Last week-end’s Australian Review featured a double paged article about a new book being published, almost two decades after the writer’s death, written by our national icon and Noble Prize Winner, Patrick White. It’s called ‘The Hanging Garden’. Its timely rescue from possible oblivion due to David Marr’s boundless admiration for Paddy whom he quoted as the ”most prodigious literary imagination in the history of this nation.”
Hang on; national icons, I thought they were Donald Bradman or Phar Lap. It is strange that our sport heroes continue to have a greater place in our admiration than our much more enduring artists. We can still read Patrick White or listen to our Joan Sutherland but somehow dead sport heroes seem to have priority over our artists. (Do people really watch old footage of Bradman swinging out with his bat?)Perhaps this is because there is very little public exposure of our deceased artists. We don’t easily bump into them, especially not in bronzed sculptures scattered around our public parks.
We all know that people in Russia are well provided with larger than life size bronze statues scattered around most of their public parks and open spaces. Those sculptures usually depict the heroic male farm worker holding a scythe or a stout busty female pointing a sheaf of wheat skywards with a clutch of children at her feet. It’s hard to take a seat anywhere in public and not be overlooked by the revolutionaries of Russia. Enormous Lenin’s also made those eating pirozhki at Gorki Central park of Culture and Leisure a rather noble and humbling experience.
Fortunately, the bronzed sculptures are not all heroes of revolution or political mayhem. Many are also of their writers, poets and other artistic giants. While I was there I saw many very pensive and good looking Pushkins about. The bearded Tolstoys seemed to feature much less in number. This might well be for technical reasons. It is not easy to cast a figure with large flowing beard and seated in a cane chair into a bronze statue. What do you think the pigeons would do perched on the cane chair?
We don’t revere our mayhem causing revolutionaries and political wreckers to that degree. We would be very chagrined stepping out of the train at Wynyard being greeted by a life size Beazley on horseback. Can we imagine for one moment, after a big night out at the Bankstown RSL, bumping into a John Howard with cricket bat?
We do have a stern looking Queen Victoria at the entrance to the Queen Victoria Building near Sydney’s Town-hall. She hails from such a historical distance away that we accept her as easy as we do a park-bench. She served our calm Anglo history very well. The kids just love her too.
Captain Cook is peering beyond distant horizons. He just needs an occasional dusting of his binoculars. Not much further is a mysterious bronze pig whose snout gets polished together with coins being donated for the hospital just behind it. I am not sure if the pig polishing and coin throwing is still connected to making a wish as well! The relentless march of history has a habit of finally blurring out the edges.
Another animal cast in heavy metal is the Gundagai drover’s dog. I could not see him at the spot he was supposed to be last time. Perhaps dogs roam around even after cast in bronze. Maybe the drover’s tucker box was getting empty.
A weird and rather spooky relic of the past is the sad and somewhat forlorn sight of a large heart kept in a jar of alcohol. It is Phar Lap’s ticker. For those outside Australian territories and our horse ignorant young; Phar Lap was one of the fastest horses to run around a race course. It was a phenomenal winner, making lots of money for the punters. I can’t imagine the horse being too impressed if it knew its heart ended up being pickled inside a jar.
The omission of our well known artists cast in bronze seems to stick out somewhat. Mind you, not far from my place we do have that famous icon, a cricketer in tarnished bronze. His name is Donald Bradman. He is famous and certainly an artist with the bat & ball. People queue up to get their picture taken standing next to him. They arrive from all parts of the world, even Fiji and Pakistan.
Are we ready to grace our parks and public open spaces with sculptures celebrating our best in the arts. Why can’t we have our greatest writer, Patrick White being honored with a life size sculpture or even a statue? I know he would be horrified but he won’t see it. His ashes were scattered around Centennial Park. He was always a bit grumpy when it came to bestowing recognition and fame on him. He would rather stay home than face the media or the hungry crowds.
He was a modest man. Even so, we do need to give greater recognition to our creative artists…For posterity. For our children. They need to know and see our artists as well as the sporting heroes.
What about a Joan Sutherland in bronze, a corrugated zinc alume armored Sydney Nolan? Perhaps a Brett Whitely in shimmering stainless steel next?
Just let’s start first with Patrick White though. I can see him already, jutted jaw, his mouth firmly set, looking straight at us. A bit miffed but pleased about ‘The Hanging Garden’ also been published.