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Sculptures and Monuments go walkabout

Peter Maltezos's picture

Sculptures and Monuments go walkabout in Melbourne

Burke & Wills Monument

Text by Charles Summers


The Burke & Wills Monument was Melbourne’s first public monument and commemorates the Victorian Exploring Expedition of 1860-61. Under the leadership of Robert O’Hara Burke and his second in command, William John Wills.

The monument was designed and cast at Summers’ Collins Street studio. The figure of Burke was first cast in two pieces, but Summers was not satisfied with the result and decided to recast it in one, which he did successfully in the presence of a crowd of 130 people on 1 February 1865.

The figures were placed on a pedestal of Harcourt granite, at the intersection of Collins and Russell Streets and unveiled on 21 April 1865, to general acclaim. Four low-relief panels depicting scenes from the expedition, including the death of Burke, were cast and erected in September 1866, as was the bronze coping with a design of flowering nardoo plants. In the panels, Summers drew on several sources in European art, including figures from the Parthenon friezes and Renaissance religious themes such as the pieta and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The sculpture remained in Collins Street until 1886 when it was moved to Gillott Reserve in Spring Street to make way for cable trams. It was moved again in 1973 to the south-east corner of the Carlton Gardens during the construction of the underground railway loop, and again in 1979 to the City Square where the integrity of the sculpture was compromised by positioning it over chlorinated running water which destroyed its patina and unconsciously mocked the tragedy of death by starvation and thirst. The arrangement of the relief panels was changed, the bronze coping was removed and later found vandalized in a council yard in West Melbourne. In 1988, the Melbourne City Council was pressured to restore the monument to its original design and to conserve this most important example of colonial sculpture in Australia. The work was restored by Meridian Studios in Fitzroy, and moved to its present, though not ideal site at the south-east corner of Swanston and Collins Streets in 1993.


Above, at its original location, intersection of Collins and Russell Streets.

Below, located at the City Square in 1979.


Two  shots of mine showing its new location at the south-east corner of Collins and Swanston Streets.


Britannia & Goddess Statues

The two statues, Britannia and Goddess by R. Jackson that were in niches in front of the former Union Bank of Australia, later ANZ Bank, 351 Collins Street, were moved to the ground floor corridor of the Architecture, Building & Planning building at The University of Melbourne in 1966 after the demolition of the bank.


Above, an old photograph showing where they once were and below, we see Goddess looking like she needs a good clean at The University of Melbourne.


Statue of Atlas

In the above postcard we see the statue of Atlas where it once was, perched on top of the Atlas Insurance Building at 406 Collins Street.

Below, we see it today, in its new location, moved to the ground level of a modern building at the same address.


Eight Hours Monument


This distinctive monument was erected in its complete form in 1903 to celebrate the successful campaign for the eight hour working day in Victoria, first granted to stonemasons in 1856, an international landmark in the history of the labour movement.

The granite column is topped by three ‘8s’ and above is the world, with the three words ‘Rest, Labour, and Recreation.’ The shaft is of Harcourt Granite, the base and pedestal of Bethangra Granite.


In the above Edwardian postcard one can see it in its original site at the Gordon Reserve and below, moved to its new site in a triangular reserve at the corner of Russell and Victoria Streets, diagonally opposite Trades Hall.


Equitable Life Assurance Statues

Sculptured by Victor Tilgner (1840-1896), an Austrian artist commissioned by the Equitable Life Assurance Society, for their building at the north-west corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets.

Constructed in 1891-96, the work was cast in the Imperial Art Foundry, Vienna.

The building purchased in 1923 by the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society was demolished in 1959 and the sculpture given to The University of Melbourne, where it now can be seen on the lawn above and next to the university car park.


Above, we see it at its original location, above the entrance of The Equitable Life Assurance Society Building, and in my photo below, we see it now at The University of Melbourne lawns.



The Atlantes, sculptured by James Gilbert, formerly part of the doorway of The Colonial Bank of Australasia, located at the north-east corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets, 1880.

The building was demolished in 1932 and the porch with statues was donated to The University of Melbourne.

It was then re-erected at The University of Melbourne car park entrance in 1972.


Above, we see it at its original location, above the entrance of The Colonial Bank of Australasia Building, and now below, adorning the University of Melbourne car park entrance.


Mosaic Angel

Text from City Weekly

Ella D’Abbs


For about 15 years the Mosaic Angel stood proud and tall in the moat of the National Gallery of Victoria, her glorious presence acting as a guardian angel for the city. The Picasso-inspired angel was created in 1983 by Debora Halpern in Warrandyte and took two years to complete.

The enormous sculpture was created from steel mesh and sprayed with expanding foam. The shape was then carved and covered in a fiberglass skin. Ceramic tiles added the finishing touches.

In 1999 the angel was removed from her watery home as part of the gallery’s restoration works. The gallery entrance was restored to its original design and all sculptures were reinstated around the city.

After a three-year makeover the angel was sited on the banks of the Yarra at Birrarung Marr. Her magnificent aura imposing over the river. The public is now able to view the angel “in the round” and appreciate her from all angles. This new position is to be enjoyed by all for hopefully many more years.


In the above postcard, we see the Mosaic Angel in its original site, standing in the mote in front of NGV, and below, we see it at its new site, on the Yarra bank.


Robert Burns

The Robert Burns statue was sculptured by George Lawson, erected by the Caledonian Society and unveiled on the 23rd  January 1904.

