During and after World War 1 communities around Australia constructed memorials of various types to remember their deceased, missing and returned soldiers. The memorials ranged from physical monuments like statues and buildings to arboreal sites including trees planted in avenues of honour. In South Australia, metropolitan and rural communities embraced a distinctive form of remembrance that became known as soldiers’ memorial gardens. In the main, these living garden memorials were initiated, planted and maintained through the efforts of local citizens. Many were designed through a consultative process involving community representatives and the state’s Government Town Planner Charles Reade (1880-1933). The gardens were either standalone sites or incorporated into a larger scheme such as a recreation park or town improvement project. Since the bodies of deceased soldiers were not returned to Australia but rather were buried in cemeteries overseas, soldiers’ memorial gardens were cherished iconic community sites where people of a suburb, town or district could individually and collectively grieve for and remember their loved ones.
This paper draws on published sources, primary archival research and fieldwork to explore the phenomenon of soldiers’ memorial gardens in South Australia. It examines the evolution of the concept, investigates their cultural meaning and identifies their key design elements based on a survey of examples from across the state. The paper reveals and appraises why soldiers’ memorial gardens were local icons of remembrance from the 1910s and considers their physical condition and cultural heritage status at the centenary of the Great War.