The bronze paperboy is standing at the corner of a park on Hawthorn and Balaclava Roads in Caulfield. His clothes, flared bellbottom trousers, and long hair are clearly from the sixties or early seventies. Now they are antique fashions from another century.
When I first saw the bronze paperboy, I was sitting in a tram going past it. I thought that there had to be a story to the sculpture. Was it a memorial to someone hit by a car as they sold newspapers? I am not the only person to have thought that, but it’s not true.
Melbourne was very dull in the early 80s, and public sculpture was rare. Although it was the first time I saw it, I thought that I would see it again, get a better look, perhaps so regularly that I would be bored with its story. It could become part of my daily commute.
It never did. The next time that I saw it was almost forty years later. Even though I have lived in Melbourne the whole time, the vast city meant that I was travelling different routes. Again I was in a tram, and I again didn’t stop. On the return trip, it was pouring rain, and I didn’t get off the tram to look at the sculpture. My memory was only of one sculpture of the paperboy, but there are a group of statues. How many works of public art are like this? Things seen for a few seconds, once or twice in a lifetime, from fleeting, half-remembered views of a sculpture in a park that you have never stopped to see as you pass by on the tram.
The third time was in the sunshine. I walked through Caulfield Park to look at the sculptures. I am amazed to find that there are three naked bronze figures climbing poles for a garland. How could I have missed them? I was just looking out a tram window on the other occasions. And because the complete scene is more meaningless than just the single figure of a bronze paperboy from my memory.
I have no idea what the whole scene means. It is titled The Paper Boy, Mother and Child and Climbing Boys by sculptor Phillip J Cannizzo installed in 1980. Cannizzo was born in 1945, studied at Prahran Tech and RMIT, and now lives in Italy. He had his first one-man exhibition at Komon Gallery, Woollahra, in 1971, and he has some work in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.
The more I look, the less sense it makes. Why didn’t I remember the paperboy and not the pole climber? Because the rest of it makes no sense. It is not as if there was an annual naked pole-climbing spring festival in Caulfield in the 1970s. It would be great if there was, but there is no tradition.
In some ways, it is not a bad piece of public art. It is integrated with the corner and the landscaping of the park. Like so many subsequent public sculptures, you could sit on the same bench as the woman and child. The figures are sculpted in a loose, sketchy style with a light touch that was popular at that time. The figures are seated, standing, and climbing poles. Few details and no attribution, a common feature of older public art that I am glad has largely been abandoned. Artists have the moral right to be identified as the creator of their work.