The war memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park is being redeveloped during the Centenary of Anzac, and a piece of Cessnock will be part of the historic project.
Soil from 1699 NSW towns, suburbs and localities where soldiers enlisted in World War I will be displayed at the memorial as part of a moving artwork.
All soil samples will be placed in the renovated Hall of Service with the name of the town next to them.
The soil will be collected by representatives of the Office of Veterans Affairs, the Geographical Names Board and Spatial Services surveyors or local MPs.
Veterans affairs minister David Elliott visited Cessnock on Wednesday to personally collect the town’s contribution to the the Anzac Memorial Centenary Project soil collection.
Mr Elliott has a family connection to Cessnock on his grandfather’s side. Two of his ancestors who served in World War I are listed on the Cessnock war memorial.
His grandfather’s brother, Archibald Arbuckle, died on the Western Front in 1917 and is buried in France.
His grandfather’s uncle, Archibald George Arbuckle, also fought in World War I and earned the Military Medal.
Mr Elliott said war memorials are special places, especially for people who lost loved ones in the war and couldn’t afford to travel overseas to their grave site.
He said collecting the soil from the broad range of sites across the state is a reminder of the great sacrifices made by men across all of our communities in the Great War.
“The Cessnock War Memorial is a sacred site commemorating the courage of local Cessnock men who fought and died in a war half a world away,” he said.
“A century on, we honour these men by taking a sample of soil and placing it in the Hall of Service at the refurbished Anzac Memorial so that it can be appreciated and commemorated by generations to come.”
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent, members of the Cessnock RSL Sub-Branch and students from Cessnock East Public School were on hand to help Mr Elliott with the digging.
Cessnock RSL Sub-Branch president Max Lewis said it was a proud moment for Cessnock to be part of this project.
“It’s going to be part of history for as long as the war memorial is there,” he said.
“The children who attend school excursions will be able to say ‘that’s from Cessnock’.
“I can’t wait for it to be finished so I can get down there and take a look.”
Mr Elliott said the Hyde Park war memorial upgrade is the state’s marquee Centenary of Anzac event.
The $36 million project includes the new Hall of Service, which architecturally and artistically mirrors the Hall of Memory in the original building.
It will include a water cascade that will realise the vision of the memorial’s original architect Bruce Dellit, whose work did not proceed due to the financial constraints of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The project also includes a new forecourt, library, a lecture theatre, exhibition galleries, a shop and reception area.
The upgrade is expected to be complete in late 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of the armistice that signalled the end of the first World War.