In time for Australia Day, here is our subjective choice of the five statues that best represent the bravery, humour, spirit and egalitarianism of the nation. - Fred Pawle
How do you honour a former train driver (Ben Chifley) and reformed alcoholic unionist (John Curtin) who both went on to become prime minster? Easy - portray them as a couple of ordinary blokes walking in Canberra discussing weighty matters, as they did. The literally pedestrian style of these companion statues wonderfully evoke the common touch of Curtin, who led the nation through World War II, and his Treasurer Chifley, who succeeded him in 1945. Seen from a distance, they can almost be mistaken for two elderly hat-wearing gentlemen whose serious conversation has stopped them in their tracks.
In a beach-loving nation, few heroes stand as tall as Matthew Flinders, the first man to visit (or at least sail past) every beach in the nation, taking note of our wild variety of long sandy stretches, cliffs, escarpments, bays, islands and reefs. He did this with “my friend Bongaree”, an indigenous explorer whom he described as a “worthy and brave fellow”. Their circumnavigation of our continent (1801-03) was not as pleasurable the recreational trips to the beach enjoyed by Australians today, but they were certainly idyllic compared to the six years Flinders spent imprisoned on Mauritius, as a guest of the French enemy, on his subsequent return journey to England. He was finally paroled in 1810 and allowed to complete his journey home. He published his notes from the circumnavigation as A Voyage to Terra Australis. It remains an evocative account of his adventures along a coastline that has, in many parts, barely changed since. His statue, on the Swanston Street side of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, is easily missed, but is the best of several Flinders’ statues, although the one on Macquaries St, Sydney, is notable for the later inclusion of his beloved cat, Trim, who stalks a window sill on the State Library behind him.
John Forrest’s arrival in Adelaide on November 3 1874 ended one of the most triumphant, if pointless, expeditions across our harsh continent. Seven months earlier, he had left Geraldton, halfway up the coast of Western Australia, with six men and 20 horses, and headed east into the desert before turning south to Adelaide. The explorers almost died on several occasions, being saved by rain and the discovery of natural springs. He quickly admitted that he had found little land of any pastoral use, but his heroics became legendary. He later became WA’s inaugural premier in 1890 and oversaw the state’s rapid growth, financed by the gold boom in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. His statue is in the second-most prominent spot (behind the war memorial) in Kings Park, overlooking Perth.
Shakespeare never wrote a play or even a sonnet about Australia, having died more than a century before our nation’s discovery, but this statue of him outside the NSW State Library, isolated on a traffic island and surrounded by cars zooming on and off the Eastern Distributor, is wonderfully Aussie for other reasons. It was commissioned by Henry Gullett, a newspaper editor, literary aspirant and president of the local Shakespeare Society, and unveiled in 1926. Gullett never achieved the literary success he craved, but the inscription on the plinth - Prospero’s speech from The Tempest beginning with “Our revels now are ended” and finishing with “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” is a suitable and poetic description of the energy, irreverence and secularity of Australia.
This is a replica of the Churchill statue in Parliament Square, London. The stance and demeanour need no explanation. Neither does Churchill’s heavy winter coat, which keeps him warm during Canberra’s freezing winters. The statue is almost 4m tall so, like the original, doesn’t need a plinth. Nor does the inscription need his first name.