The National Site of Recognition for Thalidomide Survivors and their Families


Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, National Capital Authority

The National Site of Recognition for Thalidomide Survivors and their Families, located in Wendouree Drive, Kings Park, Canberra, was established by the Australian Government to acknowledge the thalidomide tragedy in Australia.

It serves as a lasting reminder to all Australians that the lessons of the tragedy must never be forgotten. The memorial seeks to honour the pain and suffering experienced by survivors, be a lasting memory of those who died prematurely and acknowledge the impact on their loved ones.

In 2020 PLACE Laboratory was selected by thalidomide survivors and their families, carers, and friends as the winner of a competition to design The National Site of Recognition for Thalidomide Survivors and their Families.

Construction of the National Site of Recognition was completed in late 2023, and the memorial was dedicated by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, along with thalidomide survivors and their families, on 30 November 2023.

Our memorial design proposed a place of empathy, emotional reflection, and education. Through its form and materiality, it highlighted the ongoing effects of the drug on survivors’ lives and their bravery intertwined with a parallel story about government’s role in evaluating drug safety. Symbolic elements are embedded throughout the memorial which unfold as visitors pass through the space:

  • Upon arrival visitors are met by a rectangular glass brick structure with a circular archway through the centre. The rectangular structure is symbolic of a human life and the archway represents the void Thalidomide made in that life. The archway frames a view of Lake Burley Griffin offering hope and a sense of fulfillment.
  • While the bricks represent strength and resilience, their glass material symbolises the fragility of life and the importance of transparency and reflection.
  • The ripple effect on the façade and the staggered edge of the archway signifies the pervasive and enduring impact of thalidomide on individuals, as well as their families and friends.
  • Words, determined by thalidomide survivors, have been etched into the walkway to convey the significance and impact of the tragedy. These words portray the strength and courage of survivors and acknowledge the trauma and loss experienced.
  • A timeline of events provides a historical outline of the thalidomide tragedy, offering an opportunity for education and improved awareness.

The archway opens to a seating area with views of trees and the lake, providing a place for reflection and contemplation.