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If these stones could speak: War memorials and contested memory


Martin Kerby

Margaret Baguley

Alison Bedford

Richard Gehrmann


This article explores how war memorials engage with the contested nature of public sculpture and commemoration across historical, political, aesthetic and social contexts. It opens with an analysis of the Australian commemorative landscape and the proliferation of Great War Memorials constructed after 1918 and their ‘war imagining’ that positioned it as a national coming of age. The impact of foundational memorial design is explored through a number of memorials and monuments which have used traditional symbolism synonymous with the conservative ideological and aesthetic framework adopted during the inter-war years. The authors then analyse international developments over the same period, including Great War memorials in Europe, to determine the extent of their impact on Australian memorial and monument design. This analysis is juxtaposed with contemporary memorial design which gradually echoed increasing disillusionment with war and the adoption of abstract designs which moved away from a didactic presentation of information to memorials and monuments which encouraged the viewer’s interpretation. The increase of anti- or counter-war memorials is then examined in the context of voices which were often excluded in mainstream historical documentation and engage with the concept of absence. The selection of memorials also provides an important contribution in relation to the ideological and aesthetic contribution of war memorials and monuments and the extent of their relevance in contemporary society.  


Aesthetics, Historical Commemoration, Counter-Memorials, History, Memorials and Monuments, Memorial and Monument Design 

How to Cite:

Kerby, M., Baguley, M., Bedford, A., & Gehrmann, R.  (2021). If these stones could speak: War memorials and contested memory, Historical Encounters, 8(3), 1-12.


  • Published 22 December 2021

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License

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