Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Statuary Friday - Anzac Day edition

I'm in Sydney, hence the past few days of radio silence. I'm going home tomorrow, by road, and if you're good I might let you see some photos of world-famous Hume Highway-side tourist attractions....

In the meantime, since it's Anzac Day, I'm re-publishing a post from last year about the Weary Dunlop memorial statue on St Kilda Road.

Have a good Anzac Day, and see you soon.


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.


joanie said...

Thank you for this article, I enjoyed reading about this man. He is truly a humble, inspirational figure - which the statue captures beautifully.

His stance struck me too, right away - he's almost holding his shoulders as if warding off some old pain. Sad to think of what he went through.

Happy Anzac Day to you.

Michelle McLean said...

I was very priveleged to have met the man, a few years before he died, when he came to speak at our library for Senior Citizens Day. He was an absolute gentleman, extremely humble and a bit flabbergasted by the over attention he got from everyone.

It was my pleasure to have spent a few short hours with him. A true hero of Australia and of humanity in general

elsewhere said...

When I saw first glanced at this photo before reading your post, I just presumed he had poor posture or some kind of scoliosis.

Gawain said...

Thank you, it deserved re-publishing. It's so rare and so good to find good writing on the net. Again, thank you.

sexy said...



Ian said...

This is an excellent post, with good info. Thanks for putting it together. Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop was truly a remarkable man.