If you live in this city long enough you will see a lot of people in the streets and a lot of people will see you. There are some things though that you tend to ignore, even when you pass them every day; Sydney’s statues.
There are statues all over Sydney, historic figures (figuratively and literally) standing on corners, in parks and on buildings. Many of them have been standing there for 100 years or more, commemorating explorers, monarchs, statesmen, pioneer women, business leaders, poets, writers and a few animals as well. Most, admittedly, are dead white men.
At the moment, the annual Art and About festival is dressing up some of our historic statues to bring them back to the city’s attention. Eight statues are dressed in contemporary costume to reflect something about their story or their place in Sydney’s past.
Funny thing is some of these statues thought they would never need a helping hand, their stories, at the time were so good.
Queen Victoria was on the throne for just over 60 years and Sydney has a few statues to the old girl. One, in Queens Square has been there since 1881 when an estimated 80,000 people turned out to watch it unveiled. She has moved three times. But another Queen Vic broods outside the QVB with a more interesting story to tell. In 1987 the people of Ireland gladly gifted Sydney the statue, having kept it in a shed since 1947 when the people of the relatively new republic of Ireland decided to get rid of Vic from outside their parliament in Dublin. They were happy to be rid of her and we were happy to take her.
Up the road in Hyde Park Captain Cook stands high on pedestal of Moruya granite, looking out over Sydney Harbour (or at least he used to before it was built up around him). There was a little trouble at the start, with a serious lack of funds nearly sinking the whole venture. Even the British Government wouldn’t contribute. But after public subscription the money was raised only to discover that the base was so big that the statue needed to be over 4m high!
Nevertheless in true Captain Cook spirit, the public of Sydney came through with the money. Cast in England by Thomas Woolner, the statue was unveiled in Hyde Park in front of a crowd of 60,000 people with another 12,000 in a procession from the Domain via Town Hall to Park Street.
So over 150,000 people turned out to see the unveiling of two statues in Sydney that most people walk past now without even noticing: Amazing what you miss, isn’t it?