These short articles were published one at a time in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter. As they form part of the White Hat Melbourne Quiz, exact locations are not given. However it should to take little research to unearth that information.
Melbourne is full of monuments. Dead white males on plinths staring sightlessly into the middle distance, monuments to success, monuments to failure, monuments without plaques, monuments with secondary plaques explaining why the first plaque was wrong, and conceptual monuments to “place” which after a third re-reading of the plaque make one suspect that although the perpetrator may not be particularly skilled in the plastic arts they could certainly whip up a good arts grant application. Some of White Hat's favourite monuments are ones that are easily missed and which thousands of people walk past without realising their significance. Here are seven of our favourites.
No.1 – A Monument to Sydney-Melbourne Rivalry
No.2 – Two Yarra Bookends
No.3 - An Antarctic Monument
No.4 – Troubles on the other side of the world
No.5 - A Plaque but no Statue
No.6 - Two Pillars of Melbourne
No.7 - Two Horse Troughs
This article was first published in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.204 on 1 February 2007.
“You think someone would remove it or tidy it up.” The visitors were obviously from that area of Europe where tidiness is written into the constitution. And I had to admit that the large lump of stone on a rudely constructed base was less than impressive.
Our visitors were not to know that it was really a monument to Sydney-Melbourne rivalry. Maybe a little background to the origins of this strange preoccupation well known to most Australians. Melbourne was a late starter. By the time the rival parties of Batman and Fawkner arrived in the area in 1835 to form the little European settlement, Sydney had been established for nearly fifty years. The authorities arrived from Sydney to inspect. There had been several attempts at government-sanctioned settlements in the Port Phillip area but none were sustainable. However the authorities from Sydney had to reluctantly admit that, unlike their own attempts, this settlement initiated by private enterprise seemed viable. Score one to Melbourne.
However it would have to have laws and taxes and be governed from Sydney. Score ten to Sydney.
Governor Bourke from Sydney arrived and had his military surveyor Robert Hoddle lay out a street grid for Melbourne. Governor Bourke then named the streets making sure that he got top billing. Thus Bourke Street in Melbourne is named after the governor from Sydney.
For fifteen years all major decisions about Melbourne were made in Sydney by people who for the most had never seen the place and often expressed distaste at the prospect of one day doing so. One of the first public buildings they decided Melbourne should have was a gaol. A large gaol. Up on the hill where it would dominate the skyline of the town. “Can you imagine!” said the people of Melbourne. “Just because their town is a penal settlement crawling with convicts they think our town, founded by an Australian-born free settler, needs a large gaol. We all came to this part of the world of our own accord and if some don’t want to talk much about their background that’s their prerogative.” The foundations of the Melbourne-Sydney resentment were becoming well and truly established.
During this period, two major social issues that attracted heated comment were ‘anti-transportation’ and ‘separation’. Anti-transportation referred to opposing the use of the Port Phillip area as a penal settlement where convicts from England could be transported. That would keep the settlement on a higher moral plane than those up north. The issue of separation referred to separation from New South Wales and becoming an independent colony. In another settlement one would expect a label such as ‘colonial status’ to be used for such an aspiration. But in Melbourne the key word was separation – separation from Sydney!
In 1851, word arrived from Queen Victoria that Melbourne was to become part of a separate colony (named after herself of course) and there were unprecedented celebrations. Bonfires were lit across the state, one week’s public holiday was declared and a grand separation procession was held through the streets of Melbourne. Scarcely had the last bonfire embers ceased to glow when it was announced that gold had been discovered in country Victoria. With gold money pouring in, Melbourne set about building itself a Parliament House. But no ordinary Parliament House. This was to be much bigger and much more impressive than Sydney’s. We were very proud of our Parliament House but there was one minor point which people knew you did not mention in polite society. It remained unmentioned until an engineer (who on the whole are not renowned for their mastery of social niceties) erected this monument.
The inscription reads: “This pillar of stone quarried from Stawell was placed here on the INSISTENCE of the Hon. John Woods, M.P. (born Liverpool England November 5th 1822, died Brighton Victoria April 2nd 1892; engineer, politician and inventor, Commissioner International Exhibition 1880 and Exhibition Trustees 1881—1892) to express his INDIGNATION of the choice of New South Wales stone for Parliament House and to show the enduring qualities of local stone.”
