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Fromelles project - archaeological excavation.

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THE HON. GREG COMBET MP Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science

Monday, 06 July 2009 016/2009


Greg Combet, Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, and Alan Griffin, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, today corrected the public record in response to media reporting regarding the Fromelles Project archaeological excavation.

“The Government wants to ensure that the recovery of these remains is conducted in a professional and sensitive manner and that the appropriate respect and reverence is paid to these men in all steps of the exhumation and reinterment process,” said Mr Combet.

“The choice to engage Oxford Archaeology to undertake the excavation was an international decision, reached using an open and transparent tender process that was aligned with Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines.”

“Oxford Archaeology’s services represented the best value for money to the Australian and United Kingdom Governments. The Government is advised that the recovery operation is being conducted with the utmost professionalism and reverence for the soldiers buried at Pheasant Wood.”

As one of the largest independent archaeology and heritage practices in Europe, Oxford Archaeology has nearly 400 specialist staff. It also has up to 30 highly experienced specialists including anthropologists and archaeologists on site at all times, and has the capacity to surge additional specialists from within its extensive team to assist the recovery operation at Pheasant Wood as is necessary.

“Oxford Archaeology is also very experienced with post war and post warlike archaeology, having conducting recovery operations from a WWII site in France, as well as from other sites in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Guatemala,” Mr Combet said.

“A minor delay with the project was caused by very heavy rain in late May this year. However, the project remains on the agreed schedule.”

The Fromelles Management Board has advised the Government that no remains or artefacts were compromised by the weather event and that Oxford Archaeology has strategies and options to mitigate against ground water and toxic waste.

“All possible care is being taken to ensure that the maximum number of individual remains are able to return a positive DNA reading and allow matching with living relatives,” said Mr Combet.

“Also contrary to media reports, Oxford Archaeology has recovered over 60 individual remains from Pheasant Wood. These remains are currently in the on-site temporary mortuary, and only three have not had artefacts found on them that directly associated them with the Army they fought for, either the

Australian or British.”

Further, contrary to the media reporting there was no ‘crisis meeting’ held at the site. The meeting referred to in the reports was held on 29 June and is a regular monthly meeting of the Fromelles Management Board to discuss project matters and provide guidance to the project managers, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Minister Griffin said that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are also overseeing construction of the cemetery which will be the final resting place for those soldiers recovered from Pheasant Wood.

“Construction of the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery commenced in May, and I am advised that it is on schedule to receive the soldiers’ remains in early 2010.”

“I have recently seen aerial photographs which show the cemetery is taking shape. The classic, simple hexagonal design and grave rows radiating out from the centre are now clearly visible.”

“It is important these soldiers are given a proper burial place and that relatives, and visiting Australians, have somewhere to pay their respects and honour the sacrifice of these men.”

The Fromelles Project is of great importance and remains a priority to Defence and the Australian Government.

The Australian Government will continue to closely monitor the progress of this project and will keep the Australian community advised of developments.

The official Fromelles Project website can be found at the official Defence website,, and contains regular updates.

Media contact: Rod Hilton (Greg Combet) 02 6277 7620 or 0458 276 619 Belinda Cole (Alan Griffin) 02 6277 7820 or 0437 863 109 Defence Media Liaison: 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664