Thursday, 27 September 2012

Burke and Wills

We appear to celebrate Burke and Wills, even though on most counts their expedition ended in failure.  I suppose they were the first explorers to cross Australia from south to north (if tasting salt water counts as getting to the Gulf of Carpentaria), but it does seem to me that this is a somewhat hollow feat if you don't make it home!  In his book, A Walking Guide to Melbourne's Monuments, Ronald Ridley comments that, "The heroisation of the two men out of all who took part in such an appallingly ill-managed expedition is a story without parallel in the history of such monuments".  Interestingly, it is Burke who is placed in a domineering position (apparently in line with his character!)
Yet I note with interest that their statue in the city square has been brought forward, so as to be right on the edge of Swanston Street.  I wonder if we were starting all over again whether we'd choose to use this prominent location for a statue of someone else.

However, there is in fact some justification for the prominence given to this statue.  It was (according to Ridley) Melbourne's first public monument.

The sculptor was Charles Summers, and the monument was originally unveiled in 1865 at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets but was moved in 1886 to make way for the cable trams.  It was moved to outside Parliament House, then to the Carlton Gardens.  When the underground loop was constructed in 1979 it returned to Collins Street and after restoration was set up at the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets.

However, I doubt if the tourists taking photos of  this monument appreciate that, at least for some of us, its significance is not the men that it commemorates, but the place that the statue itself has in Melbourne's history


  1. "The Dig Tree" by Sarah Murgatroyd, recounting the history of B&W and their commission supported by the Chief Justice(Sir William Stawell) for the 'Honour of Victoria' is an absolute must read for any true Melbournian, or at least a look at the pictures, including the departure of the camel train from Royal Park.

  2. There's a photo of the B&W statue in its original location at It's part of an interesting thread called "Sculpture and Monuments go walkabout."