Shrine’s volunteers evoke stories of the Anzacs

Two visitors, complete strangers, are inside Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. One is engaging with a volunteer guide about his family’s military history. The other, within earshot is listening to the guide’s interesting commentary. Suddenly there’s an epiphany that spans the generations. The latter visitor quickly makes the connection that their respective grandfathers had both fought together in World War I. It’s a wonderful moment as the two strangers reflect on a special connection.

This story demonstrates the powerful effect of the Shrine on those who venture into its sacred environment. But it also shows the empowering effect of the Shrine’s volunteer guides who evoke the spirit of Anzac through stories of service and sacrifice of Australians in war and peacekeeping. Each year the Shrine of Remembrance hosts over 700,000 visitors including many school groups.


This Anzac Day thousands of people will descend on the Shrine of Remembrance for the annual Dawn Service, an important date on Victoria’s calendar.

The Shrine was built between July 1928 and November 1934 in remembrance of the 114,000 men and women of Victoria who served and those who died in the Great War of 1914-1918. Melbourne returned-soldier architects, Philip Hudson and James Wardrop had the winning design out of 83 designs in a competition of Australian artists and architects.

At the entrance to the Visitor Centre a glass wall features red abstract patterning which is based on the red poppy, the first flower to grow in Northern France after the First World War had ended.

The Shrine was built not only to honour the fallen and all those who served in WWI, but also to provide a sacred site of remembrance for all Victorians. It is purposefully positioned on a hill like a beacon of hope to all.

Volunteering at the Shrine

Volunteer guides working at the Shrine of Remembrance bring Australia’s military history alive for visitors. They relate stories that transcend death and the theatre of war to conjure up feelings, sounds, scenes and atmosphere.

Volunteers who are passionate about Australia’s military history bring these poignant, interesting, insightful and human stories across to people from all walks of life. Visitors range from school students to tourists of all ages and nationalities from around the world.

Volunteer guides are trained to interpret for the public the core purpose of the Shrine that incorporates remembrance, the symbolism of the Shrine and Shrine Reserve and interprets the stories of Victorians at war and in peacekeeping over the past one hundred years.

“It may be a Victoria Cross recipient, Robert Grieves, that our guides want to talk about that can then be linked to a display of his VC medal within the Galleries. It may be the story of a family member in the 5th Battalion that landed at Gallipoli and was involved in the battle of Krithia. It could be stories of individuals on the home front and how they coped without members of their family that were serving overseas,” explained Leonie Pratt, Director Community Engagement.

There are six core messages and many symbolisms that all volunteer guides must learn. From this starting point, volunteer guides are encouraged to research and develop their own stories encompassing these in their commentaries. This approach personalises the broader affect of war on communities and service personnel that deepens our understanding in an emotional way.

“Volunteer guides are evoking moods as well as information to a culturally diverse visitor forum. They may be ex-service men and women or have a family connection to military service. We also welcome university students who are studying history, retired teachers and other members of the public who have the desire to make a social contribution or create a new career out of a personal passion,” said Leonie.

The Shrine is testament to remembrance with a focus on commemoration through learning. Volunteer guides play an essential role in paying respect to our past and present serving personnel, their families and the visiting public. They create a memorable and educational experience about Australia’s military history and how it has shaped our national identity.

The volunteer guides who facilitate the student programs deliver stories within a structured education program linked to the National and AusVels Curriculums in the humanities, civics and citizenship in order to build students’ critical and creative thinking capabilities. It creates a unique learning experience at the Shrine which complements their classroom lessons.

Many volunteer guides have observed that students have been particularly moved by the experience especially when they have attended a commemorative service in the Sanctuary, seen the commemorative statues, the Gallipoli landing boat or handled the military uniforms and artifacts in the learning pods.

“Volunteering at the Shrine really inspires and energises me, especially meeting young students who are so enthusiastic about our country’s history and are eager to learn more,” commented Pauline D’Astoli – Shrine volunteer guide since 2008.


By Lesley Sharon Rosenthal – Volunteer Writer

Print This Post