'chunky rectangular form guarded by a soldier and sailor' (Inglis, 1998, p300). It was a more modest version of a sculpture he had designed for a cenotaph in Brisbane, which was never built. It was disliked by some critics at that time, such as Building magazine's George Taylor who charged that it was 'a mere tombstone for people to put wreaths up against'. The artist Margaret Preston admired the 'stern simplicity' of the stone slab but objected to the realism of the servicemen. Mackennnal's depiction may have been influenced by the sculpture designed for the Royal Artillery Memorial in London by Charles Sargeant Jagger, whose figures were also realistic rather than stylised (Inglis, 1998, pp 300-1). The designs for the figures were also criticised for being 'at ease' without their arms reversed - the normal mourning stance for military personnel at memorial ceremonies. Mackennal responded: 'Memorial not a tomb. Figures not mourning. Guarding altar of remembrance.' (Tranter, 2004, p 102). In the words of Ken Inglis 'it may have been the very blankness of Mackennal's Cenotaph... that allowed so many people over the years to feel comforted in its presence' (Inglis, 1999, p 300).

In March 1927, Mackennal arranged for Dorman Long to erect the granite pedestal and JJC Bradfield (who was on the Memorial Committee) to supervise. There were 23 stones in the pedestal all carefully arranged so that any white or black markings would not be noticeable (PWD, 1927, p 55). The main block of granite came from the Moruya quarry of Dorman Long & Co, where on 9 July 1927, Bradfield oversaw the cutting of the granite. All the dressing and lettering was completed at Moruya by Bill Benzie and Mr Joe Wallace. Italian stonemason Fueravante Cadiccio came to Sydney to erect it (Raxworthy, 1989, pp 91-2). State Records NSW holds photographs of the granite block being prepared at Moruya (NSW NRS 12685). Similarly, there are photographs of the positioning of the main slab with a block and tackle using Yale Spur-geared Blocks (Mitchell Library SV1/MON/CEN/1 & 2).

The monument was designed with the images of two servicemen cast in bronze on either side of a central plinth, topped by a bronze wreath. They were modelled on two real returned servicemen. The soldier was based on Private William Pigott Darby who had served at Gallipoli while the sailor was based on Leading Signalman John William Varcoe who had served in the RAN (Inglis, 1999, p 301). Private William P Darby was born on 25th April 1872 in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, Ireland. He served in the US Army during the Spanish-American War and in 1914 then enlisted in the AIF at Toowoomba. He was actually 42 and not 38 as he stated on the form, presumably if he was over 40, he would not have been accepted into the army. He was part of the ANZAC force that landed at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, the morning of his 43rd birthday and served as a stretcher-bearer with 15 Infantry Battalion and later 4 Field Ambulance. He was part of the ANZAC force that served at The Somme, where he was blown up and deafened in a shell explosion on 12th August 1916. He returned to Australia in January 1918 and was discharged as a Lance Sergeant, ending his AIF service as a medical orderly at the military hospital at Randwick, NSW. He died in Queensland at the age of 63 (Furphy, 1999; Register of War Memorials in NSW online). Leading Seaman John William Varcoe, RAN, was born at Baker's Swamp, NSW in 1897. He entered the RAN on 3 June 1913 and trained in Training Ship Tingara. Varcoe was drafted to HMAS Cerberus and HMAS Pioneer before joining the destroyer HMAS Parramatta in 1917. By then a signalman, he served in Parramatta until 20 July 1919. The destroyer was one of six RAN River Class destroyers based at Brindisi, Italy. On 15 November 1917, an Italian steamer, Orione, was torpedoed while on passage from Valona to Brindisi. Parramatta took Orione in tow and, while setting up the tow, the two ships were again attacked by a submarine. Parramatta continued with the tow until relieved by a tug. Varcoe had been aboard Orione and for his efforts in maintaining communications he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal. He was discharged from the Navy at Sydney on 8 April 1928 (Franki, 2000)

A ceremony of dedication had been held on 8 August 1927. The completed memorial was officially unveiled by NSW Premier Thomas Bavin on 21 February 1929 with a speech by Sir John Monash (SMH, 22 Feb 1929, p 12, 16).

