Saturday 1 October 2011 – ANU Sculpture Walk 3

This week’s constraints were:

  • footpaths, because it’s been raining off and on for a couple of days, and
  • an easy walk (yet again I’ve had to miss a week, this time because of the dreaded lurgy. Two dreaded lurgies, in fact, one after the other.)

I was considering Canberra House Walking Tour #1, which covers parts of Deakin, Forrest and Red Hill, but Dac laughed uproariously. Those are hilly places. We settled for more ANU sculptures – supposedly all that remained, but we (well, I) didn’t quite make it to the end.

I parked outside the H C Coombs Building, planning a figure-eight-shaped walk, and we started by looking at #23, the Matcham Skipper iron lace screens flanking the front entrance. In the past these have made such an impression on me that I imagined they extended all around the building – and Coombs is a very big building indeed, three and a half hexagons’ worth. I think I’ve conflated the screens with the louvred shutters.

A map of the route described in this article

Purple line: where we went. Pink line: where we didn't

Dac knocked on the Pukamani poles (#22. Benny Tipungwuti, Pukamani poles, 1973, Fire-blackened bloodwood) and established that they were holding up well. My favourite sculpture of the day was the nearby #21, Guardian figures.

Guardian figures

Gregory Johns, Guardian figures, 2003, Corten steel (H.C. Coombs Building lawn)

Neither of us knew what Corten steel was.

It is a copper chromium alloy steel – this alloy displays a greater level of resistance to atmospheric weathering when compared to other unalloyed steels. It’s [sic] chemical composition promotes the early formation of an adhering protective layer of rust when exposed to the elements.

Masteel UK Limited, who reckon the Angel of the North
(mentioned in South Side of the Lake) is made of it.

This lovely shape appears to have been made from a continuous block of steel which Dac estimated to be 40-odd metres long. Impossible to imagine how it was bent into such neat and symmetrical curves.

We set off along Fellows Road, glancing at Lyndon Dadswell’s copper screens on the R G Menzies Library. Sculpture-walking round the ANU has opened my eyes to sculptures on buildings – before, I mistook them for part of the architecture, which perhaps they are and all, but I hadn’t previously thought about what went into them.

Nevertheless we gave much more time and attention to this tree by the side of the road:

Dead and alive tree

Dac was intrigued by the live tree growing out of the dead trunk, then by the metal insert to stop something (what?) from living in there, and by the diseased-looking growth above it, and of course by the possibility of spiders under the bark.

Turning right into Garran Road when we reached University House, we soon found #19, Inge King’s Black sun II. While looking at it, we almost tripped over various swallows who were looping around us, much like the ones on the Kambah Pines walk last year. The blossoms were out and birds were flying everywhere.

Black Sun II; Pictures at an exhibition

#18, Michael Snape’s Pictures at an exhibition, decorated the side of Graduate House, one of the many buildings on campus that are new to me. The figures didn’t seem exciting to us, but I suspect they look terrific lit up at night. The poem reads:

For all of the changes
For all from which
We walked away
For all of the new
We could not resist
A structure emerged
A core around which
The distance was
Contained and safe.

Next came #17, Hossein Valamanesh’s Unveiled, at the Australian Phenomics Facility. Neither of us had ever heard of Phenomics. The sculpture brochure calls it a biological research facility. Its own website is worth a look for the excellent photo of the building (the Hugh Ennor Building) which Dac found remarkable for its “snot-green” tiles. Back home, the Facility’s About us page leapt out and surprised me with the following summary:

The Australian Phenomics Facility is a purpose-built mouse breeding and management operation with a number of specialist teams for supporting major research platforms.


Further down Garran Road, we could see the new John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) so I requested a departure from the agreed route in order to inspect it. On the way down, we took the obligatory Black Mountain Tower shot.

"Thus high at least..."

Dac went up all the stairs to look at the twisty windows. The JCSMR is an impressive building. The former JCSMR building (where SCUNA’s legendary conductor Chris Burrell worked in the late 1960s) also seems still to be part of the JCSMR.

I sat at ground level and had a rest till approached by a man who asked where there were toilets. (I had to ask him to spell what he was saying because I couldn’t understand him – how embarrassing all round!) I was telling him to go up the road to University House when Dac arrived downstairs, agreeing that UH had the nearest toilets, but suggesting he made use of the bushes on the side of the oval.

The man wandered off to the bushes, from whence he had in fact come, and resumed wandering around declaiming to himself, which is what he’d been doing when we first arrived, I realised. Es gruselt überall. (That’s my attempt to emulate a sign I used to see at railway stations in Switzerland which said “Schhh! Es spionert überall!” which I took to mean “Shhh! Spies are everywhere!” My phrase, which I believe is much truer than the Swiss sign, is supposed to mean “Creeps are everywhere”.)

We’d walked a long way past Eggleston Road, where we’d been supposed to turn left. I pointed out a path beside JCSMR which seemed likely to take us to Mills Road, the home of #15, Inge King’s Great gate. I believed I could even see the path on our poorly-printed map. Dac was entirely sceptical.

“You know what happens every time we take one of your shortcuts,” he grumbled.

I do know that it quite often doesn’t turn out well, so I am extremely careful about proposing one. I was sure this one would work, and very relieved when it did. A sculpture appeared on the horizon and we headed for it, finding ourselves at the end of Garran Road and in fact considerably overshooting the supposed location of Great gate. What we had aimed for wasn’t listed in the sculpture brochure at all. Very nice, for all that.

