Clocks & Kitsch

Gog and Magog, Melbourne’s floral clock and the giant animated fob watch at Melbourne Central – these clocks, from three different eras, show changes in public taste, however kitsch. All of these kitsch clocks are created as a kind of public sculptures, as local tourist attractions. They range from Anglophile to international to Australiana.

In 1870 the first arcade in Melbourne, the Royal Arcade officially opened. In 1892, two of the Royal Arcade’s most attractive features were erected. Gog and Magog are the bell ringers on Gaunt’s Clock located at the end of the arcade above the Collins Street exit. This extravagant clock was installed in 1892 a year before the Australian banking crisis of 1893 when several of the commercial banks and the Federal Bank collapsed. The figures are modelled on the figures from the Guildhall, London in 1708 that are based on earlier medieval sculptures. The two legendary British giants are depicted with large beards, staring eyes and heavy limbs standing in stiff poses. Carved from pine and painted in multiple bright colours these figures refer to the gothic medieval tradition.

Melbourne’s floral clock is the most boring of the three clocks but they were fashionable for many decades around the world, especially in former parts of the British Empire. The first floral clock was installed in Princes’ Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 1903. The first floral clock that I saw was at Niagara Falls in Canada, built in 1950, so I was never impressed by Melbourne’s floral clock. There is a degree of intercity rivalry with floral clocks – the first and the largest – Sydney installed a floral clock at Taronga Zoo in 1928. Melbourne’s floral clock was donated in 1966 to the City of Melbourne by a group of Swiss watchmakers after it was used at an international trade fair in the Exhibition Building.

The last of these three tourist attraction clocks is the giant fob watch at Melbourne Central. It was installed in 1991, when Japanese company Daimaru opened its department store in Melbourne. This Seiko clock plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour with mechanical Australian parrots and musician figures. The nativism and Australiana was intended to appease Australians to the presence of the foreign store. Although Daimaru has now closed the giant fob watch plays on.

Over a century after Gog and Magog Melbourne shopping arcades still use large animated clocks as marketing attractions. Although such animated clocks have been used in Europe for centuries as civic attractions they were also demonstrations of civic technology, what makes modern giant clocks kitsch is because the technology has become commonplace. In explaining the taste for floral clocks it is worth noting that Michael Jackson had a floral clock at his Neverland Ranch.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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