I think of suggesting to our visitors that if they read the inscription they might understand why that lump of stone is there. On second thoughts I suspect that would only make them more confused.
This article was first published in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.205 on 8 February 2007
“On the left” said the amplified commentary “is where John Batman stepped ashore and said ‘this will be the place for a village’.” The commentary continued all the way to Williamstown. Most of it was wrong but it still gave the casual visitor to Melbourne a rough feeling for the place and its European settlement. The commentary was wrong because, for much of the route from Richmond to the river mouth we were not travelling along the Yarra River as known by the Aborigines and early European Melburnians. – we were travelling along a man-made channel now called the Yarra River while much of the original river has been filled in. The re-routing of the river resulted partly from flood-control works and partly from major dock works. One result was that some islands became part of the ‘mainland’ while, at least in one case, a piece of the mainland became an island.
Two monuments for us act as bookends to the Yarra of early Melbourne. Few people notice them and even fewer read and ponder them. The first (see left) stands near the original junction of the Yarra and the Maribyrnong and announces that the rivers were “discovered” by Charles Grimes in 1803 and later “refound” by John Batman in 1835. I sometimes ponder how you explain to a local Aborigine whose people had known these rivers for thousands of years what those words carved into the granite mean.
Charles Grimes had been sent from Sydney to reconnoitre the area and warn off the French who it was thought may lay claim to this Terra Nullius. Having encountered the French at King Island and deciding they were not about to subvert the colonies he went on to examine the nooks and crannies of Port Phillip Bay. Charles Grimes and his party made their way up the river in a heavy rowboat – no easy task given that the river was clogged with snags and fallen trees. They passed the river junction where the monument now stands and proceeded until they encountered ‘The Falls’ where the Queen Street Bridge now stands. Grimes recognised that this natural barrier prevented the salt water from the bay from travelling further upstream and thus offered a prospective settlement with a natural source of fresh water. It is this place which we believe he declared "The most eligible place for a settlement I have seen is on the freshwater river". He also recognised that if he was to explore further upstream the party would meed to haul the heavy boat out of the water and manhandle it to the other side of the falls. “Bother” said Grimes – or words to that effect. They followed the meandering river through the now Botanic Gardens (the lake in the gardens was part of the original Yarra) through the now suburbs of Richmond, Fitzroy and Abbotsford until they came across another river junction and set of rapids now known as Dight’s Falls. At the prospect of hauling the boat across that next set of falls without knowing whether there was yet another just around the corner, Grimes said “double bother” and decided to investigate the local area before turning back.
Thirty-two years later, John Batman was to make his way up the river and further up the Merri Creek is where we believe he said "This is the place for a village". Had this prediction proven correct then downtown Northcote would now be our CBD. It possibly also explains why the large plaque in the footpath on the corner of Flinders & Williams Streets implying that was the place Batman was referring to has quietly disappeared. However if you poke around in the bushland of Studley Park you will find a monument commemorating the extent of Grimes’ journey.
As stated earlier, these two monuments are rarely noticed,. However for us they form a pair of bookends for the early European exploration and understanding of the Yarra.
I had sat down to eat my sandwich in one of my regular spots in the city. “Excuse me, can you tell me what this is?” said the passing Japanese couple indicating the strange little monument next to me. I explained that it was a rock from Antarctica that was placed there in the 1950s at a time when Antarctica was a less known and charted place than the moon is today. There aren’t many places you can see rock in Antarctica and this small boulder came from a glacier near Mawson Base. There are even fewer places you can see Antarctic rock outside Antarctica, since international treaties now forbid the removal of Antarctic rock or meteorites. “Mooson Base?” asked the gentleman. “No, Mawson Base” I explained “named after the great scientist and explorer Douglas Mawson. Would you like me to tell you a bit about him?” “We would be pleased” he said, and in one elegant motion the elegantly dressed Japanese couple were sitting cross-legged beside me on the grass.
