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Public Art in Perth and Fremantle

Home > Perth > Free | Fun Things To Do | Street Art
by Ali Hawkins (subscribe)
I'm keen to share things that I've done with others - I love learning about culture and history, I know the importance of great service, good quality products and positive experiences. I love to experience life's opportunities. I live in Melbourne.
Published May 4th 2014
As I stroll around the streets of Perth, the state capital of Western Australia, I'm delighted by its surprises. Although the commercial centre is relatively small, the city offers a rich display of marvellous and varied public art – it's fascinating.

Percy Button's Aspiration
Percy Button's Aspiration


The retail heart of the city is along Hay Street pedestrian mall. Over a couple of city blocks the Mall plays host to the usual range of department stores, retail outlets and cafes. The open-air precinct feels spacious, light and relaxed. Along here too is "Percy Button's Aspiration".

Perth, art, sculpture
Percy Button's aspiration


Percy Button was a rover and he became a much loved Perth resident. Born in London in 1892, he left school to join the circus, where he became an acrobat. In 1910, fate brought him to Perth, where he worked odd jobs until he enlisted to "do his bit" in World War 1. After the war, when he returned to Perth in about 1918, he had difficulty settling and roamed around as a vagrant.

During this time, he sold newspapers to city passers-by but his natural flair couldn't be contained and his street acrobatics became well known - soon to become more popular than his papers.

He often delighted Perthites with his acrobatics and many would happily help him out with a few extra coins in his hat.

Some locals came to know him as 'Percy the Unwashed' and although he wasn't a crook, the local Police would sympathetically take him in to make sure he got some regular food and a bath.

In later years, the ongoing acrobatics took their toll on his ageing body, so he switched his public entertainment to the harmonica. He died in 1954, fondly remembered by many Perth residents. This statue to celebrate him, by Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith, was erected in 1996.

Perth, art, sculpture, Ascalon, St George and the Dragon
"Ascalon


I head east along St George's Terrace and encounter the magnificent St George's Cathedral - the main Anglican cathedral of Western Australia. The building is impressive. It's one of only a few of the world's cathedrals constructed in handmade bricks.

Elements of the Cathedral are wonderfully global - the roof trusses and arches are local jarrah timber, its bricks were manufactured along the Swan River, limestone is from Fremantle, bluestone pillars are from Victoria, ceilings are Oregon pine, frescoes are Italian marble with English alabaster inserts and a pulpit of creamy Caen stone was carved in France. Its beautiful stained glass windows and memorials nod to Western Australian pioneers, community leaders and those who served in the wars. Its forecourt was renewed recently too.

The entire creation is magnificent, but my personal delight is in the contemporary sculpture on the forecourt. "Ascalon" is based on the legend of St George and the Dragon.

In literature, 'Ascalon' is the lance used by St George to slay the Dragon. Here, a tube represents the lance and a large black base depicts the slain Dragon. A crack runs from the point where the lance pierces the Dragon – and at night a single beam of light shines up through the crack to the white "cloak" above that envelops the lance. Its "movement" suggests a brisk breeze and a wonderful fluidity. Extraordinary.

In a marvellous coup for WA artists, its local creators Canning and de Vietri won the commission over 98 other artists from 17 countries across the globe. In 2011, an Evensong celebrated installation of Ascalon and the Cathedral forecourt. The new statue was blessed by the Dean of Perth and the Lord Mayor opened the new steps to St George's Terrace.

Perth, art, sculpture, Kangaroos on the Terrace
Kangaroos on the Terrace


Almost opposite the cathedral, at Stirling Gardens, is the startlingly life-like "Kangaroos on the Terrace".

This amazing piece features a mob of kangaroos – so detailed is their creation, I stand right next to this Big Red male and am virtually transported direct to the outback bush – he's magnificent and easily the dominant leader.

