One might ask why students should study history? What will they gain from researching, analysing and considering the past? Why do the stories of the 41,000 service men and women who left from Albany Western Australia bound for World War I matter now, in 2017? The study of history, of Australian history, of stories such as those presented at the National Anzac Centre, encourages students of all ages to think about human values, about past, present and future challenges to our society and to the world. Studying history promotes an understanding of societies, events, movements and developments that have shaped humanity from the earliest times. It is fundamental to understanding ourselves and others.
The National Anzac Centre, an award winning state-of-the-art interpretive experience, uses multimedia, interactive technology and deeply personal historical artefacts to create an emotional connection with the past woven through the stories of individual men and women who left from King George Sound to fight for Australia in WW1. The National Anzac Centre is a tribute to those who served and in 2016, it was named by TripAdvisor as the number 1 museum in Australia.
Operated by the City of Albany and curated by the Western Australian Museum, the learning and engagement opportunities for students to achieve key Australian curriculum outcomes was a driver behind the development of the experience. Multiple layers of information accessible within centre deliver key concepts and content linking to both the primary and secondary history curriculum, in particular years 3, 6 and 9. The Centre provides excellent learning opportunities around the National Commemoration of Anzac Day, the development of Australian society, the significance of World War I and the making of the modern world.
The centre combines exhibitions, rich in objects with highly interactive, multi-media content. To navigate and interpret this content students assume the identity of one of 32 actual service men or women, and follow their experiences of the Great War, from recruitment, through training and embarkation, ship-board life on the convoys, the conflicts at Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front and for those lucky enough to survive, their return home and the difficulties they faced adjusting back into normal society.
The inclusion of technology and multimedia provides a layered approach to uncovering information, enabling teachers to highlight or omit a variety of concepts, themes or levels of complexity dependent on which year level of the curriculum they are working with. This provides teachers with the flexibility to develop and deliver their own specific programmes and lesson plans.
The WA Museum has curated the experience in a way that enables students to be able to ‘do’ and ‘know’. As a result The National Anzac Centre provides a learning environment in which students can:
- Be curious; pose interesting and engaging questions about the past.
- Discover that there are gaps in information and that working with the gaps in evidence is one of the most challenging aspects of piecing the past together.
- Discover that history is not one dimensional - dates and facts are only a small part of our past history – that is made of people and their experiences and circumstances at the time.
- Know that there are many perspectives from the past and about the past.
- Be aware that the past can be interpreted differently by groups and individuals.
- Develop and practice historical skills that will hone their investigative practice and compliment their curiosity.
- Immerse themselves amongst historical artefacts in a set context of major Australian historical event of significance, enriched by personalised narratives. The use of primary sources provides an opportunity for students to really immerse themselves with evidence from the past.
- Experience empathy.
- Develop their own interpretation of WW1 history.
- Apply historical questions and research.
- Formulate explanation and be able to communicate the story of WW1 according to their inquiry and discovery.
- Use historical skills to justify choices of evidence.
- Apply a degree of autonomy in the creation of their own virtual museum and develop an appreciation for the way in which museums choose to tell history.
In addition to the on-site experiences, The National Anzac Centre also provides a comprehensive online research portal accessed via its website. This enables students and teachers to access the information available in the Centre either before the visit for lesson planning or after the visit for continued research. Students can continue research for the character they followed within the Centre back in the class room.
Adjacent to the National Anzac Centre is the heritage listed Princess Royal Fortress which was one of two pre-federation fortresses built to protect intercontinental trade routes. At the time (circa 1890’s) all Australian colonies contributed to the cost, demonstrating rare pre-federation cooperation between the colonies. The fortress is of exceptional significance for its key role in the first national strategy to defend Australia, and presents another significant education opportunity for visiting school groups with regards to the development of Australian society.
The convoys which left King George Sound as interpreted within the National Anzac Centre chose Albany as a place to gather due to the defences and protection the fortress was able to provide the fleet. If it was not for the Princess Royal Fortress, the convoys would never have gathered in such numbers in one position, demonstrating a significant linkage between the stories told within the National Anzac Centre and the historic buildings that surround it.
Students can wander the grounds of the fortress and experience a tactile and hands on approach to what it was like to protect Australia’s shores at times of war, as well as explore original gun batteries, large costal gun defences and the barracks where officers lived and worked.
More information is available at the National Anzac Centre website www.nationalanzaccentre.com.au. Thank you to the Museum of the Great Southern for contributing to this article.