The friendly statues

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If you followed the statues debate you might have imagined them as grizzled soldiers. They were either our defenders or our adversaries, to be supported or destroyed in battle. The debate does raise important issues, on which I wrote previously, but it ignores the majority of statues which either go unnoticed or are seen as friendly companions. They form part of the rich texture of our daily lives, personal histories and cultural environment. They invite tolerant smiles rather than scowls. This article celebrates a selection of friendly Melbourne statues that have reflected places where they and I have stood. It invites you to make your own selection.

Main image: George Ievers memorial drinking fountain Parkville (PeterChickenCampbell/Wikicommons)

I grew up near the Tommy Bent statue in Brighton. It represents a portly figure, appropriately demanding much brass in the making, and carrying a roll of documents. They were certainly about town planning. He shaped the suburbs around the statue as mayor of Brighton, Premier of Victoria many times, and a master at persuading governments to build railway and tram lines to the land he was developing. As the preference for Tommy over Sir Thomas suggests, he remains popular in a suburb where rent-seeking has been a local sport. His statue has also often been suitably decorated after celebrations, most notably after St Kilda’s only football Premiership.

The Carlton area, where I have lived for much of my life, is full of friendly statues. Down the street is a bust of George Hawkins Ievers above a drinking fountain. His grandfather William Ievers, who with his father is commemorated by George on another drinking fountain in the area, emigrated from Ireland after the gold rush and built up the large family real estate firm. Like Tommy Bent, the Ievers were active in local government, and the monument was erected by George’s grateful constituents for electing him unopposed in the ward for many years. In fact they elected the Ievers dynasty for over 40 years.

Another monument displaying equal gratitude stands on the north-eastern edge of the Melbourne General Cemetery, which also houses the family graves. They are surmounted by a large pedestal topped by a cross, recalling the melancholy truth that even for estate agents Melbourne was no lasting city. When I first came into the area, the eye was naturally drawn from the Ievers graves to the tower of a large house in Royal Parade. This heavy, grey edifice, later replaced by a motel, and probably now owned by a university, was the home of the Ievers family. It was called Mount Ievers, after the Georgian family house in County Clare.

The Ievers family belonged to the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, but William became a Catholic. He was the confidant of the first Catholic Archbishop, Augustus Goold, who aroused noisy public controversy among Catholics when he demolished the first Catholic Cathedral and levied the parishes to build the present St Patrick’s. Ievers entered the fray and smote the rebels vigorously on his behalf.

The Ievers monument, as statues do, stirs other more personal memories, too. My mother, who lived in North Melbourne as a child, remembered seeing the Ievers family arrive by carriage at the Catholic Church for Sunday Mass. In the 1980s, too, students from one of the Colleges, robed for the occasion, would visit George’s monument one Sunday each year in the early morning, to sing the praises of a man so wonderfully beloved by his constituents.

 

'The Ievers monument, as statues do, stirs other more personal memories, too. My mother, who lived in North Melbourne as a child, remembered seeing the Ievers family arrive by carriage at the Catholic Church for Sunday Mass.'

 

The Ievers family did not corner the market in water fountains, which abounded around the time of Federation. Nowadays, with COVID-19, the bottled water scam and user-pays, working taps are harder to find. The earlier fountains embody the continuing struggle between the grog industry and social reformers. Pub owners who dominated local politics in Victoria’s early years saw the installation of drinking taps as unfair competition. Temperance movements, which also abounded at the time, responded by funding them.

My favourite water fountain is that erected near the Victoria Market by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria, complete with a classically dressed female figure on a plinth pointing skywards and holding an anchor. It was a useful and enigmatic teaching aid at the time, and later proved similarly helpful to explain the Catholic doctrine that sacraments confer the grace that they signify. I doubt whether in those Sectarian times the WCTUV would have approved this use made of the fountain.

Another endearing statue with religious connections stands near the Brunswick Town Hall. It depicts Fr John Brosnan, a much-loved prison chaplain, best known for accompanying Ronald Ryan as he awaited execution. Though relatively recent, the statue also reflects the battlers’ origins of the suburb. Brosnan is represented as a bent, slightly dishevelled man with wrinkled face, a man of the people, caught splendidly by a poem by Kevin Brophy. Monuments to clergy, like those to public figures, are vulnerable to discrediting discoveries and changes of public attitudes, but this statue is a tribute to ordinariness of place as well of person.

