Looking for a school holiday adventure? Take the kids on a city sculpture walk

Melbourne has over 150 pieces of public art, a ready-made resource to educate and inspire children. Diane Bourke and her grandsons have been exploring, and the result is a nine-stop Sculpture Walk.

Once again school holidays are looming. While primarily they provide a chance to relax and enjoy free time after what can be frantic term time, we should also be mindful that school holidays provide a wonderful opportunity for families to learn together and create lasting memories.

There are any number of imaginative activities to discover online if this takes your fancy. Alternatively, you can let your children research and plan what they might like to do. They will not be short of ideas.

One activity that has caught our attention is a Sculpture Walk. Maybe a promised morning or afternoon treat, or a lunch time burger thrown in, adds to the attraction.

Central Melbourne is a wonderful place for children and families. The free tram zone coincides with the location of many of the attractions. As we wandered, my grandsons and I often came across public art they were able to clamber on and over. We discovered that there were over 150 pieces of public art on display in Melbourne. A challenge arose, how many could we unearth?

Why not think about taking your own Sculpture Walk these holidays? Don’t be too ambitious, try visiting seven or eight in close proximity. The tea/lunch break not only adds to the pleasure but provides a time for reflection and discussion.

Before you begin, talk to your children about what sculpture is or might be. Let them put forward their ideas and see if these change. For us, sculpture is three-dimensional art. The term refers to the three dimensions of space – length, breadth and depth and is a useful way of distinguishing sculpture from painting, drawing and prints that are two dimensional art. Later, we have come to further differentiate between relief sculptures, carved on one side only that stands out from the background surface, and those that are free standing. We relish and repeat ‘a sculptor sculpts a sculpture’.

Below are nine sculptures that can be visited effortlessly in central Melbourne in a half day. Feel fee to choose your own course.

Stop One – Red Centre

Red Centre 2006 on the banks of the Yarra River below Federation Square, a short walk from Flinders Street Railway Station. The 300 red coated steel reeds sway, move and rattle causing immediate fascination, even more so at night when the site lights up. On a sunny day the shadows provide an incentive to jump across and through them. You could ask, what does Red Centre remind you of? What makes you think that? Is it still a sculpture if it sways and jangles?

Stop Two – Matthew Flinders

Outside St Paul’s Cathedral is the statue of Matthew Flinders. Hopefully there will be a seagull sitting on his head. Often there is. Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) was an English navigator who made three voyages to the Southern Ocean. On his third voyage, Flinders circumnavigated the mainland of what was to be called Australia, accompanied by an Aboriginal man Bungaree. Some believe that Bungaree played a crucial role in the success of the voyages. Your children might like to delve deeper into this issue. (Have they heard of the book Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe?) Flinders was also accompanied on his circumnavigation of Australia by a feline named Trim, which, as a kitten, fell overboard but survived by climbing back on board via a rope. The statue was commissioned in 1925.

Stop Three – Larry La Trobe

Next watch out for Larry La Trobe who has been relocated to the footpath on Swanston Street outside Melbourne Town Hall, close to Little Collins Street. You will find him between two benches. The original Larry, created by Pamela Irving, was based on her dog Lucy and her uncle Larry. The sculpture was so loved that on one dark, winter night in 1995 Larry disappeared, despite being anchored in the spot by 30-centimeter bolts. Larry was not returned, despite the launching of a campaign to find him. Eventually a second casting was produced, this time with a slightly redder tinge. Will Larry stay safe here?

Unfortunately, we miss the Burke and Wills monument which once stood close to Larry. The monument is in storage until 2022. It was unveiled in 1865 in the presence of an estimated 10,000 people. I wonder would that happen if a sculpture was unveiled today?


Stop Four – Time and Tide

Time and Tide by Akio Makigawa, 1994, monumental in scale, can be found in the Town Hall Plaza site, a hop, step and a jump from Larry La Trobe. Fibre optics are embedded in the concrete and the light they emit creates a different mood day and night. The individual elements loosely represent a shell, a tree and a flame. See if your children agree. Why might this be? Your children will have many ideas.

Stop Five – Three Businessmen who Brought their own Lunch

Cross the road and head to the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets and pay your regards to Three Businessmen who Brought their own Lunch, 1993. Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn were appointed to make their mark here. The three businessmen are Swanston, a prominent businessman and banker, Batman, who founded the first European settlement in Melbourne, and Hoddle, who designed the layout of the CBD. Are these pioneers watching over the growth and progress of Melbourne? They blend in with those waiting for the lights to turn green. Your child might like to wonder what their lunch might have been.

A further activity that you might like to undertake together is to create a grid of Melbourne, as Hoddle originally did, and then add the sculptures as you locate them. Photos or illustrations could also be added.

Stop Six – The Public Purse

In 1994, the City of Melbourne invited submissions for unique and distinctive street seating. Simon Perry’s The Public Purse, situated in Bourke Street Mall, was one of the works selected. The Public Purse is constructed from red granite and stainless steel. Usually, you have to share the seat with a flight of pigeons (flight is indeed the fascinating collective noun for a group of pigeons). Your children might like to wonder why a giant purse was dropped in the shopping mall precinct.

Stop Seven – Children’s Tree

Wander down Elizabeth Street and you will discover Children’s Tree on the corner of Collins Street. The whimsical bronze structure by Tom Bass was installed in 1963. Your children will relate to this statue and be keen to climb on it. They should be encouraged to do so. We wonder why the lizard’s head appears permanently shiny. Perhaps your children might have an answer.

Stop Eight – The Dogman

Wander back up Collins Street to St Collins Lane, towards Bourke Street. Here you will find a bronze statue from Gillie and Marc that stands nearly two metres tall. The statue was created in honour of the Year of the Dog. The Dogman creature is holding a gigantic bright red apple. Just as red is a lucky colour in Chinese culture, the Chinese word for apple sounds like the word for peace. A wonderful discussion could revolve around this enchanting work.

Stop Nine – Forward Surge

Lastly, wrap up (or begin if you prefer – it’s a bit of a walk back to this last statue) your sculpture walk with a visit to Inge King’s steel Forward Surge, a work of art of monumental scale on the lawns of the Arts Centre Melbourne. This has been, over the years, one of the boys’ favourites. The construction was installed in 1981. In 2018, Forward Surge was classified by the National Trust of Victoria, meaning that the sculpture has been recognised as culturally significant at the highest level and will now be protected from relocation and degradation. Children and adults are forever wandering in, around, and through the piece. It is a space for rest, contemplation, and climbing. It reminds us of Melbourne’s proximity to the sea. I wonder why? We endeavor to go early to see if we can claim it for our own, even for a short while, and then later think of words that describe how it makes us feel.

Photos by ISV’s Michael Broadstock.

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About Diane Bourke

Diane Bourke is a Project Manager for Independent Schools Victoria. She was Head of Junior School, Campbell House, at The Geelong College for 16 years, and Head of Junior School, Morris Hall, Melbourne Girls Grammar for 15 years.