The Dawn Service arose from events during the erection of the Cenotaph. At dawn on Anzac Day, 25 April 1927, five returned men happend upon an elderly woman laying a wreath at the still incomplete Cenotaph. Impressed by the solemnity of the moment, they convinced the secretary of the Australian Legion Mr E. A. Rushbrook MBE to conduct an official service at dawn at the Sydney Cenotaph on 25 April 1928. Conceived as an opportunity to lay wreaths and remember the Anzacs in silence, it began at 4.30 am, at the time when the first Anzacs had landed at Gallipoli. It was not advertised but attracted 150 people in its first year. Public interest encouraged the organisers to invite the president of the Returned Soldiers' Sailors' Imperial League of Australia (later renamed the Returned and Services League or RSL), Dean Talbot, to offer a prayer at the service. By 1930 a crowd of 2,000 attended and a bugler was added. The following year, the Governor's presence made the dawn service even more official. Most of these elements are retained in the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Sydney's Cenotaph, which still attracts large crowds every year (Government Architect's CMP for the ANZAC Memorial, 2007). When historian CEW Bean attended the 1931 Dawn Service at Wellington NSW, he observed that holding the service at this time was appropriate since dawn was usually the hour when the major battles of the Great War had commenced (Inglis, 1999, p 329-32).

The idea of the Dawn Service has been extended to other states as well. The rising sun with its promise of a bright new day, the memory of the tension of waiting for the whistle blast that signalled the order to advance and the rising sun badge which Australian soldiers of the AIF wore on their slouch hats brings a complex imagery into play at every Dawn Service. Since the first Anzac Day ceremony was held at the Cenotaph in 1928, it began to emerge as the major focus for mourning and commemoration in NSW.

The Cenotaph has gained a sacrosanct place in the history of war memorial services in NSW. Furthermore it is not only a focus for Australian mourning and memory. Visiting dignitaries often place wreaths on the Cenotaph. On 4 July 1942, for instance, US troops stationed in Australia laid wreaths on the Cenotaph on their Independence Day, in memory of the US troops who died in the defence of the Philippines (AWM photo, P00561.001 - P00561.009; SLV photo H.2000.200.1441).

