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A Day and a Ball

Diagonally opposite Melbourne’s Trades Hall is the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” completed in 1903. In 1856 stonemasons at Melbourne University were among the first in Australia to achieve an eight-hour working day. The stonemasons had the industrial muscle to achieve these working conditions as Melbourne was in the middle of a building boom and before modern steel construction techniques stonemasons were required for major buildings. There is some doubt if the English sculptor and monument builder, Percival Ball was commissioned to design the “Eight Hour Day Memorial”. There is no doubt the bulk of the work on the monument was done by stonemasons working an 8-hour day.

Percival Ball appears to be a hardworking 19th Century sculptor on the search for commissions. He had a studio in Collins Street East; it is the artists studios on this street, rather than the later addition of the trees, that is the reason that Melbournians traditionally referring to the east end of Collins Street as the “Paris end”. The unfortunate man probably spent a lot of his time in meetings with committees for one monument or the other. If Ball did have a hand in the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” he had retuned to London and died before it was completed in 1903. Ball died of heart failure due to asthma and bronchitis on 4 April 1900.

Percival Ball received a number of commissions for sculpture in Melbourne. In 1886-87 Ball completed James Gilbert’s statue of Sir Redmond Barry, in front of State Library. The statue had been partially made in England but Ball had to complete it and supervising its mounting it on the plinth and other finishing details. Ball created the statue for the memorial to businessman and philanthropist, Francis Ormond. This memorial took five years to complete 1892-1897 before it was erect at the Working Men’s College (now RMIT). So the completion of the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” after Ball’s death would not have excluded him from being the sculptor. From a conservative judge to a memorial to progressive working conditions Ball does appear not interested in the politics of the memorial he wanted commissions, as a result Ball mostly sculpted portrait busts.

The“Eight Hour Day Memorial” is a triumphal obelisk composed of stone pedestal, granite column surmounted with 888 and bronze globe with gold leaf  . The 888 stands for 8 hours of labor, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of relaxation for a balanced 24 hour day. In case this symbolism was lost on the public around globe there is the inscription that reads: ‘Labour, Recreation, Peace’. The globe symbolizes the global aspirations for the labour movement. It is a monument, not to a person but to the ideal work-life balance.

Originally the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” was located near Parliament House in Gordon Reserve, Spring Street and the route 8-hour march passed by it. After two decade the march and the monument were too much for conservative members of the parliament who urged its relocation. And in 1923 it was moved to its present location, on the corner of Russell St. and Victoria Parade, appropriately near Trades Hall.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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