This morning, I walked up ANZAC Parade, to where the Australian War Memorial loomed solemnly from a shroud of mist descending from the bushy slopes of Mount Ainslie beyond. I’ve never been one for lingering at war memorials, but I cross ANZAC Parade each day on my way to work, and it’s lined with monuments to the various corps and the conflicts in which they have served. Such a persistent presence inevitably makes one reflect a little, and the AWM has a physical presence that inevitably draws people near.
As I stepped inside, I was impressed by the reverence with which the core purpose of the memorial has been devised. Once upon a time, the decision makers of this country knew what it meant to be humble, and paid the respect due to those who’ve died in conflict through the structures they built to commemorate the losses—a far cry from the attention seekers of today who seem more interested in stirring nationalistic pride through insincere lip service. I hate to think what our current government would come up with.
The Roll of Honour is a long narrow hall, with a still water pond in the middle, and the eternal flame caressing the water surface at the northern end. In two facing verandahs, long lists of names of the dead run on and on, and I’m not sure which is the more unsettling, the number of names already on there, or that there is space for more. At the end of the courtyard, all paths feed into the Hall of Memory, a large, haunting room that reaches up into a domed roof, with the tomb of an unknown soldier resting in the centre. I couldn’t stay in here for very long, as the weight of history hangs low in this room.
Behind the memorial, a network of walking tracks, fire access roads and old stock routes criss-cross the base of Mount Ainslie, many of them leading inevitably to a single track that ascends steep and constant to the summit. I can see Mount Ainslie from my house, and it looks neither high nor steep, but that perspective changes considerably when walking up it. I had not intended to climb to the summit today (or any other), but once I found the track I couldn’t turn around until I’’d reached the top. I cursed my stubbornness on numerous occasions, when upon looking back down at the city, I reckoned I had to be close to the top, but each time I was sure I was close to reaching the summit, I would round a corner, and see the mass of this hill mountain rising up ahead of me.
When finally I reached the top, I actually looked forward to the descent, thinking it would be so much easier with a nice downhill slope to help me along, but the thing about steep walks is that when coming back down, it’s just as hard to stop moving, as making headway is when going up. By the time I reached the bottom I was severely dehydrated from the climb and the heat, and I found it impossible to comprehend that numerous people are know to run, or cycle up the thing.
Ainslie is only barely a mountain, and I realised as I staggered home that I have a lot more work to do if I’m expecting to be able to trek in the Andes twelve months from now.