Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

Copenhagen has the Little Mermaid statue, Brussels has the Manikin Pis but what public sculpture symbolizes Melbourne? These statues become the mascot of the city and have been the focus of tourist’s attentions long before cameras. Many like the owl of Dijon have been rubbed smooth and featureless by human hands. Melbourne does not have such a sculpture because there have been so few public sculptures in the CBD. In 2006 The Age reported about a revival of public sculpture in the city 25 years after the controversy over Ron Robertson-Swann’s “Vault” in the city square. It appears that Melbourne City Council’s fear of the controversy has retarded the development of the city’s image.

Alison Weaver & Paul Quinn, “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”

Alison Weaver & Paul Quinn, “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”

The most likely current candidate for the statue mascot of Melbourne is the “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”. It is one of Melbourne’s most popular sculptures and most photographed statue. It is on the corner of the Burke St. mall and Swanston walk. It was unveiled in 1994 as a “gift of the people and government of Nauru.” There is no mention on the plaque as to who the artist are; it was made by Melbourne sculptors, Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn. The public enjoy interacting with these thin, life-sized figures. The figures free hands are polished as the public hold hands with them. The public frequently augments the 3rd figure, “Hoddle” with a cigarette added to his pursed lips. (Perhaps Alison Weaver was thinking about this augmentation when she made a later sculpture “I’m Always Worried” out of cigarette butts.)

Pam Irving, “Larry Latrobe”

Pam Irving, “Larry Latrobe”

Another popular potential mascot statue is Pam Irving’s bronze dog, “Larry Latrobe”, in City Square. Like the Little Mermaid or the Manikin Pis these statues have a popular and sentimental appeal, they are frequently augmented by the public, but are not admired for their artistry. Although these statues become, through their popularity, symbols of the city they are not representative or symbolic of the city, not like Armstrong’s 25-metre-high “Eagle” in Wurundjeri Way that represents the demiurge creator from the stories of the Wurundjeri, the local aboriginal people.

Armstrong, "Eagle"

Armstrong, “Eagle”

Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee "Great Petition”

Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee “Great Petition”

One of Melbourne’s most recent public sculptures is on Buston Reserve. Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee’s “Great Petition” 2008 is a great white furl of a dynamic ribbon representing and commemorating the 1891 Women’s suffrage petition. The sculpture is intersected with a path; allowing the public to move through the sculpture. Along with the sculpture there is a didactic panel by Prof. Marilyn Lake to explain the history of women’s suffrage in Victoria. As political art this is hardly a controversial subject, it is long overdue recognition. As a sculpture it will never be popular but it is beautiful.

There are still a few 19th Century bronze sculptures around Parliament. I think that the public would prefer a figure on a plinth over a modern sculpture but there could no agreement now about who. The “Great Petition” is a democratic image rather than an idol and like democracy will not be as popular as the image of a demagogue.

Paul Blizzard “Fossil Stones”

Paul Blizzard “Fossil Stones”

For me, the strangely positioned statute in the city is Paul Blizzard’s “Fossil Stones” 1998 outside the Dept. of Justice, the commission was supported by the Emerging Sculptors Trust. The bronze faux fossils are set into local volcanic rocks are geologically inaccurate, as fossils are found in sedimentary rocks. It is also an odd choice of sculpture for the front of the Dept. of Justice – are they really a bunch of old fossils?

 "Fossil Stones" detail

“Fossil Stones” detail


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

11 responses to “Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

  • Shifty

    Nice article.

    Although they’re more installation than sculpture, I’d put in a vote for the Federation Bells. I walk past them twice daily and hearing them play – whether it be catchy tunes or chaotic cacophonies – it always makes me happy to be in Melbourne.

    My other favourite is ‘Angel’, the sculpture that – for me – used to define the NGV and has now been retired to sit between the bells and the yarra, kicking it old school.

  • Helen

    Well written and interesting article.

    What about the ‘big purse’ in Bourke St Mall or the ‘chip’ off the State Library of Victoria?

  • Greg

    I think the fossil statues are a nice case of art being pragmatic. They have been designed so that cars could not drive under the Dept of Justice building (in the age of terrorism)

  • fgsfds

    wjat about all the ones along the eastern extension???? they are great

    • Mark Holsworth

      I’ve only seen the ones along the eastern freeway and the western ring road a couple of times. There are some great contemporary sculpture along them but I don’t see them that often because I don’t drive.

  • fgsfds

    and the beautiful eagle on wurrundjiri way- my fave sculpture on earth, strong, humble, loving

  • mel

    hi mark, great site.!
    do you have specific comphrehensive collation of sculptures and artwork in public space which deal with the way male and female genders are being sort of represented?
    look forward to your input!

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hi Mel, Thanks. Short answer no. Longer answer is that there are very few representations of females in Melbourne public sculpture aside from allegorical or symbolic figures mostly from the 19th and early 20th century. I am working on a post those few sculptures but I’ve only got to see one of them so far so it has a ways to go.

  • philipthiel

    Hi there, Mark. I found your excellent post while researching public sculpture in the city for a guided walk I’d like to take with some of my friends. I picture us being led around the CBD and along the Yarra getting some insights about the most interesting and beautiful works of public art. Would you be able to recommend a suitable guide for such a walk, up to and including yourself? If so, please get in touch.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hi Phil, Yes, I have a sculpture tour that includes the CBD, Yarra River and Queen Victoria Gardens. I will email you with the details. Thanks for asking.

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