Transcription appears in the text below

The Canberra Homopolar Generator sign


“Magnetic Power”

The Canberra Homopolar Generator (H.P.G.) was developed in the Research School of Physical Sciences during the period 1951 to 1964 under the direction of Sir Mark Oliphant. The H.P.G. was used for a number of experiments utilising very high currents until it was decommissioned in 1985. Experiments included High Current Arcs, a Rail Gun, a High Field Magnet, High Speed Circuit Breakers and a Plasma TOKAMAK. The H.P.G. was the largest homopolar generator ever constructed. The major specifications were:

  • Energy storage capacity 560,000,000 Joules, as rotating mechanical energy. (This energy was taken from the electricity supply over about 15 minutes.)
  • Maximum output voltage 900 Volts
  • Maximum output current 1,600,000 Amps
  • Maximum output power 1,000,000,000 Watts
  • Typical output current pulse length 2 seconds

    Dac and the Canberra Homopolar Generator (and a mossy screw)

When we made our way back down Mills Road towards Eggleston Road, we found that Great gate had vanished, leaving only a plaque. (I subsequently discovered, stumbling across a sculpture map by Acton Walkways, that it has moved to Kinloch Lodge, part of the Unilodge Complex which opened at the beginning of 2011 in Childers Street. Furthermore that map cites “Sir Mark Oliphant (scientist)” as the sculptor of the Canberra Homopolar Generator!)

A preponderance of metal sculptures, this side of campus. #14, Anne Neil’s Leaf lines (top right, below), turned up in a courtyard in Eggleston Road. Around this area we also saw labelled rat traps and inverted-V-shaped cages with signs on them warning of poisoned carrots. Rabbit traps, we speculated. Mynah birds were everywhere, too.

Flahrs, Leaf Lines, and mynah bird

This one was peeping rhythmically in its tree, puffed up till it was nearly spherical, until we came close. It deflated and sat absolutely still until we left. I had plenty of time to focus the camera and imagined I’d been able to get a decent bird shot for once – although a more literal shot would probably have pleased more of the people more of the time. Mynah birds are regarded as a plague in Canberra; various organisations trap and kill them. I don’t like the fact that they eat native birds out of house and home, but when I look at them I don’t see vicious monsters, just innocent creatures.

When I came home and looked at my photos, I didn’t find a decent bird shot: just the usual blur. My camera has some tiny buttons, one of which is for close-ups. That’s not the one I was pressing, apparently. 😦

We cut across country behind the Menzies Library in search of the next lot of sculptures. I was flagging, very tempted to stop by the thought that we were going to pass the car. Dac encouraged me to press on.

List of sculptures depicted appears in the text below

End of the walk

  1. #34, Saraswati, created by the students of the Indonesia Institute of the Arts, Yogyakarta
  2. #25, May Barrie’s Head of R.C. Mills. 
  3. #28. Neil Roberts, Transmission tower (render all their dues), 1992, Neon tubes and metal (Ellery Cres entrance to ANU School of Art)
  4. #26, Olavi Lanu, Reclining figure, 1982, Wire, fibreglass resin, moss and lichens (left of Ellery Cres. entrance of ANU School of Art)
  5. #27. Olavi Lanu, Seated figure, 1982, Wire, fibreglass resin, moss and lichens (intersection of Ellery Cres. and Liversidge St)
  6. Ducks in front of the Coombs building. The drake on the left tried several times to attack Dac, who didn’t even notice the wild aggression taking place.

We missed #28 on the first pass (it’d be easier to see at night) but caught it on the way back. It says “Honour to whom honour, fear to whom fear” and comes from Romans 13:7 (KJV):

Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Dac wasn’t fond of the two figures, seated and reclining, and liked them even less when he realised they were hollow. Someone has put holes in the head of the reclining figure. I thought the moss and lichens were pretty good! The reclining one reminded me of this:

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course
With rocks, and stones, and trees.

– From Lucy by William Wordsworth

Sculptures 29 to 33 will have to wait. At least they’re all close together, over at the Schools of Music and Art. One day we’ll just go there and have a look, without a walk. As far as I was concerned, walking was done – although I got to do a bit more walking as we looked for somewhere to have lunch. Some of it was even in the rain!

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6 Responses to Saturday 1 October 2011 – ANU Sculpture Walk 3

  1. dac says:

    You didn’t mention that slightly strange Chinese Restaurant we went to for ‘lunch’ (even though we sat down at 2:15pm). I thought it was remarkable. Even though the ‘fried noodles’ didn’t turn out to be crispy, they were quite nice (whilst they were hot, they were more like I’d imagine worms would be, once they had gone cold!).

    As for the efficacy of your shortcut — this time, it wasn’t too bad, because the road we were supposed to take, curved around; your non-existent sense of direction didn’t get us into trouble this time 😉

    Attack ducks, hah!

  2. Antoinette Lautenbach says:

    I wonder what the Phenomics facility uses the mice for. 😦

    I agree about the mynah birds. It’s sad when a species is despised because it is successful.

  3. Antoinette Lautenbach says:

    That duck had no judgement.

    For me, the best part of the ANU walk was the white owl fleeing with his din-dins. I know it upset you Val, but there is something wonderful about nature in full flight.

  4. valkyrie1 says:

    I’d feel better if I knew the owl got to keep his din-dins!

  5. Julie says:

    I’m enjoying your walks Val. Julie

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