The history of Remembrance Driveway

Nearly all cultures have found ways of remembering wars and honouring war heroes. Some preserved the memory through myths and legends and others built monuments in some form. Early monuments, carved in wood or stone, were usually erected as memorial panels in cathedrals and churches and it was not until after the Napoleonic Wars that freestanding monuments appeared in public places.

These memorials were not to common soldiers and sailors but were heroic tributes to victorious individuals, usually conquering generals or admirals. One of the most notable is Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square in London. The first memorials to ordinary servicemen came after the Crimean War of 1854-56 when the suffering and courage of British soldiers was recognised for the first time.

The first conflict in which Australia and New Zealand were involved was the South African War of 1899-1902 and memorials to those who served were erected in both countries. However it was the Great War of 1914-1918, which affected the lives of so many people, that fostered an enormous community need to establish lasting memorials to all those who served their countries.

This was most apparent in the young Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where both monuments of stone and living memorials were patriotically supported by most citizens. Australia in fact has more war memorials than any other country.

Architectural or sculptural memorials such as monumental buildings and arches were favoured at first. Some felt that utilitarian memorials, such as war veteran's homes or hospitals were more appropriate. Many believed that the utilitarian memorial was sacrilegious to the dead and so the idea of a living memorial gained favour. Planting trees was seen as a symbol of hope for the future but above all it was seen as something tangible, which ordinary people could become personally involved with.

The idea of planting trees as war memorials appears to have originated in Great Britain in 1918 when the office of the King's Highway issued a pamphlet titled "Roads of Remembrance as War memorials". The two objectives of this program were to transform suitable existing highways "to the dignity of Roads of Remembrance adorned with trees" and to organise the building of highways "of exceptional dignity and beauty with open spaces at intervals as special memorials to the Great War". Interestingly the idea was taken up by Britain's former colonies but not by Britain itself.

In Canada, memorial avenues were planted in both cities and rural towns but, today, only one at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, planted in 1922, survives intact and continues to be added to. In Australia, from 1917 to 1921, hundreds of avenues of honour were planted to commemorate those who served in the Great War. The first and most famous avenue of honour was the one planted between 1917 and 1919, at Ballarat in Victoria.

The Beginning

After World War II, monuments in stone were not in favour although rolls of honour, with the names of those who served in the 1939-1945 war, were often added to existing 1914-1918 memorials. While many were opposed to monuments, most still supported the idea of some sort of memorial and once again, a living memorial found widespread community support. It is not surprising therefore that the suggestion that the establishment of a Remembrance Driveway linking Sydney and Canberra appealed to politicians and the public alike.

It was Mrs Margaret Davis who first contemplated planting a living memorial to those Australians who had served in World War II. Mrs Davis was the Founding President of the Garden Clubs of Australia and she suggested it as the Clubs' first project. Recognising the Garden Clubs' limitations, Margaret Davis enlisted the help of other members who had influence in the right places. Those she turned to were Lieutenant General Frank Berryman, Commanding Officer at Victoria Barracks in Sydney, Mr Robert Anderson, Curator and Chief Botanist at the Sydney Botanic Gardens and Charles Moses, General Manager of the ABC.

A preliminary committee, chaired by Charles Moses, was formed in April 1952. He invited a number of interested people to attend the inaugural meeting of the National Memorial Highway Committee held on 21 May 1952 at Broadcast House. An Executive Committee was elected with Frank Berryman as President and this committee was requested to investigate the practicability of establishing a Memorial Highway between Sydney and Canberra to commemorate those who served in the Australian Armed Forces in the Second World War.

The objective was to be achieved by planting avenues of trees and establishing groves, memorial parks and other appropriate memorials. The Government provided part time secretarial services and a room to hold meetings at the Department of Local Government was made available. Senior Town planner, Mr Nigel Ashton who with Mr Anderson and Mr Cecil Hawkins, Chief Engineer, Department of Main Roads, surveyed the route of the Driveway served on this committee and he continued to serve until his death in 2008. Past Presidents of the Remembrance Driveway Committee and details of the current Committee membership are at Annex A.

At its meeting on 24 June 1953, the Committee agreed that the name of the project be the Remembrance Driveway. In October 1953 the Remembrance Driveway logo of a laurel wreath and green tree on a yellow background with dark red lettering was approved by the Committee.

The Premier of NSW, the Hon. J.J. Cahill agreed to launch the project by making a statement on the ABC on 9 December 1953 and the Federal Minister for the Interior, Mr Kent-Hughes followed with a statement on behalf of the Commonwealth. A brochure was launched which concluded with a special appeal for donations from all members of society, from large corporations who were invited to sponsor a whole plantation to individual citizens who could donate a single tree for $20 (10 pounds at the time).

