Friday, 1 April 2005

Statuary Friday # 2

Ok, here's my project: or perhaps it's a meme: though I doubt anything qualifies as a meme if only one person is onto it. Well, anyway, every Friday I do a different piece of sculpture selected from the vast numbers littered around lovely Melbourne. My only criteria are: it must be outdoors, it must be more or less permanent, and it must be in a publically accessible location. (Suggestions, especially for sculpture in the 'burbs, are very welcome.)

#2 Capt. Matthew Flinders RN: 1774-1814: Navigator

Swanston Street, City: outside St. Pauls' Cathedral



This is bronze on a granite pediment. It was 'erected by public subscription' in 1925, which is also the year of the death of the sculptor, Charles Web Gilbert (who was born in Australia in 1867.)

Flinders stands in the prow of a boat which is being guided ashore by two sailors, one working on eaither side. In one hand he holds a telescope, in the other a rolled-up chart, but he is looking at neither: rather, he gazes sternly ahead. The group is slightly more than life-size and placed so that the bottom of the boat is at eye-level.

It is a familiar type of statue. Heroic, formal, manly. The patina of weathered bronze is one of the important surfaces of our city; it seems that Melbourne's big men, in the period of prosperity after the gold rush, felt that we needed monuments to increase our dignity, and went on an extended shopping spree that gradually developed into a civic habit: statues like this are all over the place.

So what's interesting about this one? Matthew Flinders is not really one of the a-listers of our colonial story, not like Captain Cook, or Burke and Wills, for instance: I associate him much more with residual Englishness than emergent Australianness. His dates are close to Jane Austen's (1775-1817), and somehow 'Navigator' strikes me as much more Empire-centric than, say, 'Explorer', or 'Founding Father', for example. And the statue is out the front of the Church of England cathedral.



I would not have thought that by the 1920s it was felt that Melbourne particularly needed more 'history' monuments to reinforce our English parentage. (At the same period in Sydney they were working on the Harbour Bridge.) But I don't know if that is really what this statue is doing. Circle it as many times as you like, you can never get a perspective on it that differs much from this one:



Is there a subversive tinge to this monument? (The sculptor's bio might support that idea.) Flinders is always away and remote up there, literally high and mighty. What is perpetually in your face, though, is the two boys straining away trying to push the boat ashore. So you're seeing the Hero Englishman standing on the foundations of hard labour done by the people Grand History doesn't tell us about. I look at this monument and think 'why doesn't he get out and help? Who does he think he is?' And of course, by posing away up there he's left himself open to the curse of all standing figure sculpture - the bird poo on head effect - never a very dignified look.

9 comments:

Mel said...

This is a wonderful meme. I really enjoy it. I have my own "memes-that-nobody-else-follows".

When I was in second year, we had a photography subject that required us to go out and shoot a roll of slide film and then the next week, to present the slides as a full AV with music and theatrics.

One week I shot all those monumental city sculptures and played them over "Mars" from Holst's "The Planets". I had a wonderful picture (if I do say so myself!) of St George's horse from out the front of the State Library, rearing in silhouette at a crazy angle against a bright blue sky.

Lucy Tartan said...

Thanks, Mel. I know you do: I love those crazy headtapes of yours! What is the deal, do you think, with the solo meme? How would you feel about it if somebody took yours on?
What I like most about the headtapes is that you actually listen and pay attention to the audiofuzz circulating in your brain. I think that must pay off in other (maybe unexpected) ways.

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Lucy Tartan said...

Jeez, I'll try to remember that. But uh, what was it called, again?

Mel said...

I admit would be a little jealous that other people were doing it too, but I would also be pleased because I guess the point of the Headtapes is that it's usually a one-way process getting a song in your head.

Although I was interested by that Triple J segment from a few years ago that tried to expunge these songs by playing them for you on the radio.

Ben.H said...

Flinders may not be A-list in Melbourne, but if you grow up in Adelaide you hear lots and lots about him in school, being the first navigator to chart the southern coastline.

As to why he's outside the Anglican cathedral: well, what are the names of the streets either side of the cathedral?

I don't know why, but after reading the comments here I think I need a Panadol.

Lucy Tartan said...

For the benefit of the hordes of international and foreign readers who check in here every day *after* they've ingested the delights Ben fashions at Boring Like A Drill, the streets either side of the cathedral are both called Flinders. The big train station kitty-corner to the Cathedral is also called Flinders, as is the bad-smelling underground book exchange a few doors away.

Anonymous said...

At least it is a statue of a success. There was something very symbolic about the way the Burke and Wills statue was a bit tucked away and Kennett had it dragged out into the middle of the swaston st footpath.

Flinders sometimes makes me pause a bit on a melancholy winter's night because his story was ultimately so tragic. Not to mention his wife's saga as well.

- barista

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