If you attended Springfield’s annual Anzac Day Dawn Service at The Circle at Robelle Domain, you would certainly have noticed the shining beacon on the centre stage.
The 10-metre metal light tower is a beautiful sight no matter the time of day or year.
With a special perforated white steel sleeve, it can hold poppies and other memorial flowers placed during services, whether Anzac Day, Remembrance Day, or any other commemorative service.
At dark, the tower can be lit up like a torch to represent the “Eternal Flame of Remembrance.”
It is a beacon of light both literally and figuratively, honouring the unimaginable sacrifices thousands of Australians have made to help protect the country and its allies.
Up until April 2015, Anzac Day services had been organised each year by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).
A growing number of veterans, local business owners, and members of the Springfield community, however, had expressed interest in building a Defence memorial at a dedicated, permanent site where the community could pay their respects.
Chief among them was local resident Ralph Breaden – President of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce (GSCOC) at the time.
He quickly approached Ipswich City Council and USQ with the idea.
“In May of 2015, I’d spoken with the Council, USQ, and others that I would like to spearhead the approach to build a new memorial, and then host the 2016 Dawn Service at the new memorial,” Ralph said.
Coincidentally, this was to be the centenary of the very first Anzac ceremony in Australia – in 1916.
Doubt lingered that he could pull it all together in time.
“Everyone said to me it could not happen within the next 12 months.”
Nevertheless, Ralph accepted the challenge.
He formed the Springfield Light Tower Committee and started a charitable trust – the Springfield Light Tower, Incorporated.
The original members were Geoff Noller as Secretary, Peter Walker, Martin Buckingham, and Scott Hamill as committee members, Jeremy King as Treasurer, and Nigel Cuppari as Vice President – the latter three of whom are all retired Australian Defence Force (ADF) service members.
Together, the board successfully secured both community and Council approval for the memorial while also raising funds for its construction and ensuring it was completed in time.
They were determined to see it through.
“Many of our board members had a personal connection as to why we passionately chased down this idea,” Ralph explained.
For example, Ralph’s daughter was a military Police Officer at the time, and had just deployed for her first tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“I wanted to keep my mind busy while she was on tour.”
The finished memorial site and cenotaph had to be respectful, tasteful, tough and strong.
“We needed a memorial that was unlike any other,” Ralph said.
The goal was to install it close to the Robelle Domain stage, which sees tens of thousands of people pass by each year.
“We wanted it to be a light tower that fitted in with the other Robelle Domain light towers, but have one half the size of the others that would act like an eternal flame at dawn.”
Committee member Martin, a veteran with construction expertise, was invaluable, Ralph noted.
“His keen eye for detail made sure that the space around the memorial was large enough for a catafalque party from which to mount and dismount. He also wanted to make sure that veterans in wheelchairs had sufficient access to lay a wreath.”
Then-Councillor Andrew Antoniolli suggested using perforated metal panels to hold poppies so that the community could participate physically.
Vee Design then picked up the concept and created drawings – donating their professional services for free in the process.
“I even engaged with the then head of the Australian War Memorial, the Honourable Dr Brendan Nelson, for his input to the design,” Ralph said.
Community consultations were held, and feedback was positive.
“We worked with Russell Luhrs from Springfield City Group. He gave us guidance, advice, and support.”
David Morrison, Ipswich City Councillor at the time, was great to work with, Ralph added.
“Without his support, I am sure the memorial would not have been built.”
Everyone on board
Ralph’s position as President of both the Light Tower Committee and the Chamber of Commerce was fortuitous. He inspired fellow Chamber members to get on board with the project.
“The Chamber board was perhaps the strongest voice behind
the memorial,” Ralph said.
“Numerous local shops were given Anzac buckets to raise funds and raise awareness for the memorial to pay for our first service.”
“The board arranged and ran events from meat raffles to a Golf Day at Brookwater that raised thousands of dollars.”
As Vice President, Nigel took charge of designing and commissioning the first commemorative pin.
They organised the Gunfire Breakfast fundraiser at Orion Hotel, thanks to Sarah Knopke, with money raised helping pay for future Anzac Day events.
They approached local schools to gain support and raise money and awareness for the memorial.
“The board even arranged for many of the chairs to come from the schools and other items required to run the ceremony on the Anzac Day service to save money.”
Nigel also designed the order of events and secured speakers. In fact, the service that he created then is still largely the same now as it was in 2016, Ralph noted.
Board Secretary Geoff Noller was a great asset to the team – especially being the officer-in-charge of the Springfield Police Station.
“Geoff had a vast network of contacts that was essential in getting all this work done in the timeframes we had.”
His advice in ensuring the first event ran smoothly was a huge part of its success.
Tracy Bold was instrumental in organising the Scouts, and helping facilitate the day’s smooth running with event supervision and crowd management.
And there are many other local residents who helped the board achieve its vision, including Laura Armistead, Colonel Michael Batiste (Retd.), Colin La’Cassie, David Christie, Scott White, Debbie Maunder, and John Challen.
“We even arranged with Terry and Frances Slaughter from the Springfield Lakes IGA to supply the catafalque party with a small snack before the early service to keep their energy and fluids up,” Ralph noted.
“The first ever catafalque party around the memorial largely comprised recently returned service personnel from Afghanistan, including my daughter.
“That is something I will never forget.”
A catafalque is defined by the Australian Army as being a raised structure supporting a stand that usually holds a coffin to allow mourners to file past and pay their last respects to those who have fallen. Typically, four members of an armed guard stand, heads bowed and gun reversed, face outward approximately one metre from the catafalque as a symbolic form of respect.
Ultimately, some 3,600 people attended the first 2016 dawn service at the new site – an incredible achievement for such a short turnaround.
In 2019, an estimated 8,000 people came. And massive turnouts have continued since, rain or shine.
Although all of the original committee members have retired from the board, they stand today rightfully proud of their accomplishment.
“No easy task, but we did it,” Ralph said.
Nigel, having served in the Australian army for over 10 years before joining the committee, said he had hoped for a memorial that would do the community proud.
“I think we definitely achieved that,” Nigel said.
They helped raise a new RSL Sub-Branch – the Greater Springfield RSL Sub-Branch, led by retired Air Force veteran Doug Egan – which is growing each year and is helping fellow Springfield veterans.
And Tracy continues on the committee to this day, and she is its longest serving member.