Albany, Western Australia: Art installation lights up Anzacs' departure point

In the strikingly contemporary National Anzac Centre in the Western Australian town of Albany, the names of the 41,265 Australians and New Zealanders who left on the first and second convoys to the First World War are recorded on a slowly revolving digital scroll submerged in water.

The poignancy of the names is heightened by the view. Sitting atop Mount Clarence, the centre's glass walls frame a vast cobalt blue sky and, below it, in a slightly darker shade, beautiful King George Sound, from where, in 1914, more than 50 ships set sail for the battlefields of Europe, Northern Africa and Gallipoli.

The centre's black and white photographs, historical artefacts and interactive displays, enable visitors to mentally transpose onto this idyllic view a squadron of naval ships, their smoke stacks billowing in preparation for departure. For many of the Anzacs, Albany's King George Sound would be their last glimpse of home.

As history's darkest days are expertly evoked in this state-of-the-art centre, hope for the future is similarly awakened a short walk away. Marking the centenary of Armistice Day, Field of Light: Avenue of Honour, an art installation by UK artist Bruce Munro, extends 350 metres either side of the road leading up to Mount Clarence War Memorial, the site of Australia's first commemorative dawn service.

The 16,000 shining glass spheres that Munro brings to life against a silhouette of gum trees along the Avenue of Honour is coincidentally but fittingly close to the number of Anzacs who set out from King George Sound but never returned.

The ultra-low energy LED lights, sitting on knee-high acrylic stems and linked by a squiggly mess of 153,000 metres of optic fibre cables, bloom in the dark like thousands of static glow worms. As you walk along the avenue, clusters of lights change from luminescent green to soft white and gold, colours that represent New Zealand kowhai flowers and Australian wattle.

An audio guide, streamed through my smartphone, describes Munro's artistic process and brings to life the Anzac stories. The narrator describes each globe of light as "a token of appreciation for those we lost, and a beacon of hope for a brighter, peaceful world reborn from the memories of past wars".

It's this sentiment that Munro wants attendees to embrace.

"This installation is about bringing to mind the infinite, youthful spirits of the Anzacs, and honouring their lives by vowing that war is no longer an acceptable option," Munro says. "To fulfil life's potential, reconciliation and peace must always be at the forefront of our thoughts and actions."

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Opened in October last year and commissioned by cultural organisation FORM in partnership with the City of Albany, 30,000 visitors were expected to visit. So far, more than 78,000 people from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Europe, and America as well as New Zealand and Britain, have walked the Avenue of Honour.

Munro's first Australian immersive light-based installation, Field of Light Uluru at Ayers Rock Resort, has had its season extended to December 2020, but Albany's Field of Light is expected to finish as planned on April 25, this year.

"While it's always tempting and flattering for the artist to extend the lifespan of his work," says FORM's Michal Zidanowicz, "Munro believes Anzac Day is a special and fitting time for the work to come to a close".

Get there before the lights go out.

TRIP NOTES

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amazingalbany.com.au

VISIT

Field of Light: Avenue of Honour is free to view, open daily, and will light up from sunset to 10pm until April 25. See fieldoflightalbany.com.au

The National Anzac Centre interpretive experience is open daily from 9am to 5pm with last entry at 4pm (allow two hours). It costs $25 for adults, $21 for concession, $11 for the first child (aged 5-11) and $6 for each child thereafter (aged 5-11). Seenationalanzaccentre.com.au

FLY

Qantas operates multiple daily flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Perth. See qantas.com. It's a five-hour drive from Perth to Albany, or regional carrier Rex operates daily flights between Perth and Albany. See rex.com.au

STAY

Accommodation in Albany includes Dog Rock Motel, which costs $162 a night based on a double occupancy. See dogrockmotel.com.au. Luxury Parry Beach Breaks has two- and three- bedroom villa accommodation, which costs from $230 a night for up to six guests, near William Bay National Park in nearby Denmark. See parrybeachbreaks.com.au

Penny Watson travelled as a guest of Tourism Western Australia.

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