I explained how Mawson had first travelled with Shackleton to Antarctica and then put together an Australian scientific expedition. I explained that the best way to get an atmosphere of a sailing ship slowly leaving dock for places unknown at the time was to listen to the magnificent setting of Shallow Brown by our local composer Percy Grainger.
A school group was passing.
“What’s that miss?” “It’s just a rock”.
I told the couple a little about Mawson’s expeditions and his amazing feats of survival and how he pulled a sledge over 2,000km to be the first party to arrive in the region of the South Magnetic Pole.
“How much further is it miss?” “Only a block.” “We can’t walk that far miss.”
I told them about Frank Hurley’s amazing photographs and how our local sweets entrepreneur Mac Robertson had funded major scientific expeditions to Antarctica and has MacRobertson Land in Antarctica named after him, and some of Syd Kirkby's explorations and how he would have often walked past this monument.
“Where are we going miss?” “To McDonalds for lunch.”
The Japanese couple had been writing down the names of Mawson and Grainger and Hurley and MacRobertson and Syd Kirkby because they wanted to follow them up and find out more. I explained how I occasionally had lunch next to this piece of rock because I was in awe of the achievements of these people..
“McDonalds for lunch miss – that’s awesome!” said one of the school group continuing up the street
The monument to Hungarian patriots seems to make reference to things that happened a long time ago in a place far away. In reality it is partly there because of events which happened only a generation and several hundred metres away.
In 1956 Melbourne was hosting the Olympic Games. A number of teams came to Melbourne early to acclimatise. This included the Hungarian Water Polo Team – then reigning Olympic Champions – who arrived to the news that Soviet tanks had rumbled into Budapest to stamp out attempts to create a democracy. Tensions were high and numbers of Hungarian competitors swore they would not return to a Russian-dominated Hungary. This was all a bit strange and confronting for Melburnians. Ever since the days of the gold rush people had the basic understanding that you leave you guns and knives and old enmities from other times and places at the door. True, there had always been a few troubles from the old countries which raised their head. There was the attempt to reproduce the Irish troubles in early Melbourne but the results were almost comical rather than disruptive. From time to time a new arrival would lob a fire bomb into the club of a rival ethnic group, but after a while things usually settled down as people realised that here was a chance to make a break from the centuries-old enmities and feuds.
But here was Melbourne in 1956 with distant enmities on its doorstep with the possibility of disrupting the Olympic Games. This came to a head when Hungary and Russia competed in the semi-finals of the water polo. Competed is perhaps not the correct word. The pool’s current charter claims to provide “a safe swimming experience for all abilities”. The Hungary-Russia water polo match was not a safe swimming environment. There was warfare in the pool from beginning to end. When a Hungarian competitor was king hit towards the end and the crowd looked at as though they could riot officials ended the match prematurely.
With tension mounting about what could happen at the closing ceremony with countries marching under their own flags, it took the lateral thinking of an Australian schoolboy to provide a solution. He suggested that athletes should all mix and march together without country groupings – a practice which has been followed to this day.
The monument to Hungarian patriots was erected soon after those Olympic Games. It refers not just to the 1956 uprising but various patriotic uprisings over the centuries. Most people walk past thinking it refers to events far away in another time. However I occasionally sit there and ponder the blood in the pool not far away, and one Australian school child who, rather than chanting slogans and taking sides was able to look at things in a different way.
Every day, large numbers of backpackers, school groups and tourists in buses make their way down the street near the Victoria Market on their way to experience Melbourne and what made it the city it is today. Few notice the small plaque marking the position of the Victoria Ice Works built by James Harrison. Those who do are highly unlikely to find the name of James Harrison in their guide books. Other cities have built statues to people of lesser importance, but in Melbourne Harrison has to make do with a small plaque.
