Saturday 2 July 2011 – A sculpture walk on the ANU campus


Dac said:

The ANU walk was quite chaotic, with distances looking like a million miles on the printed map, but only being dozens of yards between significant intersections. Not knowing was very disorienting; especially when mixed with cries of ‘oh no, we missed that statue …’

This is all true.

My swimming mate Morwenna brought the ANU Sculpture brochure to morning tea recently. It lists 52 sculptures, with all their details, and a map. I thought it would be a nice idea to choose a suitably-sized area of the campus for a walk. I reckon we’ll get four walks out of the brochure all up, if Dac ever agrees to go again!

The red line shows the shortcut we took on the way back. Dac came walking without having eaten, and became very thirsty very quickly. I’d already investigated and, during the day on weekends, nothing is open on campus. We were nevertheless tricked by signs festooning our route with promises of a cafe at Old Canberra House. It was shut.

Starting out

We parked at the ANU end of the Museum carpark and set off. The first notable artefact we saw was an instance of “recreational signage for Lake Burley Griffin” which had only been unveiled by local government a couple of weeks before (16 June 2011). I’ve put the photo of the sign, and a transcription, on a separate page.


The next Sehenswürdigkeit was a view of Black Mountain Tower from Bachelors Lane. With so many other sights to see, it was perhaps a pity to worry about the Black Mountain Tower / Telstrayama series, but I do. Without this photo, I wouldn’t have learnt about Bachelors Lane.

Digression: Bachelors Lane & Lennox House

The street sign for Bachelors Lane is always missing. I wonder whose room on campus it ornaments.

I’ve been totally distracted from writing up this walk by stumbling across the history of this bit of the ANU campus. Among other things, I’ve learned that Bachelors Lane is so named because “[i]n the early days of Canberra, the nearby Lennox House was known as the Bachelors’ Quarters”. (- Building and Place Names, ANU.)

I’ve never actually seen Lennox House (bits of which were built in 1911 – happy birthday to them!) and will have to go back and look at it. Brian told me, over cheese on toast yesterday, that John XXIII College (originally another bachelors’ establishment) was located there for a couple of years before moving to its own building. I should always ask Brian first! He’s been in Canberra since 1963, moved into John XXIII in 1969, and never forgets a fact. The Lennox House heritage page I’ve linked to above just mentions student accommodation 1960-present, and the College page doesn’t provide any history apart from “opened in 1967”.


The ANU campus is a lovely place for a stroll, and even though I lived there for three years, from 1968 to 1970, there are plenty of bits I’ve never seen. Plenty of bits that have changed since my time, too. We stumbled on a few of them straight away.

Parkes Way from Balmain Crescent

Here’s a view of Parkes Way unlike any I’ve ever seen before. I suppose we were standing on top of the Noel Butlin Archives’ repository, Acton Underhill, aka “The Tunnel” – I don’t know whether this name refers to the repository itself or to the fact that it’s above the Parkes Way Tunnel.

(I think of Helen every time I drive through there. She wasn’t fond of the tunnel as a child, and used to close her eyes and block her ears whenever we went through it.)

Parkes Way runs through the western end of campus, extremely close to the area where I thought the dignitaries lived. Quite a change for them to be subjected to the sounds of a six-lane highway!

Digression: Dignitaries

I’d been under the impression that the Vice-Chancellor lived in one of the pleasant old houses in this area, and set about finding out whether this was still the case. Many of the houses have turned into academic centres of one kind and another, but a couple near Parkes Way seemed to be occupied. In the course of searching, I stumbled upon the ANU Heritage site and its wealth of information about the Acton Conservation Area, which we unknowingly walked right through, and the houses I’m talking about, which apparently are called the Acton Cottages:

The Acton Cottages, erected 1913-1927, are individually significant for the two housing subdivisions associated with the early development of Canberra which accommodated high and middle level public servants. The earliest subdivision in Canberra developed between 1913-1914 on what are now Liversidge Street and Lennox Crossing, and which together form one of the few surviving Canberra roads which predate the Griffin plan. [Emphasis mine.] The Balmain Crescent sub-division, developed from 1924, is the second oldest surviving 1920s subdivision after Braddon which was developed in 1921.

As with Braddon, the later buildings correspond with the opening of Parliament House (“the Provisional Parliament House”) in 1927. The University acquired the land and the cottages (and possibly their tenants?) in 1953.

The Heritage site provides a page of details about every surviving cottage, including who lived there when,  design (questions for another day: what is a gambrel roof? what are Marseilles pattern tiles?), construction material, all the alterations that have occurred, what’s in the garden and what used to be… I had no idea.

