The Geelong Peace Memorial

The Geelong Peace Memorial faces directly into Johnstone Park, which is bounded by Fenwick, Mercer, Little Malop and Gheringhap Streets, and Railway Terrace.

Facing directly onto Johnstone Park, the building known as the Geelong Peace Memorial is located in an area initially reserved as public space in the 1858 Geelong Town plan.

The genesis of the Geelong Peace Memorial can be traced back to a public meeting held on March 26th 1919.

This meeting had aims of establishing a fund for a suitable memorial to Geelong & District Fallen Sailors & Soldiers with such memorial to be called Peace Memorial.

A Committee was formed and recommended that the Peace Memorial take the form of a work of art and that homes for widows of the Geelong & District Fallen Sailors & Soldiers also be developed.

A fund was established to provide for the widows housing scheme with the balance being devoted to the erection of a work of art as a memorial within the City of Geelong.

The Memorial Committee decided at its meeting on July 14th 1919, that the work of art be the Foyer or Vestibule scheme proposed for Johnstone Park.

The widows housing scheme was simultaneously pursued and sufficient funds generated to provide dwellings or pay off existing liabilities for 19 applicants.

In July 1919, the Geelong Town Council originally decided to build a Peace Memorial Foyer to commemorate the fallen of World War I who volunteered for service from the municipality of the City of Geelong.

A Crown grant of land at the focal point of the Geelong Civic Centre in Johnstone Park was obtained at that time and an architectural competition held, with the design by the Geelong architectural firm Buchan, Laird and Buchan, in conjunction with Percy E. Everett, awarded the project.

The tender of 12,000 pounds by W. J. Kelly Ltd. was accepted for the work.

The Mayor of Geelong, Howard Hitchcock, laid the foundation stone on 30 December 1922, with building works not completed until 1926.

In July 1926, The Geelong Baby Health Centre requested use of the foyer basement area to conduct its normal activities but no decision was given as the Memorial Committee was about to hand over formal control to the City of Geelong Council in September 1926.

Council took control of the foyer in September 1926 without any conditions being specified by the Memorial Committee but on the implied understanding that Council would maintain the structure.

On September 28th 1926, Council granted the Baby Health Centre a five year lease to the basement area.

The Geelong Peace Memorial Foyer was officially opened on October 31st 1926.

Two flights of smooth-cut bluestone stairs were built that led to the upper landing of the portico – the grand foyer beyond led to a large community hall to be constructed at a later date, but it never eventuated.

Granite slabs in front of the Memorial record the First World War campaigns in which Australians fought and the names of the 3,500 who enlisted from the district are inscribed in panels on the internal walls.

The names of those who enlisted and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are indicated by an asterisk next to their name.

The total cost at completion was between 13,000 pounds and 15,000 pounds, the money raised from local contributions.

Many other Victorian municipalities erected memorials similar to the Geelong Peace Memorial following the end of the Great War – WWI. These memorials recognised those members of the community who had enlisted for service as distinct from other memorials who only carried the inscribed names of those who had died in the service of their country.

Australia suffered 215,000 casualties in WWI and the bodies of only two of these were returned to Australia for burial.

The parents of those Australians killed in action in WW1 were highly unlikely to ever travel to the site of the grave of a fallen son or daughter (if indeed the grave site was marked or unmarked, or indeed the many unknown).

So for many Australians the construction of a Peace Memorial became a substitute resting place or symbolic catafalque (a raised and decorated platform on which a coffin of a distinguished person lies in state before or during a funeral).

This is why the emphasis is on a memorial of peace rather than of war.

A Peace Memorial is a place where floral tributes could be laid or a place visited as a tangible recognition of a departed loved one.