It doesn’t take long to realise that Victorians love to view and debate the merits of public sculpture. Drive or walk around the streets of Melbourne and our country towns and you’ll find numerous structures of all shapes and sizes in all sorts of places. Even our freeways get into the action.
Coming in from the airport for example, you’ll find “Cheese Sticks,” a 70-metre yellow steel beam suspended over CityLink with accompanying 39 red sticks. On Eastlink between Donvale and Frankston, ConnectEast has invested $5 million to create a sculpture park. Four major artworks and eight smaller artworks are prominently located on the roadside. Then there’s “Bunjil”—or “Eagle”—a sculpture of an eaglehawk standing 25 metres or seven storeys high at the corner of Flinders Street and Wurundjeri Way.
Some sculptures are loved, others are extremely controversial. One of the most controversial pieces is “Vault” by Ron Robertson-Swann. “Vault”—or “Yellow Peril” as it was more commonly known—was originally installed in the City Square during the early 1980s and quickly divided public opinion. While lauded as a bold, simple and grand sculpture it was soon moved from its central city location to Batman Park and from there to its now permanent home outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art on the corner of Dodds and Grant Streets.
Far less controversial (although sometimes needing to be explained) are pieces such as “Architectural Fragment” by Petrus Spronk, located outside the State Library of Victoria on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets. Emerging from the pavement outside one of the city’s oldest institutions, “Architectural Fragment” looks like a fallen classical monument, or forgotten corner of the State Library, sunken into its urban environment. The sculpture serves as a reminder to the city’s past and alludes to the transient nature of the present.
“The Public Purse” by Simon Perry in the Bourke Street Mall is one of the city’s distinctive forms of street seating. Appearing as if it is nothing more than an oversized dropped purse, the sculpture is designed to reflect the bustling retail district.
“Reed Vessel” by Virginia King in Docklands Park is a filigreed and elevated form embracing themes of migration, the journey and survival, the river and the sea. Referencing Docklands’ history and stories of the river and marine archaeology, the work emerges from the water, a visible manifestation of the rebirth of Docklands. On the sides of the cradle, you’ll uncover etchings and metaphors about river and sea created by Australian poets and writers.
Also located in Docklands Park is Duncan Stemler’s “Blowhole,” a 15-metre high wind-powered sculpture. As the wind blows through, armature and cups interact with each other to form patterns, colours and shadows. Like an anemometer on a yacht’s mast, “Blowhole’s” various parts spin in different directions. The colourful results are dictated by the whims of the location’s prevailing winds.
On the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets is “Three Businessmen” by Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn. Officially named the “Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston and Hoddle”, this whimsical, life-sized sculpture pays homage to Melbourne’s three pioneers, returning them to the city’s streets as pedestrians observing Melbourne’s development throughout time.
Located within Birrarung Marr Park is “Birrarung Wilam” by Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch, and Treahna Hamm. It interprets stories from local Indigenous communities. Two tall, intricately carved message sticks mark the site that features a textured, twisting pathway representing the eel, a traditional food of groups camped by the river. Large rocks incised with animal drawings enclose a performance space, while metal shields represent the five clans of the Kulin Nation.
For kids there’s the “Fairies Tree” by Ola Cohn in the Fitzroy Gardens. Hand-carved into an ancient red gum tree, the work features myriad carvings of Australian and European fairies, dwarfs, gnomes, imps, goblins, elves and animals.
One of our most interesting and informative pieces is “The Travellers” by Nadim Karam on Sandridge Bridge. “The Travellers” was created by Lebanese artist Nadim Karam, along with City of Melbourne designers, in tribute to our multicultural heritage. The work includes 128 glass panels placed along the bridge, telling stories of the original Indigenous inhabitants and Melbourne’s many waves of migrants.
Regional Victoria is also home to some fascinating sculptures. McClelland Sculpture Park + Gallery showcases over 100 permanent outdoor sculptures located within the diverse settings of 16 hectares of ti-tree forests, bracken paths, heathlands, landscaped gardens and lakes. William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenong Ranges features 92 kiln-fired clay sculptures of Aboriginal figures discreetly set among rocks, tree ferns and Mountain Ash. Ballarat Botanical Garden is home to Prime Ministers Avenue. Here you’ll find the busts of our former Prime Ministers. The Prime Ministers are displayed as bronze portraits mounted on polished granite pedestals. Like most sculptures their artistic merits have caused some discussion but then that’s the beauty of art—it is in the eye of the beholder.