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In the company of giants: a tribute to veterans who defended Melbourne’s most revered sacred site

By Eamon Hale

For the average person in an Australian city, there aren’t many places that are seen as being sacred. There are only a few places that can give you goosebumps and make you feel a lump rise in your throat when you see them.

Sacred sites around Australia are places that have special meaning. In Aboriginal culture, they could be defined as places within the landscape that have a special significance in their traditions. In cities, this can also be true. Sacred sites are places that transcend differences, that unite and inspire people, and which have a special significance in our shared history.

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne is one of those places.

It is a very special place; full of spirits and meaning. Whatever direction you approach it from, it seems to loom out of the ground; a giant, imposing granodiorite tomb for the fallen. It is silent, sombre, and it casts a heavy shadow over the immaculate grass that surrounds it.

For those who know it, the long walk up the ceremonial avenue bordered by memorial trees to the forecourt can be a humbling experience.

This memorial is Victoria’s tribute to those who have served and a place that is revered by all Australians. Or at least, it should be.

In Melbourne, we have seen widespread protesting since Monday. On Wednesday, we saw them gather at the Shrine of Remembrance to occupy the forecourt and the steps leading to the sacred sanctuary.

Protesters have crowded the streets for days, some in high-vis jackets and work boots, others in black with balaclavas and face coverings. Their numbers are composed of a varied mass. Notionally, the protests are led by members of the construction unions, protesting about vaccination mandates and the construction industry being shut down. Others are protesting lockdown more generally and some are there because they just want to riot and fight the police.

By Wednesday afternoon, they had massed on the Shrine steps, climbing the plinths and flying the national flag upside down. They unfurled banners criticising Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the unions and the lockdown. They chanted and sang. And as they did so, the police began to close in around them.

The protesters massed at the Shrine were almost universally condemned. They were condemned by the government, politicians, the RSL, the media, the public and even the Shrine itself. From all, statements flew thick and fast, the overarching theme being that this is a sacred place that should never be used for protest.

A minority defended the protesters’ actions. They stated that they were standing for freedom and that the Shrine, as a memorial to those who fought for freedom, was the perfect place to express that.

Their arguments were not supported by the majority.

Australians across the country watched the footage on TV and social media. Melburnians, still stuck in lockdown, watched in disbelief as hundreds climbed all over this sacred memorial to the fallen.

A man named Wade was one of those watching. He was deeply moved by what he saw. A proud Indigenous Australian, he is Dja Dja Warrung, Yorta Yorta, Taungurung and others through his bloodline. He is also a veteran, having served as an artilleryman and deploying on operations. Wade understands the importance of service and honour, having been taught it by his family, a family with a long history of serving Australia in war and conflict.

Wade was so moved by these images that he put on a suit, pinned his own medals and those of his grandfather to his jacket, and marched down to the Shrine.

He didn’t do it to join the protest. He didn’t pick a side. He did it to ensure that those who had assembled there understood the significance of the sacred place where they were waving their flags and chanting their slogans.

He stood alone among hundreds of protesters, distancing himself and wearing a sombre dark mask to match the sombre feeling of the Shrine.

Wade asked to speak on an organiser’s megaphone and waited patiently for his turn to do so. When he did get the opportunity to address the massed crowd, he was hit by his own emotions and it became a simple message:

“I’m here by myself. The only thing I’m asking you is can you just respect the Shrine?”

He spoke to those standing on the plinths carved with the names of theatres where Australians have fought, “Can you stand down from there please? Can you get off there?”

“Everyone is entitled to their own peace… I stand here alone, with no one behind me. All I’m asking is just respect the soldiers and the fallen.”

That was it. Short and sharp. His emotions got the better of him and he quickly ducked out of the crowd. He headed for the police line where he put his mask back on, bowed his head and let his tears flow.

But Wade wasn’t alone. Behind him stood people across Australia who understand how special and sacred the Shrine is. Who understand the importance of honouring and respecting it, like other sacred sites around Australia.

After the protest had finished, when the crowds had dispersed and the police had been dismissed, a bunch of Wade’s mates were waiting, including veterans from my own RSL sub-branch. They had come to do some exercise as one of the five reasons they’re allowed to leave home. It was a different form of exercise to the usual joggers and cyclists in Kings Domain though.

With black garbage bags in hand they began cleaning, picking up the trash and detritus the protesters had left behind. Alcohol cans, cigarette butts, bottles, clothing, food; all manner of rubbish. It all disappeared from the stairs and forecourt into their garbage bags.

Adam Hegarty from Channel 9 asked what they were doing. They simply replied, “We will not let our house be dirtied in this manner”. To them, like Wade, the Shrine is more than just a building.

I’m proud to know them. Men like Wade and others who see the world like they do. Who understand the importance of sacred sites like the Shrine of Remembrance to all Australians, regardless of race or creed. They are an inspiration to me.

I love the saying “We walk in the footsteps of giants”. On days like today I am reminded that we are sometimes lucky enough to walk beside them too.


Eamon Hale is the Vice President of the Hawthorn RSL Sub-branch in Victoria, having served in the Australian Army as a cavalryman for 16 years. Eamon is a regular contributor to Australian Veteran News.

Connect with Eamon on twitter: @eamhale




Things need to be put in perspective. Yes, the Shrine is a sacred place, to remember those men and women who served our country for freedom against tyranny and oppression, many making the ultimate sacrifice.

My father served in New Guinea and the Islands during WWII and my grandfather served at Gallipoli, France and Belgium in WWI. I have relatives who have served in just about every conflict Australians have been involved in since the Boer War, with some making the ultimate sacrifice and others still in the armed services. So the Shine of Remembrance hold a special place in my family’s history. To me personally, the Shine represents freedom and should be a safe…


Alan Parr
Alan Parr

Thanks Eamon for sharing the story of Wade's stand. It's so sad that so few these days seem to truely understand the core values that represent what it means to be Australian, and instead misappropriate our national symbols for misguided and selfish purposes.

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