Here are a couple of Victorian (in every sense) places that can be seen if you are wandering around Melbourne.
333 Collins Street is one of the best example of preserving the old architecture is the fantastic dome inside a multi-storey building at 333 Collins Street. You can go into the foyer and look up and see the old dome. Through the dome’s windows you can see, instead of seeing the sky, the inside of a new building. It is unfortunate that the architect didn’t plan public access to the roof of the dome so that the surreal sight of an old roof inside a new building is not available. You can easily imagine this site if you look at the architectural model of the new building that stands in the foyer. It is a fine example of the greed and exploitation that is quintessential to Australia. Once the dome was part of Melbourne’s banking’s “cathedrals of commerce”, yes in the 19th century Australia really did build temples to Mammon.
Another of these temples to Mammon is at 380 Collins Street. Like a cathedral there are stain glass windows, carved wood screens and stone guardians in the gothic revival style. Labelled as the ‘ANZ Banking Museum’ with an impressive brass plaque – all I saw of that were two very small display cases on the floor bank. Instead of Biblical scenes one of the stain glass windows there is a series of the motifs from the Victoria Memorial in London. It is also very modern; cast iron pillars support the roof space that includes a large skylight.
The Block Arcade of Marvellous Melbourne has becoming a home to middle-brow tourist art and ersatz culture like the Dr Suess Gallery but it still has a great mosaic floor. A neo-classical Victorian design by Craven Dunnell Pty Ltd. of the United Kingdom made from Italian tiles. (For more on Melbourne’s many mosaic’s see my post Time and Tiles.) George Sala, the man who coined the phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ spent a lot of time in the arcade. Sala needed to coin phrases about Melbourne as he was the special correspondent for the Daily Telegraphy. In 1880s he wrote of Melbourne’s arcades:
“Indeed, but for the fact that prohibitions on smoking are conspicuously placarded about in the Royal, the Victoria, and the Eastern arcades, you might, without any very violent stretch of the imagination, fancy on a fine night that Bourke Street was one of the Paris boulevards instead of being a highway hewn not fifty years ago out of the trackless Bush, and that you were a flâneur from the Café du Helder who had just strolled into the nearest passage to saunter from shop to shop, the contents of which you may have seen five hundred times before, and to rub shoulders with a throng whose faces from long acquaintance should be perfectly familiar to you.” (from The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia, p.328)
When the Block Arcade’s opening in 1892 there were 15 milliners, three lace shops, a photographer and the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Only the Hopetoun Tea Rooms survives. The prohibition on smoking in the Royal Arcade remains.
There is constant redevelopment in the CBD, buildings are being torn down and new buildings built, but two redevelopments have caught my attention because of the public sculptures caught up in these developments. Although these sculptures are public, in that they are on premises open to the public, they are privately owned. These are the redevelopment at the 360 Collins Street and 447 Collins Street.
The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street
My interest in 360 Collins Street is focused on the forecourt area on Little Collins Street where there are several sculptures by Peter Blizzard’s Shrine to the Ancient River, Paul Blizzard’s Fossil Stones and Chris Booth’s Strata. See my blog post. In 2011 there was a proposal approved for 15-storey development in the forecourt area whereas the present 2015 proposal retains, refurbishes and redevelops part of the forecourt area. For more on the development see Urban Melbourne.
Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978
Ironically it was a dislodged slab of its marble facade in 2012 that spelt the end for the National Mutual building at 447 Collins Street designed by architects Godfrey, Spowers, Hughes, Mewton & Lobb in 1965. It’s façade of marble slabs was its one notable architectural feature, a move away from the curtain wall of earlier modernism. 447 Collins Street is now vacant and approved for demolition. In the forecourt of 447 Collins Street are the statues of John Batman by Stanley Hammond and John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Mezaros, see my blog post.
What will happen to the sculptures? The Moral Rights provisions in the Copyright Act in 2000, under section 195AT, the owner of a moveable artistic work is liable to the artist if they destroy the artistic work without first giving the artist opportunity to remove it. The artist or their heirs, as two of the sculptors are now deceased, have the right to be informed about the removal, storage or subsequent reinstallation.
Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni
In the past Melbourne University was eager to provide new homes to sculptures dislodged from their original locations in the city, see my blog post. None of the sculptures at either 360 Collins Street or 447 Collins Street are site specific so it should not proved difficult to find a new home for them, if they are not returned to refurbished forecourts at their present locations.