Most of the cottages remain although one was destroyed by fire some time before 1972 and a group was demolished to make way for the construction of the Parkes Way Tunnel. The design of the subdivision was such that most of the houses backed on to open space or lanes leading to this space. Now a car park[,] this space originally contained a tennis court.

The relevant page in the Australian Heritage Database has lots of little photos of the Acton Cottages.

As for the Vice-Chancellor’s residence, that was a late addition, in 1958. I suspect it was hiding behind the huge hedge we passed as we climbed Balmain Crescent. ANU maps show it but provide no information about it. I found a reference in a 2002 ANU Reporter to a new piece of sculpture being acquired for its garden by the ANU Public Art Committee, but the piece isn’t in the sculpture brochure, so I suspect it isn’t public at all!

Lost again

I failed to find Balmain Lane, which I have marked as our route on the map. We therefore missed sculpture no. 7, our supposed first, which turns out to be a mosaic in front of the National Europe Centre. Instead, we wandered up Balmain Crescent from Parkes Way. I saw a rabbit, and as usual, it had gone by the time I screeched about it, so Dac didn’t see it, so I have no proof!

Back on track

We found University House, though. It would have been surprising if we hadn’t, given the number of concerts I sang there in my youth. I’ve never paid much attention to the sculptures, I now realise – not that all of them were there then, but I managed to ignore the one that was. Finally having seen it, I like it: it’s a kind thought.

Relaxation by Gerald Lewers, 1953

Before we got to it, however, we wandered past the fish pond, where I signally failed to notice another Lewers sculpture, the Lady Theaden Hancock memorial fountain: Swans in flight, 1961. (Look it up in the brochure: it’s big!) Here’s what I saw instead:

Mystery sculpture and other sights by the fishpond at UH

The sculpture above turns out not to be listed in the brochure, and I can’t find any information about it online. The goldfish photo doesn’t give a good idea of the scale: that white fish was huge. To tell the truth, the ducks top right were on the lawn in front of University House, near the Great Hall. Something else we saw there:

Ceramic sign with corroboree frog (?)
Protect Sullivans Creek: Leave the Drain for the Rain

I’ve been unable to find this sign replicated or even mentioned online. Having blurred the photo, I can’t read the small print, but it’s to do with reporting something (spills and dumping?) to ANU security. I think the picture is meant to be a corroboree frog, but can’t be sure. Sullivans Creek is usually represented by drawings of platypuses these days.

Withholding by Mark Grey-Smith, 1992

I don’t know much about Art but I know what I like, and I particularly like the sculpture above, which we examined after leaving University House through reception. There are two more sculptures listed by this artist on campus, but they look exclusively curvy. We shall see whether I find them as appealing as this not-exclusively-curvy sculpture, if we go again.

Next we staggered across Liversidge Street to Judith Wright Court which, a plaque informed us, was “opened by Peter Garrett on 2 September 2002 to honour Judith Arundell Wright McKinney Hon LittD, ANU (1915-2000). Poet, conservationist, campaigner for Aboriginal rights. Member of University Council 1974-1979”.

Contemplation by Ante Dabro, 2002

I was disappointed that the fountain wasn’t playing – she’s meant to be resting her hand on a spout of water there. We arrived at Judith Wright Court via an enormous statue of Winston Churchill which, Dac was outraged to find, was made of plastic:

A couple of Englishmen

Once again, we’d stumbled upon a statue that wasn’t in the brochure and missed another that was: an Ante Dabro bust of Churchill in the grounds of the Churchill centre. I’ve tracked down the source of the sculpture pictured above:

The most prominent example of a statue of Churchill is the official statue commissioned by the government and created by Ivor Roberts-Jones which now stands in Parliament Square, erected 1976.

– Wikipedia on the Honours of Winston Churchill

This one is a replica of that one, and I reckon it makes him look like a Sontaran.

On our way down to Old Canberra House, I photographed the mosaic of native animals which appears, not very well-aligned, in the featured image for this blog entry. It’s not listed in the brochure.

Shiny corkscrew-like sculpture

Mitsuo Takeuchi, Transfiguration Screw IX

Not finding the advertised cafe open, we didn’t stick around at Old Canberra House (formerly the Staff Centre, of happy memory – see Note 1 to Oyez 22 September 1971) but quickly photographed this sculpture and moved on. It’s not in the brochure, but I found information about it in the Autumn 2010 edition of the ANU Reporter:

In December 2009 the memory of Sir John Crawford and his pioneering role in building an Asia-Pacific economic and policy community was further burnished with the school named for him moving out of the 23 year old building on Ellery Crescent and into a brand new J.G. Crawford Building. Situated opposite Lennox Crossing on Acton peninsula, the building is not only the new home of the Crawford School [of Economics and Government] but represents a multi-million dollar refurbishment of Old Canberra House – incorporating sweeping vistas across Lake Burley Griffin and a sculpture by Japanese artist Mitsuo Takeuchi, Transfiguration Screw IX.