On 5 February 1954 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh planted two London Plane trees on the Bridge and Loftus Street corner of Macquarie Place in Sydney and later on 16 February the Queen planted a Snow Gum at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Unfortunately, this tree was ringbarked by vandals in 1965 and despite the attempts of a tree surgeon it did not recover.

In 1975 the original plaque was placed inside the War memorial for safekeeping and a new plaque with a replacement tree [a Narrow-leaved Peppermint] took its place. These were the first official plantings that physically marked each end of the Remembrance Driveway and provided the impetus for subsequent plantings to begin simultaneously from both ends of the Driveway. In 2002 Governor General Peter Hollingworth planted three red spotted gums in Remembrance Park, behind the Australian War Memorial to re-mark the Canberra end of the Driveway.

Following the official launch and the Royal plantings, general enthusiasm and public support for the project was high and remained so for about 10 years. Publicity, through the media, continued and was aimed at encouraging individual donors. Progress on the Remembrance Driveway was broadcast over ABC radio and Radio 2CH and later was given good television coverage. Auxiliaries were formed at Goulburn, Canberra, Camden and Berrima to supervise local plantings, however all have now closed down.

Many individual donations came flooding in and it became impossible to identify individual trees with individual donors as was initially intended. Corporate sponsors however were able to be acknowledged as for example with the Qantas grove at Bass Hill and the Hoyts Theatres grove at Lake George North, now the Arthur Gurney VC Rest Area.

Beginning with modest planting in 1954 the project accelerated over the next few years with plantings at 10 sites in 1955, 19 sites in 1956 and 7 sites in 1957. Fewer plantings were undertaken from then on, partly because there was a limited number of new sites available but also because the main effort was concentrated on maintaining the many thousands of trees already planted.

The Quiet Years

In 1962, six new plantations were established and in 1967, 1973 and 1979 some small plantations were put in at Bass Hill and Cabramatta on the Hume Highway, in Sydney's inner west, but generally the Committee concentrated its efforts on maintaining existing plantations and investing surplus funds to generate income during the period of high interest rates.

A pause was also called for because it was recognised that the development of the new expressway which was to replace the old Hume Highway would call for a reassessment of the route the Driveway should take.

Public interest was waning. Many believed that the Remembrance Driveway had been completed and the Committee disbanded. No new sponsors were forthcoming and individual donations ceased. The maintenance of the established plantations became difficult and it was due only to the dedicated work of the Committee that the plantations survived.

The Revival

The modern revival of the project began in the early 1990’s. In 1991 the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) took up sponsorship of the Driveway Committee.

In 1992 over 500 trees were planted within the existing Villawood plantation to commemorate those who had served in the Vietnam War and in 1993, one of the original sponsors, Qantas, carried out additional planting in their Bass Hill plantation. In 1993, the Army planted and dedicated the largest plantation for many years on the F5 and Narellan Road interchange at Kenny Hill (this is the turn off to the Mount Annan Botanic Garden and in a co-operative effort by the Authority RTA and the Botanic Garden, further development of this area began in late 1999).

Also in 1993 the Committee accepted after much discussion that the Remembrance Driveway should move away from the old Hume Highway route to the new highway between Liverpool and Goulburn. It reluctantly agreed that responsibility for the sections of the Driveway which that were being bypassed would pass back to local authorities and/or community groups. These sections of the old Driveway could be referred to as Remembrance Drives or Remembrance Groves if that was the local wish but no longer would they be a part of the Remembrance Driveway.

In April 1997, in a joint statement, the Federal Minister for Transport, Mr John Sharp MP and the Minister for Veteran's Affairs, Mr Bruce Scott MP, committed $4 million of Federal funding which was passed to the RTA, to accelerate a programme of naming rest area sites after the then 21 deceased Australian Victoria Cross recipients from World War II and Vietnam and to enable the refurbishment of rest areas and tree plantations and to better provide for public information signage along the Remembrance Driveway.

The Committee, in conjunction with RTA staff, had initiated phase one of the Victoria Cross Rest Area Project in 1995 with the aim of dedicating Rest Areas to the memory of the 12 posthumously awarded World War II and Vietnam War winners. Phase one began with the dedication of three Rest Areas at Roses Lagoon, Lake George North and Penrose State Forest. This was widened following the dedication of the Federal Government funds, to encompass all the deceased Victoria Cross recipients from these conflicts. Rest Areas in their honour have been established.