Perth, art, sculpture, kangaroos
Big Red leads "Kangaroos on the Terrace"


Another member of the mob draws my eye too. Artists Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith's junior kangaroo drinks at the water's edge – he's so realistic, he's almost moving. His claws curl as he leans into the water and his massive tail balances to anchor his heavy body to the ground. I expect to see his tongue dart into the pond to lap up the water.

They're truly marvellous.

"Memory Markers" is in Stirling Gardens too.

In dedication to the designers of the Gardens (the first Botanical Garden in WA) and those who wrote the gardens' recorded history, Anne Neil has cast five huge and ornate fountain pen nibs in aluminium.

Perth, art, sculpture, Memory Markers
Memory Markers


These are to symbolise how critical the pen and ink was to record-keeping during the Victorian era.

Her beautiful etches decorate each nib with unique design.

The collection is flooded in bright colour at night – it is quite lovely.

Perth, art, sculpture, Memory Markers
Memory Markers


A little further east is the Perth Mint.

My visit here gives me a fascinating insight into the times of the WA gold rush during the late 1880's. A demonstration shows me how the Mint operated when it was a commercial venture, responsible for manufacture and storage of the state's wealth.

I watch as molten gold (bright orange - at over 1,000 degrees) pours into the waiting mould to create a gleaming gold bar. As it quickly cools to room temperature I expect it to crack ... it doesn't - but within a few seconds its colour changes from red, through orange to bright gold.

The goldsmith's stories are fascinating ... he tells of famous strikes and curiously named nuggets. In his most amazing tale, he explains that because each time red-hot gold is poured into a mould it emits dust into the air, earlier this century when this "smithy" was decomissioned after decades of gold production, over AUD$20,000 of pure gold dust was collected from its ceiling.

The Mint museum houses the Newmont Normandy Nugget, second largest nugget in existence (it's a massive 25.5 kilograms).

Ha! Well, there's no need to lock that up then ... no thief will be running away with it any time soon ......
Perth, art, sculpture, The Strike, Perth Mint
"The Strike", the Perth Mint


The biggest, heaviest and most valuable gold coin in the world was produced here and is on proud display. At 80cm wide and 13cm deep, it is one tonne of 99.99% pure gold, valued at over AUD$50million.

A real gold bar (in an open security case) beckons ... so I try to lift it. It belies its own simple form – it's so heavy, it seems bolted to the cabinet floor. But it's not – I do manage to get it off the base, but not far.

Perth, art, sculpture,
"The Strike", Perth Mint


Anyway, I digress …

Outside the Mint is the real stunner – the Greg James statue "The Strike".

This wonderful piece is an instant captured in time.

The Strike depicts two miners in the gold rush days of the late 19th century at the exact moment they strike their gold.

Perth, art, sculpture,
"The Strike", Perth Mint


Aaahhh ... such exquisite detail ... the miner's face shows shock, surprise, delight and incredulity ... all rolled into one. The hands of the miner on the gold pan are beautifully crafted and the real water adds a marvellous "now" and realism to it. Their clothes are worn, tattered and grubby ... their muddy boots with laces untied are just tremendous.

I move on ...

Perth, art, sculpture, Septimus Roe
Septimus Roe


On the corner of Victoria Avenue and Adelaide Terrace is "Septimus Roe" by Greg James.

John Septimus Roe was the first Surveyor General of WA and this fascinating statue offers a glimpse of this man, with his plans in hand, in the midst of a city survey.

He stares into the distance and as I stand near his shoes, I wonder what those eyes would see.

Greg James is the masterful creator of a supremely life-like figure.

Perth, art, sculpture, Septimus Roe
Septimus Roe


Standing at ground-level, without pedestal or plinth, he treads on his own street map of the city as he saw it.

He blends into the surrounds of this city street corner - as the unseeing, busy, everyday pedestrians just pass on by.

Queens Gardens in East Perth were opened in 1899 and named after Queen Victoria in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.

