Night view of the Cotton Tree Eternal Flame

A new flame burns eternal

Anita Jaensch 01 August 2019

On 10 November 2018, a sunset ceremony was held to dedicate the Eternal Flame at Cotton Tree, the result of more than two years of planning and design.

“I think everybody was just taken aback by what we’d achieved,” says Maroochy RSL President Michael Liddelow, chuckling a little as he recalls the moment the Eternal Flame was switched on and the panels behind were unveiled. “You could hear the gasps in the crowd and I think it was just sheer delight.”

For Michael and his team, it was the fulfilment of an idea that first saw the light of day back in 2016. After speaking to a number of veterans about the possibility of establishing an Eternal Flame at Cotton Tree, Michael approached local members and the Mayor of Sunshine Coast Regional Council to garner in-principle support for the project.

By 2017, they were ready to start working with an architect to draw up plans for the memorial.

“We're very fortunate to have a gentleman by the name of Cam Crossley from Crossley Architects here from Maroochydore, who said, ‘I'd love to do it’. We sat down and drew up some plans from the ideas I had in my head and from there the concept was born,” Michael says.

After taking the rough plans and costings to Council and receiving encouragement to develop them further, the team hit their biggest stumbling block – how to light the flame. The more traditional method of an open gas flame was problematic due to the memorial’s location and the running costs involved, and it was eventually decided to incorporate an LED lighting system, much like the one used at Sydney Opera House.

Getting the colours just right and making the ‘flame’ flicker was tricky, but Crossley and the team worked hard to get the effect they were after.

“It’s not the same as mixing two paints together to get a different colour. We’ve actually got to mix lights of different colours altogether to get the colours we want. It took our lighting company, Lux Plot, around about two months to actually get the thing to flicker and then to make sure we had the right colour combinations to resemble a flame,” Michael says.

It’s an overcast morning when we visit Cotton Tree, but the Eternal Flame is flickering brightly on the foreshore. Mounted on a four-sided plinth – representing Navy, Air Force, Army and Merchant Navy – its light warms the four curved bronze fingerlings that shelter it.

Beyond the Flame, four black granite panels show scenes familiar to Sunshine Coast residents and visitors – a humpback breeching with Mt Coolum in the background, Old Woman Island, the pandanus palms at Alexandra Headland and the Glasshouse Mountains. 

Michael Liddelow says the iconic images reinforce the connection between the region and the many men and women who have left it over the past 104 years to serve their nation.

“When they left here back in 1915 and went over to the First World War, those images would have been there,” Michael said. “They were there when they left and they’re still there today.”

Their sacrifice is recognised by two stanzas of ‘For the Fallen’, etched underneath a brass panel split by a ragged fracture. Michael explains this represents the fracturing of society due to wars.

But out of the crack grows a poppy and – in a break from the traditional iconography – two seedpods.

“The poppy is in remembrance, but the seedpods are the next generation,” Michael says. “I only hope at some stage that we do have peace in the world and peace that will last for a long time.”

The Cotton Tree Eternal Flame was jointly funded by Maroochy RSL, the Federal Government, Sunshine Coast Regional Council, RSL Queensland and local member Fiona Simpson. It was designed by Cam Crossley of Crossley Architects and built by local company Park Forge.

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  • History & commemoration