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Council candidates slam "disrespectful" relocation of historic war memorial

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Adelaide City Council candidates have condemned the State Government and the council for what they say is a disrespectful relocation of Australia’s oldest World War I memorial from the south park lands.

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The Australasian Dardanelles Cenotaph – erected in 1915 to honour soldiers from Unley and southern Adelaide who fought in the Turkish campaign during World War I – was removed from the park lands last week by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure.

The cenotaph was originally located on Sir Lewis Cohen Drive off South Terrace in what was known as Wattle Grove. It was later moved in 1940 to a different garden in the same park, where it remained until Monday.

The cenotaph will be relocated to the northern end of the ANZAC Walk on Kintore Avenue – a move pushed by former Veterans’ Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith in 2015.

At the time Hamilton-Smith argued the monument would be better located in a “place of prominence” among other war memorials.

The Adelaide City Council approved the State Government’s request to relocate the memorial, despite opposition from Unley City Council, historians and southwest city residents, who argued the location in the south park lands was significant to the families of the soldiers who lived in the area.

Area councillor Sandy Wilkinson attempted to prevent the cenotaph’s removal from the south park lands in October last year, but his motion was defeated by one vote at a heated council meeting.

Park lands campaigner Kelly Henderson, who is running for south ward at November’s council elections, took the matter to the Supreme Court in 2016, but her appeal was dismissed when she failed to pay application costs in time.

Wilkinson has now joined a team of council candidates running at next month’s council elections who are pledging to push for council to relocate the cenotaph back to its original location on Sir Lewis Cohen Drive.

“I think it was just convenient for them (the State Government and council) to just basically say it was a forgotten memorial and make the decision to plonk it on Kintore Avenue,” he said.

“This cenotaph was erected by the mothers and the wives of soldiers from the First and Tenth Battalion – who were from Unley.

“Many of the people came from the southwest corner of the city – from Maxwell Street in the southwest – that is now known as a street of heroes where many of the fallen have come from.

“It’s simply a travesty and utterly disrespectful for it now to be removed from the area.”

Wilkinson criticised the council for not adequately consulting the community before making its decision to approve the cenotaph’s removal.

He also labelled the removal of the cenotaph during the council caretaker period as “opportunistic timing”.

“You don’t have to be terribly cynical, I don’t think, to see the timing is just before a new council forms and has an opportunity to revisit the decision before the cenotaph literally is cemented in,” he said.

“It will become a much bigger job to remove it and it will be a much harder ask to get the agreement of council to move it once they have removed it.”

South ward candidate Keiran Snape also questioned the timing of the cenotaph’s removal and labelled the level of community consultation “incredibly disappointing”.

“It’s got a long history to the local residents and to be honest it’s been a travesty,” he said.

“I’d certainly call on the other candidates in the council election to join myself to call for it to be returned to its original position.”

Lord Mayoral candidates Kate Treloar, Sandy Verschoor and Mark Hamilton were asked what they thought of the city council’s role in moving the cenotaph at a candidates’ forum on Monday night.

Treloar, who has also joined the call for the council to reverse its decision, told the audience the removal of the cenotaph had come as a surprise to people who were concerned about the monument.

“It does sound like a very big concern that there has been a lack of process and a lack of accountability and a lack of communication with things that are really important to groups of people,” Treloar said.

Verschoor said the council had had forums and discussions about the move of the cenotaph and that it was her understanding that the cenotaph was going to be relocated to the ANZAC walk “so that it has a pride of place with the ANZAC war memorial that has been built for those purposes.”

She later told InDaily the removal of the cenotaph had been a “very emotional topic”, with many families with close links to the cenotaph consulted for the council’s decision.

Hamilton said he could not respond to the question.

Historian and southwest city resident Dr David Faber, who was at Monday night’s forum and who has researched the cenotaph’s history, said while he believed Verschoor was correct to state there had been some discussions with the community about the cenotaph’s removal, the community was not adequately consulted.

He accused the council of “handpicking their preferred stakeholders” for consultations and not properly informing the community of the cenotaph’s removal.

“No-one from Veterans’ Affairs and no-one from the council has bothered to consult my work or me about the removal,” he said.

“I only found out about its removal after I got a tip-off on Monday that it had been moved and then I went to confirm it.

“The communities in the southwest and the City of Unley were not adequately consulted and I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it.”

Adelaide City Council operations director Beth Davidson-Park said the relocation of the cenotaph was “strongly supported” by Veterans SA.

She said consultation with the veteran community was led by the State Government.

Premier Steven Marshall, who holds the veterans’ affairs portfolio, said in a statement to InDaily the State Government was pleased that the cenotaph would be relocated to the northern end of the ANZAC Memorial Walk.

“This relocation means that tens of thousands of South Australians and visitors will be able to view the cenotaph and pay their respects,” he said.

“The veteran community is overwhelmingly supportive of the relocation, particularly today’s representatives of the women who were instrumental in the initiative for the cenotaph’s construction in 1915, the War Widows Guild and the Partners of Veterans Association.

“The State Government acknowledges those who believe the cenotaph should remain in the park lands, however, its relocation to a position of prominence at the centre of the City of Adelaide’s memorial precinct will highlight to the broader public the service and sacrifice of those it seeks to honour.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure told InDaily the cenotaph’s relocation has been programmed to be completed in time for Remembrance Day this year.

The spokesperson said the monument was currently being stored at a contractor’s premises.

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