Sunday, 16 October 2005

Statuary Friday #16

Oh, it's Sunday Friday again! Time for a statue post...

#16: Weary Dunlop

King's Domain, Melbourne

This dignified and humane portrait statue stands in the Domain gardens, facing the traffic on St. Kilda Road, at the foot of the hill crowned by the Shrine of Remembrance. It represents Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop (1907-1993), a medical man who saved a great many lives as a prisoner of war of the Japanese on the Thai-Burma Railway. That's the only the beginning of what this man did with his life, really. You'll want to follow that last link.

My post as always is about the statue, not the person, but in this instance the success of the statue is only measurable by how well it captures the way we think about the man. Martin Flanagan sums that up well - he writes:

What Dunlop demonstrated was that in the most barbaric circumstances civilised standards can still be maintained, the sick can be cared for, the strong can help the weak, the rich (or those with any money at all) can help the poor.

The bravery Dunlop displayed was not momentary, nor even episodic. It was as regular as the sunrise. Once, when he had been tortured for eight hours and given a beating that left him with a broken rib, he made his way back to the tent that served as his makeshift hospital and resumed his operating schedule. "I wished to make a point," he later said. The point was that he wouldn't be beaten by force.

The statue, made by Peter Corlett, is about one and a half life size. It is bronze, and we're told it contains spikes used on the Thai-Burma Railway. It stands on a low and unornamented polished granite plinth in the centre of a small square of bluestone which sits flush with the surrounding turf. A couple of low flights of steps connect the street footpath with the statue, and written across the steps and laid into the ground on either side are various maps, pictures, lists and narratives to do with what happened to Australian prisoners of war at Changi and in in Thailand. It is all very informative and low key.

There are lots of memorial statues in the neighborhood of the Shrine, but I think this is the only one which shows a person at a moment in their life when their wartime duties and achievements are in the past. Although "in the past" isn't quite right, because Weary is doing the kind of intense and profound remembering that attests to the continuance of the past into the present. He's not in uniform, he's dressed in a civilian suit, and he wears none of his honours and decorations, just the Remembrance Day poppy in his buttonhole. His just-removed hat is in his left hand, and the fingers of his right hand are loosely curled in a way that suggests it is unusual for him to be standing still and not doing something.

He is growing old. There is the suggestion of thickening around the midsection which the buttoned suit jacket, purchased for a younger slenderer Weary, doesn't conceal. There is the creased face, the grizzled hair, bushy eyebrows, and the combover. He must be in his late sixties, the age when veterans of World War II had again to consider their own and their friends' mortality. Yet the face is far from sad. It is serious, as if it's seen a lot of suffering, but is not defeated by it. It's benign and peaceful, but not forgetful. The nickname Weary matches this face: it registers both the weight and reality of the burden and the willingness to go on carrying it indefinitely.

To look at Weary's face, you have to walk right up to him and look up. He's bigger than life, and his head is bowed. But his eyes are looking up past you, as if resting on the horizon.

The statue is clearly visible from St. Kilda Road. What you notice most when glimpsing it from a tram or a car is the posture, and the more I think about it, the more rich with meaning that posture seems. It pays tribute without triumphalism. The head is slightly bowed, but the body is upright, without a trace of military rigidity or stiffness. He is larger than life but not towering over everyone (but also not studiedly or ostentatiously stooping down to our level, either.)

It's the stance of a survivor.


Scrivener said...

What a beautiful monument. It's so nice to see one that isn't just triumphalist and militaristic.

Phantom Scribbler said...

This is your best one yet, I think. What a moving, compassionate monument -- and description of it. Thank you.

Ampersand Duck said...

Great post.

Corlett must have cast two of those, because there's one here outside the War Memorial, close to the outside kiosk. Here he looks across the lake to Parliament House, hopefully telling John Howard to stop exploiting war heroes.

Noelene said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lucy Tartan said...

I believe Corlett also made the monument to Simpson & his Donkey that's also in both Canberra and Melbourne.

John Howard, please stop exploiting war veterans! Especially dead ones who can't put in their own two bobs' worth!

Noelenes_Media_Tarts said...

Hi Lucy

Your blog is lovely, and no worries about the other issue. I respect where you are coming from absolutely.

Take care.


Anonymous said...

If somebody had told me six months ago that one of my favourite blogs would be about statues in public places in Melbourne - well, who would believe that? Thanks for this post, and the others.