A proposal to add sculptures of an airman and a nurse in 1962 did not come to fruition. Many people, even former aircrew, agreed that it was more powerful as a simple symbol for all rather than as naturalistic representations of everyone who had served (Inglis, 1999, p 390). Another proposal in 1954 to shift the Cenotaph came to nothing, though some chains were installed around it and the plinth was enlarged (Inglis, 1999, p 420). A City Council photo of 11 August 1966 showed bollards had been installed by this date (NSCA CRS 48/5593). Peace groups and feminist organisations opposed to aspects of the Anzac legend from the 1970s onwards have focused their protests on the Cenotaph at Martin Place (Inglis, 1999, p 466). The conversion of Martin Place into a pedestrian plaza from the 1960s onwards reduced threats to the monument from traffic.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Memorialising the defenders-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Vietnam War-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the First (Great) World War-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Korean War-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Birth and Death-Activities associated with the initial stages of human life and the bearing of children, and with the final stages of human life and disposal of the dead. Erecting and visiting monuments and memorials-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Bertram Mackennal, sculptor-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with the Returned Services League (RSL)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Cenotaph is of State historical significance for its embodiment of collective grief at the loss of Australian servicemen and women's lives in World War I. It provides compelling evidence of the impact of the Great War on the people of NSW. The Cenotaph is also of historical significance for its role in inaugurating the 'Dawn Service' on Anzac Day in 1928, the year it was opened, a tradition now observed on Anzac Day throughout Australia and internationally (for example, at Gallipoli in Turkey). Unlike most other war memorials in Australia, the Cenotaph, meaning 'empty tomb', does not name individuals, but instead mourns and commemorates the communal sacrifice of lives lost at war. Positioned in Martin Place where so many recruiting rallies and wartime events occurred, the Cenotaph is physically and symbolically linked to the Australian experience of the Great War.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Cenotaph of State significance for its historical association with the servicemen and women whose loss of life has been commemorated in services focused on it since 1928. It is also of State significance for its association with the people and organisations that have commemorated those lives lost at war, especially the Returned Servicemen's League (RSL), which maintains a custodial role over the monument. Prominent individuals associated with the Cenotaph include its sculptor, Bertram Mackennal (the first Australian-born artist to be knighted), JJ Bradfield who supervised its erection and the NSW premier JT Lang whose government funded it.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Cenotaph is of State significance as an Australian reworking of the British prototype cenotaph developed by Edwin Lutyens for Whitehall in 1919 (Inglis, 1998, 155). It is also significant as a well-known, restrained example of the monumental sculpture work of Bertram Mackennal. The design of this 'altar of remembrance', as Mackennal described it, is unusual in its simplicity - a rectangular block of granite, flanked by realistic, slightly larger than life sized figures depicting a soldier and a sailor, standing guard. Although initially criticized for its simple sculptural qualities, 'it may have been the very blankness of Mackennal's Cenotaph . . . that allowed so many people over the years to feel comforted in its presence' (Inglis, 1999, p 300).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Cenotaph is of State social significance for its long-time role as a ceremonial focus for memorial services by numerous veterans' organizations, individuals and groups representing civilians affected by war. Its role in the inauguration of the Dawn Service, a major part of every Anzac Day ceremony, enhances its association with a deeply felt strand of popular remembrance. Positioned in a pedestrian thoroughfare in Sydney's central business district it maintains a solemn reminder of the sacrifices that Australians have made at war.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
It does not appear to meet this criterion of State significance.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The Cenotaph is of State significance for its rarity in NSW as a war memorial that does not name individuals, but instead mourns and commemorates the communal sacrifice of lives lost at war. It is also rare as the only war memorial to be positioned in Martin Place, where historical gatherings concerning Australian war efforts have been typically held, for example recruitment drives and victory day celebrations. It is also rare as a memorial which was commissioned by the State Government rather than by a local community. Along with the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, the Cenotaph is widely regarded as a principal monument in NSW to the servicemen and women who died on active service in war.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The Cenotaph is of State significance for its representative role as one of the most prominent war memorials in NSW. The Cenotaph occupies a mid-way position between major State monuments (such as the Anzac Memorial in Sydney's Hyde Park or the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne) and the innumerable small town memorials erected by local communities across Australia. Unlike them, it does not commemorate the death of specific individuals but memorializes the sacrifices made by all who served.
Integrity/Intactness: Minor modifications
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions (a) Activities, works, repairs, excavations and augmentations associated with the ongoing use or decommissioning of the place as an electricity substation and for the ongoing accommodation of electricity system infrastructure and street lighting infrastructure provided there is no negative material impact upon the heritage significance of the place or upon significant fabric.

(b) Activities and works associated with the ongoing use of the place for street vending provided there is no negative material impact upon the heritage significance of the place or upon significant fabric.

(c) Use of the place for public gatherings and memorial services including the use and erection of banners provided there is no negative material impact upon the heritage significance of the place or upon significant fabric.

(d) Erection of temporary structures and provision of temporary services for community and civic events provided these remain in place for no longer than two months and provided there is no negative material impact upon the heritage significance of the place or upon significant fabric.

(e) All maintenance and repairs of the Cenotaph consistent with an endorsed Conservation Management Plan for the item.
Nov 11 2009

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0179911 Nov 09 1635642
Local Environmental PlanMartin Place Special Area 01 Jan 05   
Register of the National EstateMartin Place GPO Precinct 28 Sep 82   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1929Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Feb 1929
WrittenE Scott1941Australia During the War
WrittenG Sturgeon1978Development of Australian Sculpture 1788-1975
WrittenGeorge Franki2000"The sailor on the Cenotaph", Sabretache, March View detail
WrittenJoe Furphy1999"Around the water cart" Sabretache, December View detail
WrittenK S Inglis1999Sacred Places: War memorials in the Australian landscape
WrittenKen Scarlett1980Australian Sculpture
WrittenNSW Government Architect2007Conservation Management Plan for the ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park
WrittenPublic Works Dept1927Annual Report
WrittenR R Tranter2004Bertram Mackennal: a career
WrittenR Raxworthy1989Unreasonable Man: The Life and Works of J J C Bradfield
WrittenRegister of War Memorials in NSW "Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney" View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5060966
File number: H09/00081


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