Perth, art, sculpture, Queens Gardens, Peter Pan
Peter Pan, Queens Gardens


The garden features a peaceful lake with water lilies.

Here too is a replica of "Peter Pan" - the statue that stands in London's Kensington Gardens. This version by George Frampton has stood in the gardens since 1929.

A little further afield, in the waters of the Swan River at Matilda Bay, is "Eliza" by Tony Jones.

She's about to dive off a wooden platform.

Perth, art, sculpture, Eliza
Eliza


(Source for photo of Eliza perthandotherplaces.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/larger-that-life-bronze-statue-eliza.html)

She commemorates a prominent Perth landmark, the old Crawley Baths.

The sculpture has an innovation – it draws power for its lighting from its own solar panels.

Named after the wife of Ralph Darling, an early Governor of New South Wales, Eliza is an endless source of entertainment for Perthites, who regularly brave the water to adorn her in a costume of the moment.

She's been known to wear the local football team guernsey when they play in the national AFL Grand Final, the colours of a local racehorse who carries the hopes of the city into the Melbourne Cup and she's even been Santa Claus (yes ... white beard and all).

The commercial port that serves Perth and Western Australia is at the city of Fremantle. I travel the 20 kilometres from Perth to see what it offers.

It's a gem ... with beautiful architecture and historic buildings. As I wander around town, a fresco particularly takes my eye. The Norfolk Hotel has been a Fremantle hostelry since 1887. Originally Oddfellows Hotel, it was re-born as the Norfolk in 1987, just in time for Australia's defence of the America's Cup hosted by Fremantle that same year.

Fremantle, art, The Norfolk Hotel
The Norfolk Hotel, Fremantle


Although it's an unassuming, almost working class, historic pub in a small street on the outskirts of Fremantle – it is known for its magnificent limestone-walled alfresco courtyard. But it's the outside that fascinates me - the faηade features a magnificent relief portrait, done in brick and stone. I don't know who she is, but the artist has outdone themselves with this study of her. It is quite unique and lovely.

Fremantle is a significant port for thousands of new Australians – it is their first step onto Australian soil after their long emigration from their homeland. Outside the Fremantle Maritime Museum, a boy aged 12 and a girl aged 10 stand with expressions of awe and wonder on their faces. This statue marks the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied children who came here between 1938 and 1968. Many were from institutions and orphanages – but not all - some arrived after being separated from their families, without their full understanding of their situation.

The memorial recognises their contribution to the community and the difficult times they experienced.

Fremantle, art, sculpture, Child Immigrants
Child Immigrants, Fremantle port


(Photo source www.panoramio.com/photo/67872393)

At their feet are their single suitcases, the boy carefully protects the girl with an arm around her shoulders as they both contemplate this strange new land and the life that awaits them. Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith have captured the range of emotions in these children beautifully - it is both solemn and respectful.

These delights are all free for the viewing and any pedestrian in Perth or Fremantle will encounter these and many other treasures as they wander around this marvellously art-rich place ... keep it up WA.
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Where: In and around Perth
Your Comment
What delightful and fascinating stories behind the statues. I enjoyed reading this.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12594) 2261 days ago
Well done Weekend notes. Need to add Fremantle Fishing boat harbour bronzes and also the two new lifesaver bronzes at Scarborough.
by raeko (score: 0|2) 2256 days ago
Thank you Ali Hawkins for this very interesting article. I didn't know these statues existed and there are probably a lot more around. It would be nice to have a booklet informing us where all these statues are in the parks and gardens around Perth and its suburbs.
Tourists as well as locals would love to see the statues and read about there history.
by robox (score: 1|72) 2256 days ago
Really enjoyed your article. I have just come back from Perth and really loved it especially all the art and statues. It would be really great for tourists if you could do a book with all of these. A sort of walking tour. I missed a lot of this art, but I suppose that's a good thing as it means I shall have to come back.
by rimat (score: 0|2) 1170 days ago
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