Austinmer war memorial quietly marks its centenary with little fanfare

The Austinmer war memorial cenotaph.

THE restrictions on crowd gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic have seen the passing of the centenaries of two Illawarra war memorial cenotaphs with little fanfare.

The Austinmer Thirroul RSL Sub-Branch have quietly marked 100 years since the Austinmer war memorial cenotaph was unveiled on January 26, 1922. Sub Branch president, Major General Brian (Hori) Howard (Retired) said the stone obelisk bears inscriptions and an honour roll in gilt lettering.

“Originally dedicated to those who served in the First World War, inscriptions and names for the Second World War and other conflicts have been added to the sides of the obelisk at a later date,” Mr Howard said.

The Austinmer memorial was unveiled by ‘Mrs. S. Cheadle’, whose descendents continue to be active members in the Austinmer Thirroul RSL Sub Branch to this day.

The unveiling of the Austinmer war memorial cenotaph, 1922.

In 2019 Wollongong City Council undertook an extensive refurbishment around the beach side memorial. The work was completed in time for that year’s Anzac Day Service.  Council’s crews started work on the project at Austinmer Beach, which included a new level paved area for ceremonies and the construction of an accessible pathway between Lawrence Hargrave Drive and the memorial.

Mr Howard said the pandemic also unfortunately impacted planned celebrations to mark the centenary of the Thirroul cenotaph in 2020.

The Thirroul war memorial and gardens in Woodward Park.

“Due to restrictions in place on community gatherings it was not possible to conduct a service at Thirroul on Anzac Day 2020 where all could be reminded of the milestone and sacrifice of many whose names are on the memorial,” Mr Howard said.

Building a memorial at Thirroul began in 1919 on the corner of Lawrence Hargrave Drive and Railway Parade. It is considered the oldest First World War monument in the Illawarra.

The foundation stone was laid on October 18, 1919 by ‘Mrs. Arnold Higgins’ and the official unveiling was performed by ‘Grannie Riach’ on Anzac Day, April 25, 1920.

“The figure of the soldier was originally white but became discoloured over the years,” Mr Howard said.

“When the custodians discovered they could not scrub it clean, they decided to paint the uniform in the khaki colour used in the desert during the war.”

In 1978, the memorial was hit and damaged by a truck.  It was repaired, although the fountains ceased to function, and moved to outside the Thirroul RSL Club. It was again moved a short distance to its present position in Woodward Park in 1996.

The area around the memorial was landscaped by unemployed youths who laid out paths and set out gardens.

Mr Howard said volunteers continue to maintain the gardens and surrounds of the two memorials to the highest standards.

While no special services were planned, the Sub Branch plan to mention the centenaries at the 2022 Anzac Day services on April 25.

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About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick managed several community newspapers. He has been editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.


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