Construction starts at Canberra community AIDS memorial

Patron of the AIDS Action Council of the ACT John Mackay and executive director Philippa Moss. Image: Canberra Times
Patron of the AIDS Action Council of the ACT John Mackay and executive director Philippa Moss. Image: Canberra Times

As Prince Harry and Elton John team up at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in South Africa, the AIDS Action Council of the ACT has secured a significant contribution of $25,000 from ActewAGL to assist in the construction of a memorial garden.

After 10 years of planning and fundraising, construction of Australia’s first AIDS Garden of Reflection will begin today at the National Arboretum Canberra.

The AIDS Garden of Reflection is the brainchild of Richard Allen who came up with the idea of the garden in 2006 after losing a friend to HIV. Richard, who has been HIV positive for 27 years, also lost his partner to AIDS in 1994 along with 12 other friends the same year.

Richard said the idea of the garden was to give people a way to remember those affected by the disease that isn’t a cemetery setting.

“I wanted somewhere to remember my friends who I lost too soon. Going to a cemetery is so hard because you’re surrounded by people that loved ones have buried. I wanted the garden to be somewhere tranquil, peaceful and heartfelt to be with the people we’ve lost in spirit,” he said.

“The garden will be for everyone who’s suffering, everyone who needs somewhere to sit and remember the good times. My partner is not buried in Canberra but was raised here and we lived our lives together here so I wanted a place to bring his spirit home.

“Canberra is the perfect place for the garden and the Arboretum is so peaceful and harmonising; it’s the perfect place to sit and look over the lake and Black Mountain Tower.”

Richard began raising funds for the project in 2006 but it was a slow process. In 2012 he approached the AIDS Action Council of the ACT with the concept of the garden.

“The AIDS Action Council has been fantastic. I’ve been a volunteer for over 30 years and when I approached them about the garden idea they got right behind it and began fundraising,” he said.

ActewAGL director marketing and corporate affairs Paul Walshe said the company looks forward to seeing Richard’s vision of a peaceful, reflective garden come to life.