Albany Spirit Soldiers

Albany Spirit Soldiers

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An artist's impression of how the soldiers could be placed, lining the Avenue of Honour. Photo courtesy of Navigator Photographix.

An artist's impression of how the soldiers could be placed, lining the Avenue of Honour. Photo courtesy of Navigator Photographix.

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The Albany Spirit Soldiers project aims to be a lasting tribute to the brave soldiers who left our shores for Gallipoli more than 100 years ago.

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Standing as an almost transparent - yet tangible reminder of lives lost, courage shown and a town's legacy, the Albany Spirit Soldiers project aims to be a lasting tribute to the brave soldiers who left our shores for Gallipoli more than 100 years ago.

The project's idea stems from the original installation of Ghost Soldiers, sculpted from chicken wire, by UK artist Jackie Lantelli, in her home village of Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

Ms Lantelli had made 11 sculptures, modelled off real life soldiers who were buried in the cemetery adjacent to the St John the Evangelist Church in Slimbridge.

The ghostlike sculptures of the soldiers were placed at the end of the graves facing the headstones in 2018 and the images posted online have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times over.

Wanting to honour the original inspiration taken from the UK, but make it a lasting legacy specifically to acknowledge the Anzac spirit and contribution, a few residents came together and formulated the idea.

Developed from a desire to cement Albany's Anzac history in the forefront of people's minds and create a legacy for the town that will stand as testament to its commitment to keep the spirit alive for generations to come.

The coat, buttons, pockets, epaulets, slouch hat and backpack with the rifle held at the front are such fine details, yet very clear and easy to see. he coat, buttons, pockets, epaulets, slouch hat and backpack with the rifle held at the front. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Sivyer.

The coat, buttons, pockets, epaulets, slouch hat and backpack with the rifle held at the front are such fine details, yet very clear and easy to see. he coat, buttons, pockets, epaulets, slouch hat and backpack with the rifle held at the front. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Sivyer.

Steve Edwards, from Emu Beach Chalets and Havana Villas, said that he along with his mother Chris Edwards, had first discussed the idea after the impacts of COVID-19.

"We were basically discussing the empty motel rooms and sitting in one at the time," Mr Edwards said.

"On the back of COVID it was all doom and gloom.

"But only the year before we had such a prolific success with the Field of Light exhibition.

"Every year we, as a community, host an exhibition, and the Field of Light in 2019 had been so amazing for the town, highlighting the Anzac links and promoting tourism."

Field of Light: Avenue of Honour was an immersive art installation by British artist Bruce Munro.

It involved the placement of 16,000 shining spheres at Mt Clarence, to honour the Anzac troops who had left from Albany for the Great War.

According to Albany local and former Amazing South Coast tourism Group member Peter Grigg, 186,000 people had travelled to Albany to view the Field of Light.

Mr Edwards said this success had proven the popularity of Albany as an Anzac tourist destination.

"We felt that Albany had tested the market for Anzac as a tourism drawcard on both the 100th anniversary of WW1 and the field of lights and it was a proven formula," Mr Edwards said.

"So Chris and I should put a proposal together to try and boost Albany's profile for Australian tourists as that was the most likely market on the back of COVID."

The first complete prototype of a Spirit Soldier for the project.

The first complete prototype of a Spirit Soldier for the project.

The town has great significance to the Anzac story, being the final Australian stop for more than 30,000 soldiers embarking on their journey to Gallipoli.

Albany is home to the National Anzac Centre, situated at the historically significant Mount Clarence and alongside the heritage listed Princess Royal Fortress, with the town being the final departure point for the first and second Anzac troop convoys headed to the battlefields of the First World War, on November 1, 1914.

The National Anzac Centre and museum is part of a larger historical site, with a vast array of buildings, monuments and lookouts for visitors to experience and explore including Apex drive - home to the Avenue of Honour.

The National Anzac Centre was opened on November 1, 2014, a century after the first troops departed the shores.

Being steeped in such history makes Albany the logical place to continue to honour the Anzacs and provide a lasting legacy to those that helped to build the nation we have today.

This legacy was the driving force behind the development of the Albany Ghost Soldiers project, which has since changed to become the Albany Spirit Soldiers project.

The project also highlights the important place in history the town of Albany has always held since its establishment as the first British settlement in Western Australia almost 200 years ago.

Mr Edwards said they put the proposal together and took it to Mr Grigg and the Amazing South Coast Tourism group.

"We really wanted a legacy, something that could be annual and something that was owned by Albany," he said.

"We want to really put the town on the map, give it the credit it deserves and make people aware of the history that is here."

The sculpture took 55 hours in total over 2.5 months to complete. The detail involved is amazing, so attentive to detail was Ms Sivyer, that she actually studied how a milliner/hat maker constructed a hat, to better inform herself on how to mould the iconic slouch hat for the sculpture. Photos courtesy of Kirsten Sivyer.

The sculpture took 55 hours in total over 2.5 months to complete. The detail involved is amazing, so attentive to detail was Ms Sivyer, that she actually studied how a milliner/hat maker constructed a hat, to better inform herself on how to mould the iconic slouch hat for the sculpture. Photos courtesy of Kirsten Sivyer.

Mr Edwards said the initial proposal had some very specific criteria and this included Indigenous acknowledgement.

"The criteria we used to decide on this as our proposal was:

"1. We wanted it to be a day and night time exhibition to encourage overnight stays in Albany.

"2. It needed to have a legacy that stayed with the town, we initially wanted the sculptures to be set in strategic locations after the exhibition to encourage tourists to see more of the great southern.

"3. We wanted to set it up to fund the next year's exhibition.