Sir John Crawford was a great supporter of SCUNA (the ANU Choral Society) so I’m feeling somewhat reconciled to the current use of Old Canberra House. I believe I missed an unlisted sculpture in the new section of the building, though.

Homeward run

It was all downhill from there, in accordance with my planned route. We came to the International Sculpture Park, in what used to be the Staff Centre grounds. When I spotted the spirit levels, I said to Dac, “Is that a sculpture?” and he said “Nah”, but it is/they are. And very nice too, as I’m sure you’ll agree, seeing them at the top of the following photo:

Three sculptures from the International Sculpture Park

Three sculptures from the International Sculpture Park

Top: Spirit Levels, 2001 by Christine O’Loughlin

The artist has chosen the classic surveyor’s instrument with which to make an artwork rich with references to the history of European land use in Canberra. Particularly apt are traces of Canberra’s original Architect/Planner, Walter Burley Griffin — the work is located on his design axis and on the shore of the lake bearing his name.

The design axis referred to above is the water axis, described in the ANU’s Campus Master Plan 2030 as follows:

Perpendicular to the Land Axis, the largely unrecognisable, Water Axis extends from the lake shore beneath Black Mountain within Griffin’s Education Group (the ANU) to the Jerrabomberra wetlands in the east (Eastlake in Griffins Plan).

Bottom left: Witness, 2004 by Dadang Christanto

The sunflashes on the encrusted branches of this soaring sculpture suggest the wing movements of roosting metal birds. But the blade shapes are also like hands, lifted heavenwards by the dead tree so that they can touch the sky.

For us, this sculpture was also redolent of the Shrike‘s tree of thorns in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion books.

Bottom right: Arch of the sun, 2003 by Lucia Pacenza

As with Janus, the classical god of doorways whose two faces look both forward and backward, so this arch combines references to both beginnings and ends. The concertina-folded and tooth-edged working around the hole suggests body openings and birth. Equally, the sculpture’s architectural structure and the loneliness of its crystalline whiteness in the landscape evoke the poignancy of an archaeological relic or memorial.

This was a wee door through which I wouldn’t have fitted. Reading about it reveals more than I saw.

So there you have it. We missed several sculptures in the park, goodness knows how. We could go back and do the same walk again and see entirely different things!

Museum - the loop rises up on its putative way to Uluru

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2 Responses to Saturday 2 July 2011 – A sculpture walk on the ANU campus

  1. dac says:

    Those photographs bring back the walk. I was hungry/thirsty, and was annoyed/miffed that there wasn’t any convenient place to grab something to drink; a nice cup of coffee would have gone down a treat!

    The sculptures were ok, but not being particularly ept when it comes to all things artistic, I had to squint at some of the art, and wonder what the creator was thinking at the time. The fibreglass Churchill was cleverly disguised as bronze, but it was definitely plastic and hollow, it felt like it would blow over in a stiff breeze.

    The -closed- cafe at the renamed-staff-centre was a big disappointment, since there were so many cars and people milling about, turned out to be a private party (wedding reception), so that really put a fork in my nighty on the ‘salvation is near’ front.

    The map, being to such a small scale, really threw off my sense of direction and place, so that made things a bit more awkward than usual (also there weren’t the awfully convenient signs of the normal walks we’ve been going on, with the odd-styled but reassuring arrows telling us where to go (so to speak).

    I’d like to comment on this weekend’s walk, but it doesn’t seem appropriate, suffice it to say that food and drink acquisition also featured heavily (in an ‘access denied’ kind of way). More on that on your next blog entry.

  2. albertine says:

    Really enjoyable photos of the sculptures. Some of them look wonderful (the sculptures I mean) but I slightly wonder about the pretentious crap problem – that pale vagina dentata for example, has a really deplorable commentary (in my opinion) which tries to make it ‘mean’ in far too many ways. And I have a bit of a thing generally about using words in relation to art – they can get in the way because theyare about someone else’s view of it, and that can quickly fill in the space in which oine might form a view (or response) of one’s own. So the brief comment on the dead tree effect was useful, while the moanings about the ‘arch of the sun’ felt annoying and a wee bit fake – and empty. But I’m no artist. And the entirely uncommented-on arch moving towards Uluru – well – that looks just marvellous, and it makes me think of all sorts of things, and it makes me want to go back and look at it at all different times of day and in different light conditions, and just be there with it. And i wouldn’t say anything while I was doing the being.

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