Today is 150th Anniversary of the Burke and Wills Monument and both Melbourne and the monument have changed in the 150 years. Just after 4pm on 21 April 1865 the sculpture was unveiled in the middle of the Collins and Russell Streets intersection. The monument has been four different locations and these different locations show the history of Melbourne’s transportation with the introduction of trams, the city loop trains and the pedestrianised zone of the city square.
Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument
Proudly Australian the monument was made from local materials; the bronze from tin mined in Adelaide and copper from Beechworth, and the imposing plinth is of Harcourt granite. The sculpture was cast in Charles Summers’s workshop in the east end of Collins Street, now the location of Burlington Chambers. The casting of the sculpture before an invited audience was a bit of a fraud. Summers claimed that the figures were cast in one piece, an impossible accomplishment and one that the sculpture’s restoration has revealed to be false. Pouring hot metal is a spectacular event but Summers felt the need to lie about how successful it went.
For a nineteenth century artist Summers worked hard at publicity. He was a celebrity as far as the Argos newspaper and Melbourne’s elite were concerned but what ever happened to its sculptor Charles Summers?
Researching my book, Sculptures of Melbourne, I couldn’t help feeling that Summers was a man who, in part, believed his own publicity. I think that really believed that he was Melbourne’s Michelangelo but he was a bit of a fraud and a show off. After basking in the glory of his monument Summers moved to Rome, after all if was Michelangelo then he belonged in Rome. In Rome he established a factory for producing sculptures that his son, also a sculptor took over after his death. Summers never returned to Melbourne but his son did and there are Victorian neo-classical marbles by the Summers factory in both the Bendigo and Geelong art galleries.
The monument is now an icon of Melbourne and Australian history, a preserved historic relic, the first work of public art to be registered by the National Trust. However, its anniversary has not been officially recognised. Along with attitudes to heroic deaths, ideas about public art have changed radically and I doubt that there are now many Australian parents who would follow Governor Darling’s prediction for the monument at its unveiling. “For, oft as it shall be told, and oft-times it will be told upon this very spot, Australian parents, pointing to that commanding figure, shall bid their young and aspiring sons to hold in admiration the ardent and energetic spirit, the bold self-reliance, and the many chivalrous qualities which combined to constitute the manly nature of O’Hara Burke.”
For more about the history of this and other public sculptures in Melbourne (and some better photographs) read my book, Sculptures of Melbourne.
Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865, panel Dig tree
When I was at university there was a student, I won’t mention any names because he now works as a lawyer, who stole street signs with the name of the person for 21st birthday present. There were a lot of 21st birthday presents to collect and he became very experienced at removing street signs. It eventually backfired when he stole the street named after the birthday boy’s grandfather.
Street signs are the collective consciousness of the city written up as addresses. Melbourne often does have that much imagination when it comes to naming streets, lots of old signs of loyalty to the British Empire or pathetic memorials to old city councillors. How streets got their names is one of the boring subjects that urban historians engage in (for that kind of thing see eMelbourne Lanes and Alleys). I could comment on the recent addition of green historical note signs underneath some of the street signs.
In the late 19th Century Melbourne City Council was often petitioned to change the name of lanes that had acquired a bad reputation, for example Romeo Lane became Crossley Street. In the late 20th Century Melbourne City Council took to renaming lanes as tourist attractions and to celebrate local international stars: Dame Edna Everage (surrounded by bulbs like a make-up mirror) and AC/DC Lane (with lightning stroke). There are some streets still need to be renamed; Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick needs to be renamed to remove the racist nickname “coco” from the street named after the boxer.
But there are also some amusing street names in Melbourne.
To Punch Lane – doesn’t Melbourne have enough problems with violence?
While I’m on this subject of the history of Melbourne’s street names – locals refer to ‘the Paris End’ of Collins Street without remembering why. It was the presence of the artist’s studios and not the later addition of street planting of trees that lead to the eastern end of Collins Street being called “the Paris end”. Melbourne’s first sculptor Charles Summers started the trend. He had a studio and foundry in Collins Street where he cast the Burke and Wills Memorial in 1865. The sculptor Margaret Baskerville (1861-1930) had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914 and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Grosvenor Chambers, a custom built complex of artist’s studios at 9 Collins Street housed many famous Australian artists including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Clara Southern, Charles Conder, E. Phillips Fox, John Longstaff, Max Meldrum, Mirka Mora, Albert Tucker and Wolfgang Sievers. It was established in 1888 and held artists studios until the mid 1970’s when all but the facade of the building was demolished. Artists still have studios in the city but the Paris End of Collins Street has become too expensive.