James Harrison arrived in Melbourne as a young Scot working in the printing trade. Long hours of compiling type could be just another tedious job for many, but it allowed young James to read every word of a wide range of publications. Romances were all very well, but publications about the latest scientific theories and how things worked meant you could go home and try them out. When he first arrived in Sydney his editor was William a’Beckett whose name now adorns a street nearby the Harrison plaque. When Harrison arrived in Melbourne he started working for the irascible Johnny Fawkner, but the young Scot soon wanted to strike out on his own. He set up the Geelong Advertiser (now just known by the locals as the Addy) and started working on scientific and engineering ideas. With the arrival of the gold rush Geelong became a boom town but was mainly exporting gold and greasy wool with no value added to any product. Victoria had a surplus of sheep and there were millions in Britain near starving. However meat could not survive the trip across the equator and sheep were being rendered down for tallow. Instead of exporting food we were exporting raw material for making candles.
Harrison had been experimenting with mechanical refrigeration in a hut by the Barwon River and realised that if he was to take his ideas further he needed access to the precision engineering available in England but not yet possible in the fledgling settlement. He set off for England where he designed and built the first successful refrigeration machinery. On returning to Geelong he set up the world’s first commercial ice making plant. He sold ice chests at cost. Long before the inkjet printer industry he realised that you keep the entry price low and make your money on the consumables. During his absence, the newspaper business had not been well managed and together with the expenses incurred in developing his invention he ended up insolvent and had to sell the newspaper.
Faced with a lack of money and working for an employer in the business he had founded Harrison stooped to build up his life and business with worn-out tools. By 1859 he had an ice works in Melbourne while continuing his work as a writer, Member of Parliament and serving on various citizens’ committees. He knew the mineral boom of the time would not last and was determined to find a way to transport refrigerated meat to Europe. In the1870s he fitted out part of a ship with cooling apparatus to transport 10 tons of meat to England. Part way into the voyage the cooling brine had irretrievably leaked away, possibly due to poor workmanship in the tanks, pipings and seals. The meat and Harrison were ruined.
In England Harrison returned to his trade as a writer providing columns for The Age in Melbourne while continuing to improve the design and patents of his refrigeration machinery. By the time he returned to Geelong, others, building on his pioneering work, had solved the problems of refrigerated shipboard transport and the economy of Victoria was placed on a sustainable basis that would serve it well for the best part of a century.
In Florida you can find a statue to a Dr Gorrie for his contributions to refrigeration. Dr Gorrie never succeeded in making a commercial refrigeration machine. Harrison, using a different design and sound engineering principles, did. Dr Gorrie has a statue and was proclaimed one of Florida' two most distinguished citizens because of his work on refrigeration – Harrison has a small, much-ignored plaque in Melbourne. In Geelong, Harrison has a carved bollard, and a very fine one it is. However in Melbourne, tourists hurry past the Harrison plaque on their way to see important things.
Harrison, the creator and entrepreneur of one of the most important inventions of his age, died in Geelong in reduced circumstances. Perhaps his most telling monument is not the plaque in Melbourne but his tombstone which reads "one soweth, another reapeth".
I was making a brisk pace through the darkness to the carpark when I heard a low but sonorous voice from the bushes. Unsure whether the best option was to stop or to quicken my pace I chose the former. The voice came again – definitely from the bushes on the left. It said “abandon all hope” and was almost immediately joined by a voice from the right which said “ye who enter here”. I was facing the ominous darkened entrance to the underground carpark at the university and on hearing these words I involuntarily muttered “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.”
“There!” said the statue on the left. “I told you we should always use the Latin. This is a university, after all.” “Yes” said the statue on the right “but how long is it since they abandoned a classical education and the liberal arts. We’ve got a far better chance of scaring them if we use the vulgar English.” “If you had your way” said the statue on the left “we’d be using classical Greek and you can’t even use that to order a souvlaki. But we’re interrupting our new friend in the white hat. What are you doing here?” “I’m here to pick up my car – what are you doing here?” “We’re here to hold up the lawn and form an entrance to the carpark.” “Yes but mainly to hold up the lawn” added the other.
