One hundred years ago this month, shouts of ‘coo-ee’ echoed around the new thoroughfare of London’s Aldwych, as George V laid the foundation stone of Australia House. Thirteen months later, Britain was at war, but the building continued to rise. Despite the submarines, Australian marble-dove-coloured Buchan from Victoria, patterned Caleula from New South Wales and white Angaston from South Australia-continued to arrive. The King returned to open the building in August 1918. Over the entrance, the Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal’s heroic group of Phoebus Driving the Horses of the Sun echoes the Rising Sun emblem of the ANZAC troops.
Next year, on May 14 and 15, Australia House will become the setting of a theatrical production, Never Such Innocence, hosted by Lady Lucy French, great granddaughter of Field Marshal Sir John French, who commanded the British Expeditionary Force for the first two years of the war. Sir John’s letters and diaries will form part of the event, along with poetry, prose and music from 1914 to 1918. The object is to raise money for military charities, before the show tours to schools. These days, few people without business at Australia House get to see its sumptuous vistas. There couldn’t be a better opportunity to do so.
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