"We were hoping for a gold coin donation from every visitor to contribute to the next exhibition.

"4. We felt the stories should be a large part of the exhibition.

"We were hoping to get stories from families and the soldiers themselves to get an understanding of how the war impacted on individuals and really get a feel for the stories."

Mr Grigg said after the conclusion of the Field of Light exhibition, the Amazing South Coast Tourist group had gone to the media to ask for community direction for the project, any ideas or proposals that locals and the community were passionate about.

"Out of all of the proposals that we received the Ghost Soldiers was the one that really struck a chord," he said.

"It was just a natural fit."

From there 11 individuals personally contributed their own funds to commission the first of the 'Spirit Soldiers'.

Kirsten Sivyer was the local Albany artist who was commissioned to produce the very first wire soldier sculpture that would be the first of the planned 120 spirit soldiers that will line the Avenue of Honour and be situated at other sites of significance throughout the town.

"In 2020 a previous student of mine had the idea and asked if I wanted to be involved in the project," Ms Sivyer said.

This student was Steve Edwards.

"As an artist I really wanted to get involved," Ms Sivyer said.

"I am a painter, so it was not in my normal comfort zone, but I really enjoy challenges and this certainly was new territory for me.

"It is an expansion of my skills.

"I paint realistic portraits and figures, so I need proportions and measurements in my work.

"This element really helped me develop the sculpture."

Wanting to recreate the Australian soldier, Ms Sivyer said she studied images online of Australian soldiers in WWI.

"There were different types of uniforms, from the ceremonial ones to the soldiers in the trenches," she said.

"The belts were different too, some full with the canteen and all the other compartments.

"So I had to make a decision on what were the most important parts to the uniform that I wanted to create."

Ms Sivyer settled on a plain belt and jacket with the unmistakable slouch, backpack and rifle.

The detail of the uniform is amazing with the buttons and pockets so intricate and distinctive, especially when you consider this is all made from chicken wire.

The first prototype soldier was a year in the planning and took 55 hours in total to make over a two and a half month period and cost about $2500.

"I ended up with some good scratches from the wire as I couldn't get the right feel for the moulding of the wire if I wore gloves," Ms Sivyer said.

"I used a mannequin to get the basic form and built it around a welded steel rod skeleton.

"The skeleton needed to be minimal and then I layered the body onto this and then the coat, buttons, pockets, epaulets, slouch hat and backpack with the rifle held at the front."

So attentive to detail was Ms Sivyer, that she actually studied how a milliner/hat maker constructed a hat, to better inform herself on how to mould the iconic slouch hat for the sculpture.

After it was completed to her satisfaction, the sculpture was galvinise sprayed and handed over to the clients.

Ms Sivyer's interpretation of the Australian Spirit Soldier is truly amazing and it brought to life the project and ignited the passion in the project from across the community.

Peter Grigg with the first prototype of the Spirit Soldier, designed and made by artist Kirsten Sivyer.

Peter Grigg with the first prototype of the Spirit Soldier, designed and made by artist Kirsten Sivyer.

Mr Grigg said the two metre tall prototype had garnered a lot of interest from the media and the community.

"The City of Albany is driving the first 20 to be installed on the Avenue of Honour," Mr Grigg said.

"The statues will be lit up from underneath at night and will have audio stories attached, that people can download and listen to on their phones at certain sites.

"We really are only limited by our imaginations and can tell so many different stories through this project.

"We have a number of families who are interested in commissioning a spirit soldier, individual pieces can be commissioned.

"The support from the local community has been wonderful and the local business community are very supportive."

Mr Grigg said they were not asking for anything for free and were looking for local artists interested in making the soldiers to come forward.

"It is a paid role for the artists," he said.

"It is a long-term investment and is an art installation that goes beyond boundaries - it is for Albany, for the region, the State and for Australia, it tells our history.

"To me this is the next big thing - the next silo art, that was a project that went everywhere and has done so much."

Mr Grigg said he would love to see other local government regions across WA and Australia take up the mantle - they don't have to be army, they could be navy or air force too.

The hope for Albany was that the 120 Spirit Soldiers would be completed in time for the town's bicentennial celebrations in 2026.

"We have handed over to the City of Albany and remain on a steering committee to assist where we can now," he said.

"I know we all hope to secure some State funding also."

The City of Albany mayor Dennis Wellington said the City was now the lead on this project and was working with project groups and the community to execute the Spirit Soldiers project in time for the Albany 2026 bicentenary.

"Spirit Soldiers is a concept that was born overseas where its meaning, interpretation and physical presence is relevant to that of our own Albany Anzac history," Mr Wellington said.

"We have engaged with this project because when done properly, it will embody the stories of our Anzacs and draw people from all over Australia, and the world to Albany in order to experience the magnitude of the Spirit Soldiers up the Avenue of Honour."

Mr Wellington said the City was currently looking at funding opportunities through a number of different avenues in order to bring the Spirit Soldiers project to life.

"At this stage the project is very much in its infancy in terms of local participation but we would like to see the production and delivery of this project in the hands of the community to bring their local passion and knowledge to the forefront," he said.

"The idea is for this project to be delivered for the 2026 Albany Bicentenary.

"Planning for the bicentenary is still in its infancy, but we're getting some great ideas from the community and others and we want to broaden our engagement with the community so it's an occasion that is really built around a shared vision for 2026 and most importantly includes and acknowledges our rich cultural history too."

The Albany Spirit Soldiers project may have just begun its journey to realisation, but with such a powerful message and a positive community response it looks to be on its way to being another multi generational tribute to the spirit of the Anzacs.

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