By way of making smalltalk and in order to gain entry I commented that they seemed well constructed for holding up things such as lawns. “Lawns!” said the one on the left. “We used to hold up a whole building. In, out, in, out they’d go while hardly noticing it was us that were holding up the Colonial Bank of Australasia. But we knew the main reason they chose our business for their banking was the symbol of solidity we provided.” “So you could be called two pillars of society” I said. I knew it was the wrong thing to say even before I had finished the sentence. “Pillars! Pillars! Our correct title is Atlantes! You as a Latin scholar should know that, and I’m sorry if I’ve been a little testy so you may just wish to call us by the names our friends use. I am A1 and my friend here is A2.”
“You might not realise it, young fellow” continued A1 “but when Melbourne was at its height you really had to compete to show how established your business was. Back then, ancient Roman” [“or Greek” added A2] “meant solidity. There was one insurance company that used the statue from the Ballarat Gardens as its symbol – ‘The Flight from Pompeii’” “Huh – Flight from Pompeii” said A2. "Running from Pompeii with just a flimsy sheet above your head to protect you from the molten lava and flying boulders! What sort of protection is that? A good pair of Atlantes is what you need.” “To hold things up” added A1. “That’s what we do!” said A2.
“We were in Elizabeth Street” “Corner of Little Collins” added A1. “I bet they’ve still got impressive Atlantes on the major banks”. “Well, not exactly” I explained. “The big bank over the road from where you were has a big yellow diamond with a black part where some of it has fallen off. It’s called a logo.” “And that inspires confidence and solidity. I’m glad we’ve moved on A2.” “At least we’re holding up something – even if it’s only a lawn. . . She’s up there you know” confided A2.”Who?” I asked. “The pretty one from the Equitable Life Assurance Society. She used to be on the corner of Elizabeth & Collins. She’s on the lawn up there now.” “I keep telling you stop thinking about her” said A1. “She’s got children and . .” “HANDS ON HEADS!” said A2 suddenly. All three of us froze as the female student made her way out of the darkness and into the carpark. Once the sound of the snazzy little convertible had receded the Atlantes relaxed their hands from above their heads. “Did you see the flimsy little legs on that one?” asked A1. “They might be long, but they’re no use for holding things up.” said A2. I agreed although I thought they may go some way to explaining why she was driving a snazzy little convertible.
“Whatever happened to Atlas?” asked A2. “Now there was a fellow who knew how to hold things up. He was right up there on the skyline in Collins Street on top of the Atlas Insurance Building holding up the earth.” “He’s now at street level in the same place” said A1 “where thousands of people pass him every day and nobody notices him.” “Position, position, position” mused A2. “Remember when they started removing us from the city and you threatened a mass walkout of Atlantes. Imagine that – buildings falling down everywhere all over Melbourne! But you only ever talked about it.” “Well I was going to do it but they shifted us here before I had a chance to organise it. They’ll always need Atlantes to hold up buildings. What are they using now?” I explained that a much-praised modern apartment block in the city has a number of bronze Atlantes. “Bronze!” “Bronze!” echoed A2. “Try tapping it. Hollow!” “Flimsy!” “No substance!” Would you use hollow eggshells to hold up your building? No – solid stone!” said A1 thumping his chest.
I attempted to divert the discussion from bronze to modern building methods. I pointed out that the modern office block at 101 Collins Street has a set up columns out the front which hold up – nothing. “Nothing?” “Absolutely nothing” I replied. “Ah, they’ll never get rational people through that door. Who is going to walk into a building that isn’t being held up? Mark my words A2, they’ll soon realise they need Atlantes and then we can name our own price.” But A2 hadn’t been listening. “Whatever happened to that poncy Mercury that was on the Age Building in Collins Street? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s somewhere in Kings Cross now.” “No, he’s in the museum.” “What’s a museum?” “It’s a place where you get ‘interpreted’. They put you on display with labels which tell people what they’re supposed to think about you and school children fill out worksheets about you.” “I’m glad we’re here and not being interpreted A1. And we’ve got something to hold up.” “Even if it’s only a lawn.” added A1.
"Now, I’ve been thinking” said A1. "Remember Britannia and the Goddess who were on the Union Bank of Australia in Collins Street. Well they’re not far away now in the Architecture building and I was thinking that maybe me and Britannia and you and the ..” “Has she got good load-bearing legs?” “Sturdy as they come.” “Well let’s give it a try. Maybe we could make up different pairings for holding up things.” “It would save having to talk to you every night . . “
I used this chance to slip into the carpark and make my way home.