As NSW responsibility for development of the Driveway stops at the border, ACT Government authorities are ensuring that the Driveway with all its features continues on to the Australian War Memorial. In September 2000, the ACT Government and it's Department of Territory and Municipal Services sponsored the development of the Hughie Edwards VC Memorial Park in the northern approaches to Canberra and in the Remembrance Park, behind the Australian War Memorial, Campbell, the Department prepared a specially landscaped site for three landmark trees to mark the Canberra end of the Driveway. These were planted by the Governor- General, His Excellency the Right Reverend Peter Hollingworth AC, OBE, in November 2002 to replace the tree planted by Her Majesty in 1954, which had died. The Department also completed the construction of the Kelliher VC and Rattey VC Memorial Parks, in this area. These were dedicated in October 2002. In 2005 the Committee commissioned the additional construction of the Ray Simpson VC and Leslie "Tom" Starcevich VC memorials in this Park.

In December 2006, in the presence of Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC, CVO, Governor of New South Wales, the Committee dedicated the Sir Roden Cutler VC Memorial Interchange and companion VC Rest Area. This interchange is at the intersection of the M5 and M7 motorways at Prestons.

On 15 November 2010, in the presence of Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Committee dedicated the Australian Defence Force Memorial Plantation. This 45,000 tree Plantation extends 15.5 kilometres along the Remembrance Driveway between the Sir Roden Cutler VC Memorial Interchange at Prestons and the Mount Annan Botanic Garden. The Memorial recognises all Australian Defence Force personnel who have served and will serve in various theatres of conflict, including peace keeping missions following the Vietnam era. Memorial walls on both the northbound and southbound roadways identify the plantation to passing motorists.

In August 2012, in the presence of Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC, CVO, Governor of New South Wales (who had recently become Patron of the RDC) the Committee dedicated the Edward Kenna VC Rest Area at Pheasant Nest. This site has set a high standard for VC Rest Areas established in conjunction with Motorway Service Centres.

In the first major upgrade of a memorial on the Driveway, the Sir Roden Cutler VC Memorial Interchange was enhanced with new signage and a light on top of the M5/M7 interchange pyramid and renamed the “Cutler VC Interchange” in August 2016.

In 2019 the Remembrance Driveway Committee changed its constitution and was renamed the Remembrance Driveway Council. Through successive mergers of government agencies between 2011 and 2019, the RTA has become part of Transport for NSW (TfNSW). The new agency continues to support the work of the Remembrance Driveway Council.

In 2023, The Keith Payne VC rest area was established, also at Pheasants Nest.

The Future

The Committee's objectives for development of the Remembrance Driveway are as follows:

  • In 2013 the RDC resolved that Rest Areas for VCs could be developed whilst the recipients were alive. We are planning VC Rest Areas for Keith Payne VC, Mark Donaldson VC, Benjamin Roberts-Smith VC,, Daniel Keighran VC and Cameron Baird VC.
  • In May 2014, the Committee saw the successful completion of a campaign to name a park in Watson ACT as “Valour Park” with a view to future dedications on this refurbished part of the Remembrance Driveway.
  • Oversee the maintenance of existing VC Memorial Rest Areas to ensure that they are maintained at the required standard.
  • Encourage the improvement of existing plantations and the development of new ones.

There has always been a cordial relationship between the Remembrance Driveway Council and TfNSW and its predecessors. They have been represented on the Committee from the start. The agency took up sponsorship of the Driveway Committee in 1991 and since then has supported the concept of the Remembrance Driveway with financial, planning and material assistance. It is this involvement which enables the Remembrance Driveway Council to continue the development of the Remembrance Driveway. The Council thanks them.

The Council has been very well served by the immediate past two Presidents. Major General Kevin Latchford began the modern revival of the project when he assumed the presidency in 1989, and Commodore Ian Callaway continued with the revival through to 2012. The Remembrance Driveway made great progress under the leadership of these two Presidents who both passed away in 2013; Major General Latchford died in February and Commodore Callaway died in September of that year.

The Remembrance Driveway is a tribute from those who remember yesterday and have faith in tomorrow. It commemorates those who have served in the Australian Defence Forces in World War II and subsequent wars or who have served since then in operational theatres around the world, in defence of the Nation's interests. The Driveway now has achieved the form and status its founders imagined, but it is a living memorial, and under the careful stewardship of the Remembrance Driveway Council, it will continue to grow as new opportunities present themselves.

Ian Scott AM
Air Commodore (Ret’d)
Immediate Past President
Remembrance Driveway Council