Smoke and Mirrors at the Shrine

One of the things that impressed me the first time I visited the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne was one of the most symbolic architectural features in the building. When the Shrine was built in the 1930s it was designed with a small hole in the roof, in just the right position and at just the right angle that it would catch a ray from the sun and funnel it down such that it would fall on the Stone of Remembrance that is sunk into the floor in the Sanctuary, the main commemorative area.This would happen at 11:00 on 11 November each year in recognition of the time and day when the guns on the Western Front finally fell silent in 1918.

The stone is inscribed with the Biblical phrase, ‘GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN’. And for about four decades, at the appointed hour on the appointed day, a sunbeam would come through the hole and rest lightly on the word ‘LOVE’.

But then in the 1970s Daylight Saving Time was introduced in Victoria. Clocks went forward an hour. And the sunbeam made its grand entrance  at midday, too late for Remembrance Day ceremonies. For four or five years the Shrine made do with an artificial replacement, simulating the beam with a theatrical spotlight, but, well, it just wasn’t the same.

Enter Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology surveyors Frank Johnston and Rod Deakin, who came up with a beautifully simple solution. They installed two mirrors to catch the sun’s light from its ‘new’ 11:00 position and bounce it into the original shaft leading to the Stone of Remembrance.


In the days leading up to Remembrance Day each year, the pair, along with their understudy Steven Sheppard, go up into the roof of the Shrine and take observations to recalculate and adjust the mirrors to make certain that it will work. And in the 32 years that Deakin has been involved, clouds have ruined the show on only five occasions (nothing to be sniffed at given Melbourne’s notoriously changeable weather).

They were up there again this week, and Bridie Smith from The Age newspaper wrote an article about them. You can find it, with a short video showing the surveyors at work, here. And there will be the annual Remembrance Day service at the Shrine, next Tuesday from 10:30. Two hours later the brand new Galleries of Remembrance will open to the public for the first time. Details here.


(c) 2014 Adam Purcell