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Lest We Forget: Visiting the National ANZAC Centre Albany

It had an auspicious start to life, being launched by the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand on November 1 2014 – the centenary of the first convoy’s departure to war from Albany’s King George Sound. Now, the popularity of the National ANZAC Centre in Albany has been recognised; it’s been named the Number One museum in Australia by TripAdvisor users.

img_2445Since its opening, the $10.65 million ANZAC Centre has attracted more than 136,000 visitors. We spent ANZAC Day this year at the Centre, and couldn’t have thought of a more fitting place to commemorate this significant day in our nation’s calendar.

The ANZAC Centre is perched on a hill above King George Sound, where more than 41,000 Australians and New Zealanders left Albany in convoys, bound for WWI. For many of them, the rugged coastline would’ve been their last glimpse of Australian soil.

img_2439It was a surreal experience, looking out over the Sound and trying to imagine what it would’ve been like seeing it crammed with dozens of ships, carrying thousands of people and horses, as they steamed towards the Middle East. To aid the imagination, there are photos and video footage of the convoys leaving the Sound, and you can match the photos to what’s in front of you.

The ANZAC Centre is like launching yourself into an interactive history lesson, with the sounds and sights of war all around you. At the start of the experience, you’re given a card featuring one of 32 real characters, so that you can follow that person’s journey through the Great War. It allows you to see the war from one person’s perspective, and I found this enabled me to really connect with this part of our history in a way I never have through reading books.

img_2442There are also dozens of interactive displays, which allow you to access audio commentary from different people who played varying parts in the war. Many of the commentaries are excerpts from real letters that servicemen sent home to their families, so you get to hear the stories and descriptions of what it was like in their own words.

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The displays also contain unique artifacts and rare images and film, which really bring the stories to life. The displays are in a chronological order, so you can follow them through history from recruitment to training to being on the convoys to conflicts at Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front.

For me, the most touching part of the ANZAC Centre was the Pool of Reflections, which contains the names of the 41,265 service men and women who left Albany on the first and second convoys.

img_2438It’s a stark reminder of the sheer number of people who went off to fight this war, each one not just a name, but a real person with a story, life and family.

img_2440The final displays at the Centre allow you to discover the fate of the person whose story you’ve been following. This was perhaps the most surprising part for me – discovering how many people actually survived the fighting, but died within a few years of returning home due to illness, psychological trauma, accidents and suicide. It’s a grim reminder of the toll that war takes even after it’s over.

Overall, we thought the National ANZAC Centre was a spectacular tribute to those who gave their lives for our countries. In my opinion (and Tripadvisor’s users), it’s an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Albany.

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