The towering column, approximately 79 metres above ground, topped with a stylised American eagle was constructed in 1953-54 as a memorial to the sacrifices made by Australian and American service personnel in defending Australia during World War II. The memorial is located in Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square, which was established as a feature of the Defence complex in Russell.
Located at the northern geometrical point of the National Triangle, the memorial effectively marks one end of the eastern or Kings Avenue axis of the Triangle and is a prominent feature when approaching Russell along Kings Avenue.
Why is this place important?
Queen Elizabeth II opened the Australian-American Memorial, affectionately known as ‘The Eagle’, on 16 February 1954. The Australian-American Memorial is an important symbol of Australian gratitude to American service personnel for their contribution to the defence of Australia during World War II (1939-1945). It also signifies the close ties established between Australia and America during the war.
In 1948 the Australian-American Association resolved ‘to establish a memorial in Canberra in the form of a monument or statue, to perpetuate the services and sacrifices of the United States forces in Australia and to symbolise Australian-American comradeship in arms’. To give effect to this resolution, a Federal US Memorial Committee was appointed. Among the members of this Committee were the Rt. Hon. R.G. Casey, Federal President of the Australian-American Association (later to become Governor-General of Australia), and Sir Keith Murdoch, Victorian President of the Australian-American Association and father of media owner Rupert Murdoch.
It was thought that a memorial of considerable size and striking design was essential, and an Australia-wide competition was held in 1949. From the 32 entries received, the design by Richard M. Ure won the competition. The winning design provided for an octagonal aluminium column surmounted by an aluminium eagle with wings upswept in a victory sign.
The search for a suitable site for the Australian-American Memorial was extended from 1948 to 1951. Eight different locations were considered before the site now occupied, at the apex of the Kings Avenue, was selected and approved by the Commonwealth Government. The area at the time was bushland.
In 1950 the Prime Minister R.G. Menzies launched a nation-wide appeal to raise the amount of 50.000 pounds, a vast sum at the time, to build the Memorial. Within six weeks, more than 63.000 pounds had been raised. The population of Australia at the time was only eight million people. The Commonwealth Government later made a substantial donation to cover rising costs and the Memorial was finally completed at a cost of 100.000 pounds. Work commenced in December 1952 and was completed in just over one year. Vice President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon, visited the site in the early stages of construction.
The Australian-American Memorial has a hollow octagonal column with a steel framework, which is sheeted with aluminium panels and sandblasted to give the appearance of stone. Nine tons of aluminium was used to cover the shaft. The inside of the column has a system of ladders — 22 inclined and vertical ladders lead to the top of the Memorial. Two murals feature at the base, one relating the story of American combat in the Pacific and the other a profile map of America in copper. The column is topped with a bronze sphere surmounted by a stylised figure of the American Eagle by the distinguished sculptor, Paul Beadle.
‘The Eagle’ was constructed in Sydney and transported to Canberra by road. The eagle and sphere alone are 11 metres high. Calm weather conditions were needed to place the eagle on top of the column, which was done by crane at night. The Memorial’s height and unique design make it one of Canberra’s best-known and most recognised monuments.
From the surplus funds available after the appeal, state memorials were erected in Brisbane and Adelaide.
The memorial is the earliest national capital feature in the development of Russell, the precinct representing the third corner of the National Triangle, one of the major elements of the Griffins' plan for Canberra.
Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square was named in honour of a major figure in Australian military history and the only Australian to ever reach the rank of Field Marshal. The naming of the square, bas relief and plaque, honour Blamey's place in Australian history.
The Australian American Memorial and Sir Thomas Blamey Square are the focus of the Defence complex in Russell. The Square is framed by the prominent F and G Blocks, and reinforced by the new buildings RN1 and RN2.
The retaining wall includes a marble panel with large inset lettering: 'Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square'. On the other side of the name is a cast bronze bas relief depicting Blamey. On the other side are two bronze plaques with the following text:
Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square
This square is named in honour of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey GBE KCB CMG DSO ED (1884-1951) During World War I, Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey served with the Australian 1st Division in Egypt as GSO III (Intelligence). He landed at Gallipoli in April 1915 and remained on the Peninsula until August 1915 when he was appointed Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General of the 2nd Division. After further service at Gallipoli and in Egypt, France and Belgium, Blamey was appointed GSO I of the 1st Division in July 1916. He was appointed Chief of Staff of the Australian Corps with the rank of Brigadier-General in June 1918. During World War II, he served initially as GOC, AIF, Middle East. He served as Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Middle East between April 1941 and March 1942. He was then appointed Commander-in-Chief, Australian Military Forces and Commander, Allied Land Forces, South-West Pacific Area, in which capacity he accepted the Japanese surrender at Moratai on 9th September, 1945. In 1944, on Blamey's recommendation, the Australian Government decided to constitute the Australian National University, in Canberra.
In 1950 this distinguished military commander became the first Australian soldier to be appointed Field Marshal.
This plaque was unveiled on 27 May 2001 by the Hon Bruce Scott MP Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence at the renaming and dedication of the Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square on the fiftieth anniversary of the Field Marshal's death.
The original plaque for the then named Sir Thomas Blamey Square was unveiled on 18 November 1982 by the Rt Hon I M Sinclair Minister for Defence.'
A large bronze wreath and a commemorative tablet are located at the base of the column. Below the crest of the Commonwealth of Australia is an inscription which reads:
In grateful remembrance of the vital help given by the United States of America during the way in the Pacific 1941-1945.
The Australian American Memorial and Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square are located on Russell Drive, Russell. The memorial and square are open to the public.
Australian American Memorial and Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square Conservation Planning Report, 2009. Prepared by Duncan Marshall for the National Capital Authority.