On my lunch break I often stroll through Johnstone Park and cut a diagonal across the grass where I pass a bronze statue, not much higher than a metre, of a bare chested ANZAC soldier wearing only shorts, boots and a distinctive slouch hat with the ANZAC insignia. He leans against a broken gun barrel with an army flag draped over it. This smallish sculpture, The Spirit of ANZAC by William Wallace Anderson (1888 – 1975) commemorates the soldiers who fought in World War I, and the small skull at his foot reminds us that many died.
While the bronze sculpture depicts a stereotypical strong white male, this is not a glorification of war. It shows the soldier as simply a human being, his weapon broken, the flag crumpled, no armour to protect him. Grim faced, he has seen the horror of battle and all he has left is his courageous spirit. The skull, an obvious symbol of our mortality, is placed clearly at his feet. The soldier may have cheated death this time but loss of life is ever present.
Wallace Anderson was a notable war artist, from Geelong, who was responsible for the iconic statue The Man with His Donkey at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance and a multitude of bronze sculptures and dioramas at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. He is also well known for a series of busts of Australian Prime Ministers in the Ballarat Botanic Gardens and the large bronze sculpture of King George V also situated in Johnstone Park next to Geelong Gallery.
Anderson went to Geelong College and studied Engineering at The Gordon. He served in France as a lieutenant in the 23rd Battalion. In 1918 he became the museums officer and sculptor to the A.I.F. and went to the battlefields to make models of the landscape and gather records for reference. In 1920 he returned to Melbourne and worked at the Australian War Museum. He went on to develop a successful career creating sculpture, models and dioramas.
You can read more about Anderson in an article by Ken Scarlett here (Ken Scarlett, ‘Anderson, William Wallace (1888–1975)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.)
The Spirit of ANZAC was originally erected at the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Woollen Mill in Pakington Street, Chilwell in 1929 but was relocated to Johnstone Park in 1982.
And to all those who suffered and died in the futility of war, we pause to remember you and your families on Anzac Day 2014. Lest we forget.
• Corindhap Avenue of Honour Sculptures – Viktor Cebergs (2011)
• Lianne Gough shortlisted for Gallipoli Art Prize (2013)