The statue, a replica of the one at Burn’s birthplace in Scotland, was unveiled before 5000 people by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Madden, at Princes Bridge, where it originally stood. It is 2.7 metres high, and cost £1000. The pedestal is of Harcourt granite and cost £400

Robert Burn’s statue now stands in the Treasury Gardens.


Below, we see a postcard of the statue at its original site at Princes Bridge, St Kilda Road end, and the following image, one of mine showing its current location at the Treasury Gardens.


Statue of Mercury

Sculptor: Charles Richardson

Erected 1899


When the four-metre statue of Mercury was placed at the top of The Age newspaper building in Collins Street in 1899, people were assured the statue could not fall. It was held in place by a steel tube fixed three metres into the wall.

The Age itself was launched in 1854, Victoria’s gold rush had begun, and the colony was teaming with people seeking their fortunes. Mercury was an appropriate symbol to represent the newspaper’s role in communication: he was the messenger of the Roman gods. The statue’s new home is on display in The Melbourne Museum.


In the postcard above, we can see the original site for Mercury, on top of the old Age building in Collins Street and below in a photograph of mine in its current home, The Melbourne Museum.


Marble bust of Lord Melbourne

The Oriental Bank, built in 1857.


Lord Melbourne’s marble bust was originally on display in The Oriental Bank at the south-west corner of Queen Street and Flinders Lane. After demolition of the bank, it was moved to a site on Collins Street for several years and later purchased by the trustees of the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery of Victoria in 1901.

It is now on display in the Cowen Gallery in The State Library of Victoria.




Text from:


“Melbourne’s much loved, often maligned, never forgotten sculpture Vault by Ron Robertson-Swann, was commissioned in 1980 to stand in Melbourne’s City Square. After a much publicised public outcry against this ‘Yellow Peril’ which had descended upon the greyness of Melbourne’s civic landscape, the sculpture was removed to Batman Park, where it languished for years. Vault came to the ACCA precinct in 2002, where, we hope it will remain in perpetuity for all Melburnians to love.”

-Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director ACCA


In its original home, The City Square back in 1980.


Now at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA).


The Driver and Wipers

Text from A walking guide to Melbourne’s Monuments

Ronald T. Ridley


Sculptor: Charles Sargeant Jagger

Unveiled 24th  February 1937;

Purchased by the felton Bequest

Following the death of the famous sculptor Charles Jagger in 1934, there was a large commemorative exhibition in England, which excited Australian interest in having some examples of his work. As the casts survived of some, further bronzes could be made. The National Gallery chose The Driver from the Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park Corner, London, and Wipers from the Hoylake War Memorial in Chesire. After considerable argument over their placing when they arrived, at a cost of £1500 each, a committee consisting of Paul Montford, Leslie Bowles and Wallace Anderson suggested their placement in the forecourt of the State Library.

The placement of the two statues in Melbourne caused a sensation. The public’s appreciation was so tactile that within a month protests were made about the damage to the ‘bloom’ of the bronze from so much touching. On the other hand, some critics objected to the expense of such a large sum on ‘copies’ when works for the Gallery could have been purchased for the same sum. The placing was also not favoured: it was claimed that they were incongruous against the ‘classical dignity’ of the Library, and the Driver did not have a stone wall behind to set it off. The criticisms of position have weight: the statues would seem to have been better placed near the Shrine where they are now.


In the old photograph below, we can see the Wipers statue at its original site in the forecourt of the State Library of Victoria, and in the following photographs of mine, we see the new site for the two statues, back to back near the Shrine of Remembrance.


The monument to the 5th Victorian Contingent

Architect: George de Lacy Evans

Sculptor: Joseph Hamilton

Erected 1903


One of the monuments to the Boer War, ‘The monument to the 5th Victorian Contingent’ can be found at the beginning of the drive up to Government House, it originally stood close by on a nature strip in St Kilda Road.


In the postcard below, one can see the monument on its original site in St Kilda Road and next, in one of my own photographs, at its new site.


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Dangerous Beans's picture

Fantastic work Peter, I had no idea our statues had wandered so much.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

A great book on Melbourne's monuments:


A Walking Guide to Melbourne’s Monuments

Ronald T. Ridley

Melbourne University Press

First published in 1996


In print


Melbourne’s wide streets and surrounding parks have many public monuments.

Standing amidst pleasant gardens or beside busy thoroughfares these statues and memorials are often accepted as part of the scene, and given no more than a casual glance.

But each monument has a story to tell, whether it be about the person or event it commemorates, or about sculptor, designer or donor.

Most of Melbourne’s monuments are within easy walking distance of the city centre, and this book introduces over forty of them, divided into two walking itineraries. For those who do not wish to follow a set route, each statue is clearly identified on the map and a description given.


Great little book that can be taken with you as you check out the monuments.

I collect, therefore I am.

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jamie073's picture

Anyone know when the Oriental Bank was demolished? Such a shame, a gorgeous and grand building.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

The Oriental Bank went broke in 1884 and was demolished soon after, to be replaced by one of the Prell's Building's, which in turn was demolished in the early 1970s.


The Oriental Bank in its heyday.


One of the Prell's Buildings (the tallest one in the photo) that replaced it.


I collect, therefore I am.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

Federal Coffee Palace statues

William Scurry

Three of the four statues on the first floor of the coffee palace on either side of the corner as seen above, are now at the McClelland Sculpture Park & Gallery.

The Melbourne Museum has a balustrade from the main stairs, with FCP for Federal Coffee Palace in the design.

I collect, therefore I am.

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