Rediscovering Anzac Square

This Friday marks the 99th anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli.

Following the so-called Great War, memorials to the fallen were dedicated in cities and towns all over Australia. So great was the loss in World War 1 and subsequent conflicts that virtually no community in the country remains unmarked.

For 364 days of the year the local Anzac Memorial fades into the background of daily life, a familiar part of the urban scenery. Such is the case in the centre of Brisbane, where Anzac Square acts as the quickest route from Central Station to Queen Street, and a shady lunch spot.

It’s well worth slowing down though, and taking a second look at the place that forms the centrepiece of Anzac Day commemorations in Brisbane.

The most striking and easily recognized part of Anzac Square is the Shrine of Remembrance.

Built in 1930 the Shrine takes its design cues from the Greek Temple. It represents Classical Greece, the birthplace of modern democracy, and source of many of our traditions of philosophy, literature and art: at the time an appropriate way to commemorate the fight for ‘civilisation’.

Two curving flights of stairs connect the Shrine with the Square below. Each flight is in two sections, one with 19 steps, and one with 18, symbolic of the year in which World War 1 ended.


Eighteen is also the number of columns arrayed around the Shrine. The names of battles appear above, and an Eternal Flame burns in the centre.

Below the Shrine of Remembrance is the main part of Anzac Square. Three paths branch out from the base of the Shrine. They represent the Australian armed services: Army, Navy and Air Force.

A tall, sandstone clad wall supports the Shrine and its terrace.

Carved into one side is a memorial frieze sponsored by ‘The Women of Queensland’, and carved by renowned local sculptor Dorothy Mayo.

The brave young soldiers are represented as strong, healthy and victorious. By the time World War 2 was commemorated, this depiction started to change.

Anzac Square is home to two World War 2 memorials.

The first represents the war in the South Pacific, and shows a wounded Australian solider making his way down the Kokoda Trail. He can't do it along though, and is being helped by a Papua New Guinea man.

In contrast with the ‘Great War’ frieze, this soldier is weak, his boots are muddy and worn.

The soldier depicted in the other World War 2 sculpture has suffered too. He lies on the ground, eyes bandaged, thin and shoeless. His outstretched hand is supported by a nurse; she is the first, and only woman to appear at Anzac Square. This tiny detail, lost in the daily bustle of the square, is incredibly moving.

The soldiers in the Vietnam Memorial have also suffered. One slumps, injured, his boots sinking into the mud, as his comrade guides down a rescue helicopter. After a shower of rain the water pooling on the bronze seems to transform it back into a sticky, viscous mess.

A tree, and marble plaque donated by the People of East Timor, honours Australia’s United Nations Peacekeepers, and is the most recent memorial in Anzac Square.

The earliest conflict commemorated is the Boer War. The bronze statue was cast in England and erected in Brisbane in 1919, before being relocated to its present location in 1939.

Names of the fallen are inscribed on the plinth below.

The Boer War is also commemorated by the avenue of Bottle Trees, planted in honour of the Queensland Light Horse Regiments. Adjacent Date Palms symbolise conflicts in the Middle East.

When it was first built Anzac Square was a vast, open expanse in the centre of the city, overlooked by the imposing façade of Central Station.

 Anzac Square soon after completion. Image: State Library of Queensland.

Anzac Square soon after completion. Image: State Library of Queensland.

Over time surrounding development has overshadowed it: buildings plunge the space into shadows for much of the day, carpark ramps cut off access along one street, and aerial walkways along two sides have become prime smoking hangouts. 

Yet the trees have grown tall, and the lush lawn is one of the few in the heart of the city, a fact enthusiastically embraced by tourists and lunching workers.

The embedded symbolism may too subtle for the casual visitor to notice, but Anzac Square remains an important part of Brisbane for local workers, visitors, and the hundreds who will cram in this Friday to remember.

Note: Anzac Square is between Ann and Adelaide Streets in Brisbane's city centre. The annual Dawn Service will take place this Friday, 25th April, starting at 04.28am, the time of the original Gallipoli landings. The service will also be live broadcast in King George Square.