Introduction to Monuments

A brief story of monuments

For simplicity sake, we will use the word “memorial” to describe them in all the various forms.  Memorial is a general term for a collective gestures of public commemoration, and this can include :

The word “memorial” corresponds to “commemoration”—“something that serves to preserve memory or knowledge of an individual or event”; but it also corresponds to “memento”—“something that serves to warn or remind with regard to conduct or future events.” 

The construction of memorials and museums and the ever-increasing growth of memorial acts across the world are significant in their number, as well as the significance they hold for affected communities.   There are the creation of official and community-based memorials and museums, the emergence of spontaneous memorials in places of recent tragedy, pilgrimages to sites of memory, and other commemorative practices.

While a memorial may be a day, or an area of public space it need not be a monument.  A monument, on the other hand, is always a memorial.   Memorials focus on certain people or events and the place that a memorial is constructed is just as important as the people or events themselves. Memorials become landmarks that provide a symbolic place for remembrance. 

Many physical memorials have their origin in the ancient world.  In Egypt during the time of the pharaohs, they built obelisks (a shaft of stone) to indicate victory of over their enemies, and in turn when conquered by ancient Rome, these memorials were dismantled and re-erected in Rome as a symbol of their victory.   

The memorial column, like the obelisk, has ancient origins as well.  Trajan’s column in Rome commemorating the Emperor’s campaigns on the Danube became the model for the celebration of imperial victories in Paris, Berlin and London.  In modern Europe as in ancient Rome the column could be a base for a sculpture of an emperor (Napoleon in Paris, France), a hero of an empire (Horatio Nelson in London, England) or a female figure of victory (Berlin, Germany).  

The memorial arch has a continuous imperial history as well,  from the Roman Empire to modern Europe as seen in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, and many memorial temples are derived from the Parthenon (Athens, Greece) which was built to commemorate the Athenian victory of the Persians.  Christian monarchs erected churches and monasteries to commemorate victories. 

Most memorials have been created by communities according to their wishes.   Often there are no government directives or regulations about what form a memorial should take. This led to a diverse range of designs and is one reason why memorials are an important part of our heritage. They reflect the wishes of that community at that time.    In Australia, many war memorials have palm trees nearby which were a biblical symbol of victory.

Any object can be considered a memorial. They can be created or erected by anyone and they do not have to be officially unveiled or dedicated, although many are. As long as the inscription and/or purpose behind the creation or erection of the object links it to the remembrance of an event then it is considered to be a memorial.

A memorial can be in a public or private location. It can be inside or outside a building.   It can commemorate an event, and individual as well as groups of people.   It can be created or erected at any time, either during or shortly after the event they are commemorating or a significant time after the event. 

A memorial provides opportunities for citizens and visitors to compare their past and today. Remembering important incidents and people recovers and satisfies our souls spiritually. 

The purpose of a memorial can be as a place of mourning, learning a lesson from history, teaching and reminding a younger generation about past events, and improving the dialogue between the past and present.  The main aim of public memorials is to “remind” people by connecting them to the past, present and future.  Public memorials represent and teach visitors about the histories of the respective cities, and of their nations.

What types of memorials may you encounter in Australia ?

You will discover many types and following are some of them : - 

Monument : An object  that is erected in memory of the dead, or to preserve the remembrance of a person or an event.


Queen Victoria, Brisbane, Queensland

Memorial : An object designed to preserve the memory of a person, a group of people or event.



Immigration Memorial, Morwell, Victoria

Cenotaph : A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere.

It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.


Cenotaph, Ararat, Victoria

Obelisk : A tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top.  

Often they have symbols attached to them.   Obelisks have ancient origins.


First Settlement, Portland, Victoria

Column / Pillar : An upright shaft or structure, of any material which is relatively slender in proportion to its height, and of any shape standing alone.

A column / pillar that looks to have been broken off at the top, or a fallen column symbolises lives that have been cut short.

Some columns are topped with globes often to signify the world or mankind.  An orb and cross symbolises Christianity.


Eight Hour Day, Melbourne, Victoria

Cairn : This is a collection of heaped stones set up as monument. 

 These are usually in the shape of a pyramid.

Thomas Mitchell, Buangor, Victoria

Sculpture : Comprises a single sculpture or a group of sculptures of either human or animal forms.


Sir Ross Smith, Adelaide, South Australia


Burke & Wills, Melbourne, Victoria

Victory sculpture :  These are specifically related to conflicts and usually are a female figure with wings. 

These were quite popular memorial forms after World War One.


War Memorial, Pyrmont, New South Wales

Calvary Cross : This Christian cross symbolises sacrifice and salvation.  

There are three steps or platforms leading up to the cross which represents the mound at Calvary, or in descending order they represent Faith, based upon Hope, based upon Love.


St Peter`s War Memorial, East Melbourne, Victoria

Celtic Cross : This is an ornamented standing stone cross, often within a circle.   The arms of the cross often extend beyond the circle.


Dr. Daniel Curdie, Camperdown, Victoria

War Cemetery Cross : Usually erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission , these crosses all have a similar design.


War Cemetery, Atherton, Queensland

Plaques : An inscribed commemorative tablet which can be made from various materials (wood, marble, stone or metal.)

Plaques are frequently included in a monument design, and can be the whole monument, part of a larger design, or placed alongside another type of monument to tell the story of the event.

Where they are used as part of a larger monument, plaques are often the part that bears inscriptions or lists names.


Sir John Macfarland, Melbourne, Victoria

Honour Rolls : These are usually associated with conflicts and can be made from various materials, and can be inside or outside of buildings.  


