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PUBLIC ART: The Three Oldest Statues in Adelaide

After spending a large amount of this morning in a dentist’s chair, and feeling a bit numb in the mouth, I walked back to the Adelaide CBD from North Adelaide via the Torrens River. Once again – a fabulous discovery of just how exquisitely beautiful Adelaide is. showing off this lovely sunny February day, and reminding me of certain English, American and European towns that have a river running through it. It also gave me chance to further my file re public art. As mentioned in a previous blog – PUBLIC ART: SINGAPORE – my definition of ‘Public Art’ is basically anything that is in and for the public eye, which can include statues, graffiti, sketches, advertising, memorials, etc. Here are some photos I took on this walk.

I had no clear itinerary worked out, just ‘went with the flow’ as to where I meandered. I walked past the ADELAIDE OVAL, which is a large stylish modern building – with a number of statues of classical heroic athletes, such as Hercules, as well as modern Australian ones.

THE STATUE OF HERCULES, also known as The Farnese ‘Hercules’, sits in Pennington Gardens in front of the Adelaide Oval. It was the second public statue to be erected in Adelaide; given to the City of Adelaide in 1893 by William Austin Horn (1841-1922). W. A. Horn was a prominent South Australian businessman and politician, of whom it was once said that he was ‘one of the most generous public men‘ in South Australia.

Whilst it is a copy of an original, dating from 1892, nonetheless, it is rather unique, presenting a rather reflective and melancholic older-Hercules.

William_Austin_Horn.jpgI should add that in 1892 William Austin Horn in had already donated what was Adelaide’s first piece of public art; a  classical statue, a beautiful copy of Canova‘s VENUS. This statue was rather controversial at the time. The controversy was possibly inflamed as well as ignored by the fact that one of old Adelaide’s most popular ‘Gentlemen Club’ of the 1890s was directly across the road from the statue which lay on North Terrace in the CBD. Members of the club could go onto the balcony, enjoying their evening brandy or port and cigars, whilst list-fully gazing at this beautiful Canova ‘Venus’. The statue, as well as the building that hosted this club are still there on North Terrace – long may they be so!

The other statues that I noted as I wandered through Pennington Park was a rather impressive one of Sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001), and somewhat perversely one of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935). What ‘Smithy’ has to do with sport and the Adelaide Sports Oval I’m not quite sure? Nonetheless, as it may be that younger (and older) Australians have no idea who Kingsford-Smith is (or rather, was), nor of his heroic importance to Australian and World-History, better that he is there smack-bang right at the entrance.

On the other side of the main road there are a number of gardens and war memorials. I didn’t go to all of them, but the ones I did were excellent and somewhat surprising. I’m starting to appreciate the unique quirkiness that one finds in Adelaide, as often as not expressed in it variable range of ‘public art’, which can sometimes be placed in somewhat ironic modern day position. For example, this beautiful stone cross that is right next to speed sign; I call the pix ‘Stone Crucifix in a 50km/hr zone’ (haha).

Attracted by one that had a plethora of petunias, I discovered a statue dedicated to WWI Australian Gallipoli hero John Simpson (1892-1915), of ‘Simpson and his Donkey‘ fame.

Just a little further on was another war memorial shrine, in a classical pagoda with a very unusual life-size statue on the steps.

From here I just walked straight down to the banks of the River Torrens – the vista speaks for itself – marvellous!

I walked towards the city along the bank footpath and under the bridge…..

….continuing my fascination with ‘pathways’, what they look like, and where they lead. The path under the bridge was no exception; plus I discovered a piece of ‘public art’ that I’m pretty sure most people passing through this ‘pathway’ would never really notice – a series of large blue tiles with black drawings and silhouettes.

Emerging from this tunnel, you get a fantastic view of the city of Adelaide, the River Torrens and the Festival Centre.

I then went up and crossed the bridge that becomes King William Street, one of the main roads that travels through the CBD. There are parks and gardens on both sides of the road, but the biggest is the open park in front of the Festival Centre, looking directly across the Torrens to the Sports Centre.

I continued walking up King William Street until it meets North Terrace. Just next to the Festival Centre, on the other side from the park and the river, there are a number of examples of ‘public art’, modern and those from a more distant time.

Was particularly taken with this one; playing with the reflections….

And this lovely drawing near the entrance to the Festival Centre Car Park….

Finally, at the corner of King William Street and North Terrace there is rather impressive War Memorial statue, of a soldier and his horse in action. What is wonderfully intriguing about this terrific bronze statue is that it is dedicated to those South Australians who served in the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902); the same war that saw the court martial and execution of  Lieutenant Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant  (1864-1902). Morant’s name is not on any of bronze inscription panels that are places around the statue’s pedestal, which list the names of those who fought in the Boer War. However, the name of his comrade, Lieutenant Peter Handcock (1868-1902), who was also courtmartialed and executed at the same time as ‘Breaker’ Morant, was added in 1964 after a family and public campaign to do so.

The statue was designed and created by Adrian Jones (1885-1938); another of this English sculptor’s work, his ‘public art’, is the The Peace Quadriga that sits atop of Wellington Arch in London. After a vigorous competition involving public opinion, The pedestal was made by local firm Garlick, Sibley and Wooldridge, the granite coming from nearby Murray 200px-Quadriga,_Wellington_ArchBridge. The statue was offical unveiled at a big civic function by Sir George Le Hunte (1852-1925), Governor of South Australia from 1903-1909. The date, 6 June 1904, was chosen carefully, coinciding with the birthday of the then Prince of Wales, later King George V (1865-1936).

From the time of it’s unveiling up to present day, this memorial statue, placed right in front of Government House, has been central to any Australian war meorial function, including ANZAC Day. The statue has been known by a number of names. Initially it was the National War Memorial, a position it held until 1931. Today it is called The South African War Memorial and/or The Boer War Memorial.

What is simply wonderful – well I find wonderful in my own romantic way – is that The South African War Memorial, as well as the Canova ‘Venus’, and the Fernese ‘Hercules’, have all witnessed and played a part in the history and evolution of Adelaide. For many Adelaidians over the centuries these statues would have been, as they are now, part of the background for contemporary life and lives. They may not have been directly and regularly noted and commented upon, but was something buried in the conscious and sub-conscious, particularly in regard to memory and place. A common reference point for a number of people from Adelaide, the surrounding region and South Australia. A Collective Memory – what we see now other also saw in the past. Something to treasure!