The founders of the Australian National Veterans Arts Museum (ANVAM), have been asked a number of times “Does it have to be THAT build?”, meaning 310 St Kilda Rd, Southbank in Melbourne (#310SKR).
In responding to these question, it has always been a resounding “Yes!”, and this is why.
Opened on 15 November 1937 as the Repatriation Commission Outpatient Clinic, #310SKR was built explicitly for the survivors of WWI; to help the survivors endure their ongoing conditions almost 20 years after the end of the war. It appears that the extent of the challenges and suffering for veterans two decades after the end of hostilities remained so significant that a building of this scale was required. Evidence of the numbers of veterans to walk through the doors validates this perception with over 1,000 per week seeking medical treatment in the facility. This is consistent with the figure of 150,000 casualties to return from the war.
Such a direct connection in Australia to the survivors of WWI is not unique, but it is rare. What is perhaps even more unusual is the proximity of a place like #310SKR, dedicated to supporting military veterans and survivors of war, to a place ostensibly built in commemoration of those who died during war, i.e. Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. Literally opposite each other on St Kilda Rd, these two buildings also hint at a metaphor for the respective prominence Australia’s war dead has in our collective consciousness compared to survivors of war and of service. Arguably the relatively high focus on the dead can be traced to the survivors of WWI themselves due to the grief associated with the unprecedented high death rate.
To many veterans and families a connection to previous generations is important in supporting their identity as members of the military veteran community. The few opportunities to express this connection are often in places of solemn commemoration like the Shrine of Remembrance, the Australian War Memorial and other memorials spread throughout Australia. Other opportunities of connecting to previous generations are limited to attending the local Return and Services League sub-branch or military museums where displays of artefacts of war are put on display.
This building, nearly 80 years old, provides a unique opportunity for a permanent and, importantly, a living tribute to all survivors of war and of service. While sitting alongside the Shrine of Remembrance, #310SKR is rightfully, and like all veterans, understated and modest in the shadow of our places of commemoration to those killed while serving overseas.
More than this, #310SKR allows us to continue the role of the former ‘Repat Clinic’ as a place of healing for veterans. In its new incarnation, ANVAM aims to transform #310SKR into a modern day place of healing through the Arts and, in so doing, provide a further connection between veterans of all eras.
Further significance of #310SKR is its location within Melbourne’s Arts precinct, and adjacent to Victoria Barracks Melbourne. These two features, along with its availability, history, location, size and layout, make #310SKR unrivalled to be the Australian National Veterans Arts Museum.