Commemorating Anzac through engaging learning

Visual arts Stage 2


Looking up through the branches of a Moreton Bay fig

Moreton Bay fig

Students discuss the reasons and choices Shaun Tan made in his illustrations in Memorial by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan. They create images or their local memorial using ideas, media and techniques used by Shaun Tan.

Teaching and learning activities

Elderly man in military uniform with medals and feather in his cap; he smiling at the camera

Ernie Old marches with the 13th Lighthorse Brigade, Anzac March 1956

What do the images in Memorial by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan communicate?

Look at the four images from Memorial by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan:

The Unreturned—graphite pencil on paper collage

Great Grandpa—acrylic, pencil, gouache, fabric, paper

Midsummer—acrylic, gouache and pencil, paper collage

The tree comes down—acrylic

Source: Memorial (

Ask students to consider Shaun Tan’s statement and create their own images about their local memorial using one of these ideas and techniques as a starting point.

Create a digital image ‘smash’ of past and present memorial sites.

Shaun Tan’s comments on Memorial (excerpt)

What made the subject of the book engaging for both of us was that it ended up being not about war, memorials or remembrance as ‘grand’ subjects, but about the small, quiet memories that make up ordinary day-to-day lives - really about the nature of memory itself. I tried to capture this in illustrations which were fragmented, sometimes worn and faded. I incorporated collage into paintings and drawings to this effect, using fabric, leaves, wood, rusted metal, photographs, newspaper and dead bugs. Because of this assemblage, many of the images were not flat or could be scanned in the normal way, and had to be photographed first.

The story is made up of different family members reminiscing about things that happened to them near this particular tree, but I did not want to show the narrators in any literal way, or even what they were talking about directly (and with Gary’s writing, this was not necessary anyway). As a result, most of the illustrations are about building up mood in a metaphorical way - a broken kite, some coloured teacups, a germinating seed, a beetle taking off and landing, and so on. We don’t see a lot of things, including the tree being cut down, but we get a sense of it instead, as if everything is silent memory recollected… Perhaps the point of this picture book is to open a passage for its readers to think about the way symbols really work in relation to collective memory, as a container that needs to be continually topped up to have any currency.

Source: Memorial (

Learning concepts

These additional questions can be used for discussion or further investigations.


How does Shaun Tan create mood in his illustrations in Memorial? How does he represent the nature of memories?


How do the illustrations in Memorial capture the memories of generations in families and of the community?


How do symbols help keep memories? How do they help communities commemorate events?

Syllabus links

VAS2.1 Represents the qualities of experiences and things that are interesting or beautiful by choosing among aspects of subject matter.

VAS2.2 Uses the forms to suggest the qualities of subject matter.

VAS2.3 Acknowledges that artists make artworks for different reasons and that various interpretations are possible.

VAS2.4 Identifies connections between subject matter in artworks and what they refer to, and appreciates the use of particular techniques.