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Tag Archives: bas-relief

Plaques

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.

on of plaques at Royal Melbourne Hospital

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.

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Commissioner of Sewers

When I was in high school at Bendigo Senior High I was always amused to see in Rosalind Park a brick memorial drinking fountain to the founder of Bendigo’s sewerage. I never drank from it as the drinking fountain parts did not function for many years although it has recently been restored. I was also unaware, at the time that I lived in Bendigo, that it was the work of Ola Cohn, not that I would have cared at the time if I had known.

Ola Cohn, detail of Curnow Memorial drinking fountain

Ola Cohn, detail of Curnow Memorial drinking fountain

One of the reasons why Ola Cohn received this particular commission was that she was born in Bendigo. By the time she received the Curnow Memorial she had already exhibited and work for Paul Montford, studied with Henry Moore in England and returned to Australia. The Curnow drinking fountain was another commission and it hardly rates a mention in her biography.

Ola Cohn describes the commission:

“I was to design a tribute to the late Cr. J.H. Curnow, a prominent city councillor in Bendigo who had been five times Mayor and had campaigned for proper sewerage for the city. I chose clay as a medium and designed a drinking fountain build of tapestry bricks, with inserted panels of red terracotta. It was placed in Rosalind Park, Bendigo, and looked very well against the green trees.” A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R. W. Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne p.95)

Set into the brick fountain there are four bronze bas-relief panels. There is a boy and girl at either ends, strangely suggesting a segregation of  sexes for the two drinking fountains. In the middle, in his mayoral robes and chains the bespectacled bald man, a post humous portrait of Mayor J. H. Curnow, along with the text: “Public Memorial to James H. Curnow JP, Mayor of Bendigo 1902-04, 1912-13, 1919-20, 1927-28 Founder of Bendigo’s Sewerage”.

Ola Cohn, fountain DSC09958

Yes, the commissioner of sewers, sewerage is an important issue for any civilisation and there aren’t enough memorials about such civic infrastructure but a drinking fountain to the commissioner of sewers, seriously, didn’t someone think that one through or was the nature of irony somehow different at the beginning of the twentieth century? However, I hope that some of my readers have thought beyond the toilet humour and realised that Bendigo did not have a sewerage system until the twentieth century. This is a typical Australian response to basic infrastructure, delay building it for a long as possible; Melbourne had a telephone system before a sewerage system. (Seriously read William Burroughs on becoming the Commissioner of Sewers as it is a wonderful text on political power, the text is reproduced on Toilet Guru).

Ola Cohn


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