The monuments in Gordon Reserve near Parliament House in Melbourne encourage reflection on the enthusiasms and the necessities of life in Melbourne. One statue represents Adam Lindsay Gordon. His death by his own hand also moved people to erect a statue in his memory. He was an Elizabethan adventurer, Australian style. A wild young man in England, he was sent abroad by his family, joined the mounted police, broke in horses, competed in jumping races, became a member of the South Australian Parliament, wrote poetry and lost his money. Shortly before his death he had won horse races in Melbourne and published a significant book of verse. Like Bent, my associations with him were local. In my early years the horse trough and hitching post where he left his horse still stood outside the Brighton pub at which he had drunk.

Another monument in the park is a fountain of many layers, which speaks of the necessities of Melbourne life, not its enthusiasms. William Stanford came to Australia at 13, was sentenced to 10 years gaol at 15 for horse stealing, and on release, to 20 years for highway robbery. His gift for stonemasonry was recognised in Pentridge Prison, and he was allowed to design and work on the fountain during his time in prison. He died of silicosis, caused by working with the basalt mined in the Pentridge quarry.

And finally, an obelisk hidden between an elm and Moreton Bay fig in Royal Park speaks also of the freedom of childhood and the necessities of adult commitments. It commemorates James Edwards who was killed in the Boer War, fought over gold and control of African land and people. The plaque says that as a boy James played in the park, as other children still play near his memorial.

In this list I have included only one monument representing or commissioned by women. Sadly, in Melbourne they are few. I conclude by paying my respects to some of the most significant: St Joan of Arc, St Mary MacKillop, Queen Victoria, Mary Gilbert and Shirley Strickland, with an honorary mention to Edna.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Main image: George Ievers memorial drinking fountain Parkville (PeterChickenCampbell/Wikicommons)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, statues, Melbourne, local history, Brighton, Carlton, Parkville, Fitzroy

 

 

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Existing comments

Andrew, unfortunately there are even fewer statues or memorials to indigenous men and women that there are of women.
MARELLA REBGETZ | 16 July 2020


I appreciate the significance for Andrew of the statues of his youth and beyond. I also appreciate his noting the absence of statues honouring women. Yet more recent history reveals the considerable contribution women made to the economic and social well being of Australian society since early settlement. Sadly we lack a body of community statuary that celebrates and honours them too and in this sense, remain invisible.
Suzanne Marks | 16 July 2020


Beautiful reflections on our statues. I know most of the ones you point to, Andrew. The Ievers statue. Drank from that as a child. I've often thought of making a "Guide to Melbourne Statues." Many great one in the cemetaries. Not quite a statue, who could forget the Walter Lindrum billiard table gravestone in the Melbourne General Cemetary? The Adam Lindsay Gordon is my favorite. So graceful. He sits. And the words underneath. "Life is full of froth and bubble; two things stand like stone. Kindness in another's trouble; courage in your own." Words I try to live by. Getting harder to live by. Too many great troubles in the world. I have to stop giving my money away, my family tell me. The kindness part does not mean a cash grant, they say.
John Kilner | 16 July 2020


Andrew, so pleased you have highlighted a few statues around Melbourne that demand recognition. Tommy Bent would have had his critics at the time but you have highlighted the ‘good’ that he did for the Brighton area. Much of the recent pulling down and graffiti damage to statues has been based purely on the negatives with no consideration given to many positive contributions made by those who had the respect of the community in their time. No doubt in 100 years time many who we honour today will be similarly treated with graffiti or removal.
Jack | 16 July 2020


Your words about Tommy Bent took me back to when I was twelve and my first published writing - an account of his life. It won second place in a municipal competition. Thanks for the memory Andrew.
Judith Scully | 17 July 2020


What a walk down Memory Lane, Andy and Melbourne has many more of those statues all over the place. They bring back real History, which is about people. People good, bad and indifferent. I knew of Fr John Brosnan by repute and I believe he was widely respected by prisoners. His job was certainly not what everyone wanted but was certainly a very necessary one. He must have provided enormous solace.
Edward Fido | 19 July 2020


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