Melbourne has many shrines, memorials and monuments, official or unofficial. They are one way of understanding Melbourne’s culture and its variety of religious practices. Although many Australians claim to be Christian their actual religious practice, as indicated by Melbourne’s shrines, includes Australian rules football, culture heroes and ancestor worship.
The Shrine of Remembrance and its the surrounding gardens are the most obvious, best known and largest of Melbourne’s shrines. The MCG is also frequently described as a “shrine to footy”, indicating its religious significance in Melbourne. There are a few Catholic shrines in Melbourne in Kew there is a shrine dedicated to “the Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt” (an obscure title of the Virgin Mary) and the St. Anthony National Shrine is in Hawthorn.
It is a curious feature of Melbourne that there are so many shrines, memorials and monuments to people unconnected with Melbourne. There are plenty of 19th century monuments in Melbourne to monarchs and heroes of the British Empire, including Queen Victoria and General Gordon. The Treasury Gardens contains an ornamental pond with a monument to President John F. Kennedy created by sculptor Raymond Ewers in 1965. This shrine to an American culture hero physically marks Melbourne’s transition from the British to the American sphere of political and cultural influence. The Shrine to Elvis in Melbourne General Cemetery is the only officially approved Memorial to Elvis Presley outside Graceland in Memphis. The religious significance of the immortal Elvis is further explored in an essay by Jennifer Phipps, the Curator of Australian Art – Late Modernism at National Gallery of Victoria.
So far I have mentioned only official memorials but there are many temporary and unofficial shrines and memorials in Melbourne. Roadside memorials to the victims of traffic accidents are a common custom. Bunches of flowers, photographs and other mementos are attached to poles or laid on the side of the road close to the spot where the accident occurred. These traffic accident memorials in turn become dangerous distractions to other drivers.
There is a large improvised shrine in the gardens of the Collingwood housing commission flats for the stolen generation and other members of the aboriginal community. It is maintained by the Parkies Inc., a local aboriginal group.
On my explorations of Melbourne’s laneways I encountered an improvised memorial shrine to Nicholas Kennedy (1980-2004). There are a neat row of candles and a vase of sunflowers behind some rubbish bins. Who is remembering him with such dedication all these years later?
“Sue Anne Ware, a landscape architect, has pursued her investigations to a conclusion with a temporary street memorial to people who have died of heroin overdoses [Melbourne Festival 2001, St. Kilda] and a memorial to young people who have died on a country road [2003 ongoing, Gippsland].” (Leon Van Schaik Design City Melbourne, Wiley-Academy, 2006, England, p.113)
Official or unofficial these memorials, these public shrines and monuments map changes in culture and values in Melbourne.