Eltham War Memorial Building Complex, Eltham


The rise of community facilities as a form of memorialisation was a distinctive trend in the post-war period. The Eltham War Memorial Building Complex is reflective of the many utilitarian memorials that were created by Victorian communities that wanted to honour their service men and women, while providing ongoing benefits for the community.

A colour photograph of an iron gate. An archway above the gate reads Eltham War Memorial. In the distance is a single storey brick building. Eltham Infant Welfare Centre, 1954. Source: Eltham War Memorial Trust.

Following World War II, Australian and Victorian communities began to consider how to appropriately recognise those who served and died in the war. While World War I memorials were predominantly statues, cenotaphs, Avenues of Honour and plaques, World War II memorialisation was tied to a wider trend of conscious community planning and building. Due to the scarcity of public funding and building materials in the post-war period, it was widely agreed that resources should be used to build facilities that would benefit the community.

As a result, many community facilities were constructed as war memorials throughout Victorian towns and suburbs. These included swimming pools, halls, hospitals, lawn bowls clubs, kindergartens, and baby health centres. These memorials were not to be static objects, rather something that would provide for the community and serve as an ongoing reminder of the impact of war. These facilities were often the product of sustained community organisation and fundraising, as was the case in the construction of the Eltham War Memorial Complex.

A black and white photograph of an outdoor swimming pool. Small groups of people are seated around the pool with a number of people playing and swimming in the pool. War Memorial Swimming Pool, Horsham. Source: State Library of Victoria. A black and white cover of a brochure with an image of a baby smiling and a heading saying Eltham War Memorial Trust. The subheading says One of the Little Ones for Whom they Fought and Died. Fundraising brochure produced by Eltham War Memorial Trust.

Prior to the end of World War II, the Eltham Women’s Auxiliary began fundraising for a war memorial to recognise those in their community who served and died in the war. The newspaper notice for the initial public meeting set the focus for the memorial and read:

Those who have had a member of their family in the fighting services will want to see that the form of a memorial we are concerned with is the one which will be a constant reminder to us of those who fought for us and the little ones for whom they fought and died.

In 1945 the Eltham War Memorial Trust was formed, and it was decided that the memorial should be a facility for children. The Trust purchased a block of land on Main Road, and further fundraising was undertaken to begin construction.

In November 1952, the Infant Welfare Centre—the first part of the complex—was opened to the design of AK Lines and MacFarlane Architects (later AK Lines, MacFarlane & Marshall), a partnership of Albert Keith Lines and Jessica MacFarlane. Jessica Macfarlane started her articles with this firm in 1928, was practicing as an architect by 1934, and became a registered architect in 1942. After serving in the Australian Women’s Army Service, MacFarlane returned to the firm as a partner—one of the earliest instances in Victoria of a female architect entering into an architectural partnership.

A colourful schematic of a building complex. Plans by AK Lines, MacFarlane & Marshall for library and pre-school with memorial colonnade and garden, c1955.

Community fundraising continued until the early 1960s to fund the completion of the complex, including war memorial gates and a wrought iron arch, memorial garden, and a pre-school and children’s library. The Trust handed the Eltham War Memorial Building Complex to the Eltham Shire Council in 1965, and an adjacent Senior Citizens’ Centre was completed in 1967.

A black and white photograph of a well manicured garden with a large stone pillar arch way topped with an iron sign. War Memorial Garden, Main Road, Eltham, February 1968. Source: Eltham District Historical Society.

While changes have been made to the children’s complex to meet contemporary needs, the original buildings remain, and the Eltham community continues to have a strong attachment to their memorial, reflected in ongoing community campaigns to protect its historic and social significance.

Located on the lands of the Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) people.