Once upon a time, on this very spot there was a … but it is gone now and all that is left is a bronze plaque. Plaques are trying to rivet a superficial history into place, to stop a treasury of trivia from drifting away as busts of men loiter in bas-relief on the building.
As place making, or even, public information curation plaques are at the lower end. I became interested in them because of my interest in public sculpture. And I have found a few interesting items.
Tell anyone who thinks that plaques are a permanent memorial that they are dreaming. Changes inevitably happen. Remarkably there is a collection of commemorative plaques at Royal Melbourne Hospital, no longer in their original locations due to the almost constant rebuilding of the hospital, these plaques have been brought together in the interest of history.
When I see a plaque with more than just words I try to work out who made it as the creators of these plaques includes some notable local sculptors. There is John Dias by William Leslie Bowles at Trades Hall or Ray Ewers’s Cookie memorial on the banks of the Yarra. On the Melbourne Symphony’s building on Southbank is Julie Edgar’s bronze bas-relief portrait of Hiroyuki Iwaki Chief Conductor and Conductor Laureate. Michael Meszaros has created several plaques with portrait at Melbourne University and the work of the sculptor Stanley Hammond can be seen on three bas-relief busts at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Even though some of the work is signed but even then I have not been able to find out anything about them. Who is the M Mason who did the bas-relief street-scapes on the Scotch College plaques?
The multiple Scotch College plaques in Melbourne and East Melbourne raises the issue of paying for these metal didactic panels. No wonder why the elite private school Scotch College has so many.
On the other side of Australia’s unequal society the Indigenous history of Gertrude Street in Fitzroy is also well documented with a series of plaques.
Although many historical and commemorative plaques are dull; memorials and historical markers are not the only thing that can be done with a plaque. The Wheeler Centre has placed a “discussion marker” in Melbourne. And there are unofficial memorials like Will Coles’s Chopper Read plaques to this notorious stand-over man and artist.
So although most plaques are dull I think I will keep looking at them. I will let you know if I find any more worth commenting on.