Queen Victoria Gardens are a very Edwardian garden that has been preserved in Melbourne out of indifference. The 3 palm trees in the middle of the park lawn are an indication, for the British minded population that Melbourne is in, what they would consider, the tropics. The sculptures and drinking fountain in the park were installed to serve a greater purpose that has since been forgotten in the collective consciousness. It might have meant something if I lived in Melbourne in 1901 but nobody does these days. This is what I mean by being forgotten in the collective consciousness.
Two classical busts stand on either side of the main entrance. In worse repair is the Apollo Belvedere that now has a badly repaired and elongated neck. The marble on both of these statues is very worn after long exposure to Melbourne’s weather. The sculptors are unknown but the donor is known, politician and newspaper proprietor, Theodore Fink who acquired the sculpture on a trip to Rome. Unveiled in 1928 these are the last two classical sculptures installed in Melbourne’s public gardens.
Without the excuse of being a classical sculpture, “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974, stands as a testament to conservative Melbourne. Robinson would have probably considered Rodin a bit avant-garde even though he was working a hundred years later. Robinson’s sculpture of the hammer thrower is so old fashioned to be ridiculous in that it imagines a future where such art would still be seen as important. The stolen hammer has not been replaced and the sculpture needs to be cleaned of graffiti.
On a plinth in a pond stands “The Phoenix” by Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner. Baroness Yrsa Von Leistner is a German sculptor and painter, her sculptures are scattered around the world from Salzburg, to Goa, to Melbourne. Yrsa Von Leistner’s sculptures are influenced by Rodin’s modernism; the simplified form, the rough and materiality of her figures all indicate his influence. The sculpture is a gift from the 40th International Eucharistic Congress Melbourne February 1973. Feathers, or flames, that were once attached at several points over the body of the sculpture have broken off and only fragments of two remain.
In another part of the pond there a statue of a nude woman, which you might assume from its style is from the late 19th century, it is “The Water Nymph” by Paul Montford, 1925.
Up on the hill white marble and granite memorial to Queen Victoria by James White, 1907. More than 7,000 pounds was raised by public subscription for the construction of the memorial; it would impossible to think of contemporary Melbourne doing the same for the current Queen.
The only sculpture in the garden that still resonates and remains current is “The Genie, a fantasy play sculpture for children” by Tom Bass in 1973. The bronze sculpture of a winged sphinx is still enjoyed by children because they can play on it. A class of schoolgirls were playing and posing for photographs on the sculpture when I visited the park.
The Ottoman revival style drinking fountain c.1936 no longer has water running. The sculptures are worn. In another city with less space such a garden would have been redesigned but with all the available space even in the centre of the city it has just been left. The people of Melbourne still enjoy the lawns but the park has become a historical relic.
I would prefer not to live in a state with a name that, in the possessive, also refers to a historical period – Victorian. Of course, using English royalty to refer to historical periods is passé in this post-colonial world. But a change of name would be nice just to avoid confusion.
Golden lawns, village green
Victoria was my queen
Victoria Victoria Victoria Victoria
(Mark E. Smith, The Fall)