Tag Archives: Melbourne history

Paul Montford in Melbourne

Book review of Catherine Moriarty, Making Melbourne’s Monuments – The Sculptures of Paul Montford (Australian Scholarly, 2013, North Melbourne)

With his middle name, Paul Raphael Montford was destined to being an artist. He first trained at Lambeth School of Arts and then at London’s Royal Academy of Arts where he was awarded 5 prizes and a travelling scholarship. He had a distinguished career with many commissions in England and Scotland for architectural sculpture. He moved to Melbourne in 1923 and his sculptures adorn the Shrine of Remembrance. Montford came to my attention because he has more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s.

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Montford’s sculptures were not the first neo-classical sculptures to adorn Melbourne. Nor was Montford was not the first British sculptor to move to Melbourne, others had come before him but Montford does have more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s. Montford represents the high water mark of neo-classicalism in Melbourne before the tide of art history turned away from the classical tradition. For years that Paul Montford has been ignored by Australian and British art history and Moriarty’s book restores him to art history.

The high point of Montford’s career was the sculptures on Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. This gives Moriarty the opportunity to do a scholarly examination of Australia’s nascent nationalism. There are plenty of details about the arts and culture in Melbourne, including the various artist’s clubs that Montford and his wife joined.

The first half of the book is a short history of Montford, in England and Australia.  Moriarty makes the detail of history an engaging read and I reached the end of each chapter wanting more. There is a chapter on his domestic arrangements and his wife was a notable miniature artist. There is also a strange diversion on Montford osteopathy and medicine but it is justified given the interest in osteopathy in Montford’s letters and that in 1938 Montford died of leukaemia as a result of a bizarre medical treatment where he was given large dose of radium for tonsillitis.

Montford's signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

Montford’s signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

The second half are the annotated letters from Montford to his wife, his brother and other family members. There are also a few letters to Montford including one from the sculptor, and Montford’s professional rival, Bertram Mackennal.

It is this archive of material that gives weight to Moriarty’s examination of Montford.

And along with a detailed catalogue of Montford’s work this book is the complete reference for Paul Montford

Montford’s art is deeply conservative. Robert Menzies assumed that being a conservative artist he would be politically conservative too, appointed Montford to the Australia Academy of Arts. Pacifist, socialist and opposed to the White Australia policy Montford challenges the assumption that progressive artists are both progressive artistically and politically.

With the up-coming federal elections it is amusing to read Montford’s analysis of Australian politics and compulsory voting because the situation has hardly changed since 1925:

“We shall have to vote next July or be fined and what a choice. Nationalist or Labour, both Protection and ultra Australian. Labour being keen on making more money and doing less work. Nationalists keen on making more interest with less trouble. The Socialist ideals simply don’t exist. Labour has none, Communists is that of a Proletariat  – by force leading to a working man’s heaven – very undefined. Yet we must vote – penalty £2 if you don’t.” (p.112)

Moriarty has managed to make a long overdue academic examination of Paul Montford into something more than that; it is an engaging look at life in Melbourne in the 1920s.

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906


Flinders Street Station Centennial

Today is the centennial of Flinders Street Station. The centennial of Flinders Street Station has been largely ignored amidst the debacle and neglect endemic in Melbourne’s public transport, there is nothing to celebrate. This iconic Melbourne building is a popular and convenient meeting place. The original Melbourne Terminus railways station was completed in 1854 but was soon outgrown but the city. In 1900 construction of the current Flinders Street Station building began and it was completed in 1910.

Jenny Davies is author of the new book, Beyond The Façade, about Flinders Street Station http://www.flindersstreetstation100.com/ and has curated the current exhibition at Platform. It is very relevant exhibition to the Platform exhibition space, the public and the time. There are artifacts, photographs and didactic panels in a very professional museum display presenting a decade-by-decade view of the railway station.

Major central railway stations are cities within cities and this was the idea of the original design for Flinders Street Station. The station had everything: a gym, a public library, meeting rooms, a ballroom and a children’s nursery. In the 1960s there was even a bowling alley under the station. Nothing has replaced these facilities; they lie empty and abandoned in the building. It is tragic that it has been neglected for so many decades by State governments more interested in building roads and hosting major sporting events.

Along with this didactic historicy exhibition at Platform there is there are two cabinets of art about Flinders Street Station. Artist, John Bates has very flat paintings of the station displayed in the “Vitrine” cabinet. And in the “Sampler” cabinet are stylish images of Flinders Street Station by industrial design student, Tristan Tait,

There are the microenvironments of the city centre that can be changed by the existence of art galleries. For example, the revitalisation of the Degraves St. Subway, also known as Campbell’s Arcade, that goes under Flinders St. to the station from Degraves St. The subway was completed in time for the 1956 Olympics and it has not been refurbished since. It has many of its original features like the long row of telephone booths (no longer functional). Campbell’s Arcade has its own dynamic, given that it is one of the entrances to Melbourne’s main metropolitan railway station. And since the Platform art space the Degraves St. subway became an interesting place to walk through and even sit and eat your lunch on the benches in during Melbourne’s winters.

The revitalization of Campbell’s Arcade started with Platform 2. There already was a Platform artist space in vitrines in a subway at the old Spencer Street Station. And buskers have always found the space at the end of the stairs attractive for its position and acoustics. Platform 2, now simply called Platform after the closure of the Spencer Street location. Platform utilized built in display cases that were originally intended for commercial displays but were no longer used.

I have taken an interest in the underpass after exhibiting at Platform 2 in 1995. A year later when a group of friends and I opened Subterranean Arts, an artist run space. There was, already, a millenaries and a shop selling PVA clothes leading the way on the alternate direction for the arcade. At the time there were still the traditional type of shops: the newsagent, second-hand book window and old-fashioned barbershop. Subterranean Arts closed down after six months when energy, finance and direction ran out; the fate of many an artist-run space. Other shops have opened and closed but the trend has been towards boutique alternative fashion and other interests like vinyl records and skateboards. Sticky, a shop specializing in zines, and other limited edition publication opened a few years later and has been growing stronger ever since. It is incredible to think that in the age of the internet people are still producing handmade publications. And Sticky helps them do it with an extra long stapler, badge machines and typewriters for public use. The second-hand book window has been converted into another exhibition space – Vitrine. And Platform continued to expand into more used display cases.

I have written about the exhibitions at Platform many times in this blog – including when it was flooded when road works above collapsed the roof – Is the Art Alright? When I was there on Thursday afternoon I meet the author, Jenny Davis and enjoyed a jazz busker duo playing.

Aside from Platform and Sticky there isn’t much art in Flinders Street Station, even compared to other major railway stations. The only officially commissioned work is the Mirka Mora mosaic mural was installed in 1986.


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