Carisbrook Honour Roll, Carisbrook, Victoria

Triptych : These are similar to plaques or honour rolls, but are divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open.


Cambridge Primary School Roll of Honour, Cambridge,  Tasmania

Windows : Windows are another common form of monument usually in churches.   

Some have a dedication forming part of the window’s design, while others are accompanied with a plaque.


Queen Victoria Window, Castlemaine, Victoria

Books : Remembrance books were often associated with World War One and World War Two, and can be found in many schools.


2nd / 23rd Battalion Book, Albury, New South Wales

Paintings : These are quite rare as a memorial, but they do exist.


Marjorie Burton, Perth, Western Australia

Structures :  

While some memorials have sculptural or architectural forms, some communities chose a more functional design as their way of commemorating. 

This may have been because of the relevance of the memorial  type to those remembered or because the community wanted a way of remembering that would add something of direct value to the community, both at the time and in the future for subsequent generations.

Some communities have chosen to erect functional memorials.  For example a building such as a school, clock tower, sports pavilion, community hall or hospital, or a bus shelter  that the community could make use of. 


Lych Gates : This is a small gate with a sloping roof that leads into the space around a church.  

They were primarily used at burials for sheltering a coffin until the priest arrived to conduct the service.


All Saints War Memorial Lych Gate, Nowra, New South Wales

Arches or gates : Memorial arches, gates or other entrances are architectural monuments constructed as a memorial, often dedicated to a particular war,  though some are dedicated to individuals. Their emphasis is on remembrance and commemoration, rather than celebration and victory, though some memorial arches perform both functions.

They can vary in size, but are commonly monumental stone structures combining features of both an archway and a gate, often forming an entrance or straddling a roadway, but sometimes constructed in isolation as a standalone structure, or on a smaller scale as a local memorial to war dead.

Memorial arches and gates constructed from the 20th century onwards often have the names of the dead inscribed on them as an act of commemoration.


Arch of Victory, Ballarat, Victoria


Percival Inchbold, Wangaratta, Victoria

Churches : Like symbolic memorials, churches and chapels can also be dedicated as memorial structures to the memory of individuals or specific events. 

Often memorial chapels are inside churches, as well as some chapels which are their own buildings.


St Ambrose Memorial Church, Gilgandra, New South Wales


Chapel of Archdeacon P. K. Slattery, East Geelong, Victoria

Shrines : A shrine is considered to be a sacred or holy place dedicated to a specific person or event.   

It is dedicated to one particular type of devotion that is limited to commemorating an event or a person.  

What makes it a shrine is its limited purpose and use. It could be anything from a large building to a plaque mounted on a pole next to the side of the road.


Shrine of Remembrance, Brisbane, Queensland

Clock Towers, Memorial Halls, Shelters, and Sports Pavilions :  

These are examples of a “functional” memorial to a person or event.


Thomas Manifold, Camperdown, Victoria


Soldier`s Memorial Hall, Lankeys Creek, New South Wales


Frederick Johnson Shelter, Albert Park, Victoria


Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Pavilion, Port Fairy, Victoria

Fountains : Fountains are common forms of memorials.

They are seen as a symbol of cleansing and regeneration through the use of water.


Sir James Patterson, Castlemaine, Victoria

Landscape Features : These memorials  are examples of “living memorials” and can include formal gardens, singular trees, memorial forests, memorial parks, sporting fields, and Avenues of Honour.  

Gardens : 


John Curtin, Broken Hill,  New South Wales

Parks and sporting fields :


Queen Elizabeth Park, Mount Gambier, South Australia

Avenues of Honour : These are an avenue of trees with each tree symbolising a person. 

These types of memorials originated in rural Victoria, and are a common memorial in Australia.


Avenue of Honour, Kingston, Victoria

Although memorials can differ in terms of their design type, there are many common design features or images that are often used on them.  Some of these are outlined below.

A wreath is often carved or painted onto a memorial.  This is a traditional symbol of commemoration, symbolising ongoing life. Laurel wreaths are also a traditional symbol of victory.   Wreaths, urns (deriving from the ancient Greek custom of cremation and placing the ashes in funerary vessels), broken columns (representing lives cut short) and funeral shrouds signify death and mourning, and are familiar to both war memorials and graves.

Another commonly used image on many larger memorials is a carved soldier with arms reversed. This is a traditional symbol of mourning or respect.   

Light, signifying remembrance and purification, has been an important feature of commemorative architecture since ancient times. Eternal light, in the form of flames, lamps, and torches, is another familiar feature of war memorials.  Forms of light, including the rising sun, came to have new significance in Australia at the time of World War One. Though the rising sun had been adopted at Federation as the badge of the Australian military forces, after the dawn landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, it became a symbol of national birth, an essential part of the ANZAC tradition.

Water, signifying regeneration and cleansing, also features in memorials, taking the form of fountains, drinking spouts, lily ponds or, the lotus flower, another symbol of renewed life.

Some memorials have obvious patriotic or national symbols, often indicating the dual nature of Australian patriotism. This is illustrated by crossed British (Union Jack) and Australian flags and inscriptions such as ‘For King and Country’.  A few memorials bear Australian flora or fauna, or verse written by local people.

The soldier statues found on many war memorials in Australia have symbolic significance. Mostly they represent ordinary infantrymen and lack any markings of rank hence they conform to Australian egalitarian ideals.  Most statues either stand in mourning (‘reversed arms’) or erect.   There was a convention for soldier statues ― those in mourning were for memorials bearing only the names of the dead whereas others were for memorials bearing also the names of the returned ― however, this convention was not always followed. The tree stumps at the base of many statues are not symbolic; they are merely supporting the statues.