If you find yourself at the entrance to this carpark one night just try mentioning the name White Hat (in Latin of course) to the Atlantes and you will find that their hands will slowly slip from their heads and they will tell you stories of an earlier Melbourne and its buildings that you wouldn’t believe. . .I promise.
This article was first published in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.247 on 13 December 2007
The walking tour has stopped while the guide tells them about “this lovely old building dating back to the elegant days of Melbourne”. It is actually a faked-up façade in Ye Olde Tea Shoppe Style that was whacked on in the 1950s but always proves popular with tourists. At the back of the tour group and completely unnoticed is a humble horse trough. It is made from cheap concrete and has the small inscription “Annis & George Bills”. In early Melbourne the horse was the car, motorbike, bus and truck of Melbourne while the bullock was the semi-trailer and road train. At one stage, Melbourne had over a million working horses and they helped shape Melbourne. The low bridges over the Yarra which were to eventually block any serious shipping out of the city were created to accommodate the horses pulling heavy loads that would not have been able to negotiate the steep incline of a high arched bridge.
A working horse needs over 50 litres of water per day. During winter there were plenty of watercourses and there was always Lake Cashmore in the city, but come summer the horses were often driven many hard miles between available drinks. Annis and George Bills were philanthropists who were concerned about the welfare of horses and other animals and set about providing mass produced horse troughs across Australia. The little horse trough seems to me to have a much more important story to tell than the 1950s façade but I am in the minority because another walking tour is waiting impatiently for the current one to move along so that they can learn about the “lovely old building” - and judging by the narration style of the guides, if the trough is noticed by a participant, the guide is likely to be refer to it as a "horse hydration station".
Across town the bus has paused briefly while the tour guide explains the significance of the buildings in the distance. Nobody notices the horse trough in the foreground. It once stood in St Kilda Road but has now been shifted here. In WWI horses provided much of the ‘grunt’ for the Australian troops, hauling provisions, heavy artillery and other necessities. Particularly prized were the Australian bred Station Horses and Walers (short for New South Walers). Bred for the harsh conditions of outback stations they were well adapted for desert work. When the Australian Light Horse was instructed to take Beersheba they had to cross a tract of waterless desert. Thirsty men and horses arrived within sight of Beersheba protected by Turkish artillery. They decided the only option was to charge. The sturdy Walers were not only capable of carrying a heavy load but could move from a trot to a gallop without the intermediate canter. The speed of the Australian’s charge surprised the Turks who were not able to adjust the range of their artillery in time before the Australians were ‘under the guns’ and a combination of men and horses had taken Beersheba in one of Australia’s great military victories. Due to quarantine, none of the Walers ever returned to Australia.
The guide continues to read from her guidebook while none notice the horse trough in front of them which was erected to the memory of war horses. Its simple inscription reads:
"He gains no crosses as a soldier may,
no medals for the many risks he runs,
he only, in his puzzled, patient way,
'sticks to his guns'"
Here at White Hat we may be a little strange but we often find that it is the simple unobtrusive monuments that can give more of a feeling for Melbourne rather than the ones you find in the guide books and the official tourist guides.
Copyright © 1995 - 2015 White Hat.
Some questions regarding peripatetic monuments in Melbourne. A number of Melbourne’s well known monuments and sculptures have changed position over time. Finding landmarks in the wrong position at a given time is a sure fire giveaway of a badly researched book or film.
- A sculpture called Vault once stood in the city square. What unkind nickname was it given and in what two major positions has it stood since being removed from the City Square?
- The Eight Hours Monument stands diagonally opposite Trades Hall. What was its original position and why was it shifted?
- The Burke and Wills Statue in recent years has occupied several positions in or near the City Square. What was its original position (hint – try page 1 of the great murder mystery yarn Mystery of a Hansom Cab) and why was it shifted? What was its second position (hint you will find it there in a Tom Roberts painting) and why was it shifted?
You can find many more questions like this at The White Hat Melbourne Quiz