Tag Archives: Collins Street

The Burke and Wills Monument 1865 – 2015

Today is 150th Anniversary of the Burke and Wills Monument and both Melbourne and the monument have changed in the 150 years. Just after 4pm on 21 April 1865 the sculpture was unveiled in the middle of the Collins and Russell Streets intersection. The monument has been four different locations and these different locations show the history of Melbourne’s transportation with the introduction of trams, the city loop trains and the pedestrianised zone of the city square.

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument

Proudly Australian the monument was made from local materials; the bronze from tin mined in Adelaide and copper from Beechworth, and the imposing plinth is of Harcourt granite. The sculpture was cast in Charles Summers’s workshop in the east end of Collins Street, now the location of Burlington Chambers. The casting of the sculpture before an invited audience was a bit of a fraud. Summers claimed that the figures were cast in one piece, an impossible accomplishment and one that the sculpture’s restoration has revealed to be false. Pouring hot metal is a spectacular event but Summers felt the need to lie about how successful it went.

For a nineteenth century artist Summers worked hard at publicity. He was a celebrity as far as the Argos newspaper and Melbourne’s elite were concerned but what ever happened to its sculptor Charles Summers?

Researching my book, Sculptures of Melbourne, I couldn’t help feeling that Summers was a man who, in part, believed his own publicity. I think that really believed that he was Melbourne’s Michelangelo but he was a bit of a fraud and a show off. After basking in the glory of his monument Summers moved to Rome, after all if was Michelangelo then he belonged in Rome. In Rome he established a factory for producing sculptures that his son, also a sculptor took over after his death. Summers never returned to Melbourne but his son did and there are Victorian neo-classical marbles by the Summers factory in both the Bendigo and Geelong art galleries.

The monument is now an icon of Melbourne and Australian history, a preserved historic relic, the first work of public art to be registered by the National Trust. However, its anniversary has not been officially recognised. Along with attitudes to heroic deaths, ideas about public art have changed radically and I doubt that there are now many Australian parents who would follow Governor Darling’s prediction for the monument at its unveiling. “For, oft as it shall be told, and oft-times it will be told upon this very spot, Australian parents, pointing to that commanding figure, shall bid their young and aspiring sons to hold in admiration the ardent and energetic spirit, the bold self-reliance, and the many chivalrous qualities which combined to constitute the manly nature of O’Hara Burke.”

For more about the history of this and other public sculptures in Melbourne (and some better photographs) read my book, Sculptures of Melbourne.

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865, panel Dig tree

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865, panel Dig tree


Melbourne’s Street Names

When I was at university there was a student, I won’t mention any names because he now works as a lawyer, who stole street signs with the name of the person for 21st birthday present. There were a lot of 21st birthday presents to collect and he became very experienced at removing street signs. It eventually backfired when he stole the street named after the birthday boy’s grandfather.

Street signs are the collective consciousness of the city written up as addresses. Melbourne often does have that much imagination when it comes to naming streets, lots of old signs of loyalty to the British Empire or pathetic memorials to old city councillors. How streets got their names is one of the boring subjects that urban historians engage in (for that kind of thing see eMelbourne Lanes and Alleys). I could comment on the recent addition of green historical note signs underneath some of the street signs.

In the late 19th Century Melbourne City Council was often petitioned to change the name of lanes that had acquired a bad reputation, for example Romeo Lane became Crossley Street. In the late 20th Century Melbourne City Council took to renaming lanes as tourist attractions and to celebrate local international stars: Dame Edna Everage (surrounded by bulbs like a make-up mirror) and AC/DC Lane (with lightning stroke). There are some streets still need to be renamed; Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick needs to be renamed to remove the racist nickname “coco” from the street named after the boxer.

But there are also some amusing street names in Melbourne.

To Punch Lane – doesn’t Melbourne have enough problems with violence?

While I’m on this subject of the history of Melbourne’s street names – locals refer to ‘the Paris End’ of Collins Street without remembering why. It was the presence of the artist’s studios and not the later addition of street planting of trees that lead to the eastern end of Collins Street being called “the Paris end”. Melbourne’s first sculptor Charles Summers started the trend. He had a studio and foundry in Collins Street where he cast the Burke and Wills Memorial in 1865. The sculptor Margaret Baskerville (1861-1930) had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914 and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Grosvenor Chambers, a custom built complex of artist’s studios at 9 Collins Street housed many famous Australian artists including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Clara Southern, Charles Conder, E. Phillips Fox, John Longstaff, Max Meldrum, Mirka Mora, Albert Tucker and Wolfgang Sievers. It was established in 1888 and held artists studios until the mid 1970’s when all but the facade of the building was demolished. Artists still have studios in the city but the Paris End of Collins Street has become too expensive.


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