At a glance, the lawns of the State Library of Victoria are just an entry point to the grand old monument to books. But when you look closer, you find a museum outdoors. There is history and literature in this garden; history past and present, and the literature of beloved old stories, nature, and daily living.
Here, a portion of the city gathers to enjoy moments of sunshine and glimpses of green – rare gems around this area. The State Library lawns are the only park-like space near the bustling hubs of Melbourne Central, QV and RMIT. When you've been cooped inside for hours, and you have limited time to enjoy the outside, a space such as this is precious.
They flutter and swoop from side to side, whenever someone is foolhardy enough to feed them. The seagulls come in aggressively, while the pigeons hang back, more polite but still intent on getting their bit. People sit on all available surfaces, some opting for seats and steps, while others brave wet-butts to enjoy the feel of the grass.
There are 5 distinct places to explore in the lawn: four patches of grass, divided by wide steps that lead to the library forecourt. I love the symmetry of this garden, so I like to start from the centre.
On the wide central steps, Sir Redmond Barry takes pride of place. He looks into the distance of the city helped build through his roles as colonial judge and university chancellor. He is most famous for presiding over the trial of Ned Kelly.
Today, cast in burnished bronze, Sir Redmond strives to maintain his dignity while a small spike protrudes from the crown of his head to deter the pigeons, who are relegated to sitting around his feet and preening. The spike, however, hasn't saved him from passing bomb drops. I imagine he requires a regular wipe down.
Behind Sir Redmond, on the flanks of the scene, are two imposing figures on horses. They look down over the two large patches of grass where most people sit to watch the world pass. On the left you'll see St George and the Dragon, and on the right is Joan of Arc.
St George frowns down on the dragon he has speared, and the dragon resists, its jaws around the spear that has pierced its body. We are in the middle of the battle.
The horse rears above the dragon, one of its hind legs crushing a wing, while the dragon beats at its attacker's vulnerable stomach. The expression on the horse's face is one of terror, its tail held outwards in tension, its mouth open in a scream. It is an unwilling participant in this battle. The faces of the two real combatants – the dragon and St George – are focused on their struggle. We know who wins, but in this moment, the dragon is not yet defeated.
Across the forecourt, Joan of Arc raises her flag in victory as her horse prances. Her face and posture are resolute as she sits her horse with utmost confidence. If you didn't know the story, you'd think she was a symbol of victory.
If Joan inspires you to take on some opposition, in her shadow you'll find one of the forecourt's super-sized chess sets. Any given lunchtime, there are plenty of people to challenge.
Me, I prefer the stories of battle as told by the statues. Joan of Arc is such a large character of history that she has become literature. George and the dragon seem to have come from the realms of literature to become history. Again, I admire the symmetry of this park.
Moving further outwards from the centre are two smaller grassy spaces – here, the fictitious creatures hide in the shrubbery.
Mr Lizard and his gumnut baby are easy to pass without noticing, as they stand shadowed in garden. But when you see them, you want to stop and look closer. The expression on the gumnut baby always brings me joy – his excitement is palpable, as he stands on the back of long-suffering Mr Lizard, like a warrior on his noble steed. Yet, Mr Lizard holds one tiny hand of his charge while his other hand rests on his hip in the universal position of reluctant acceptance. Mr Lizard knows the whims of the enthusiastic child will always overcome his tired pessimism.
In the matching space across the park stands the Bunyip of Berkley Creek. This character is unknown to me. I see wistfulness on his face, though depending on the angle, his expression seems to change. He's looking into the distance, poised in a trudge. I love the detail in his tail, and his long three-fingered toes. His billy-can holds water from the recent rain.
In the last two monuments of the garden, history and literature are again merged. On the north side, beside La Trobe Street, stands Charles Joseph La Trobe himself. He stands in full ceremonial garb, engrossed in a book. La Trobe is far more accessible than the other states in the park, as he stands on a much smaller podium, so you can get up close and see the many beautiful details in the artwork. He feels like a companion to this spot.
A strange piece, I thought, facing towards the road so you can't really see it. Until I realised that it's an actual seat. Larger than life, like the giant of literature who inspired it, the seat offers a resting place for elbows, or more properly, a book to read or notebook to write in.
I find I can comfortably type on my laptop here and, wow, I feel truly pretentious. I embrace it, and enjoy the view from the seat.
To me, the Seat of Learning represents how much there is to discover in this space. So many people come here every day to enjoy their lunchtime and get some fresh air, and forget to look more deeply. I find more each time I visit to drink a coffee or eat my lunch, soak up some sun, listen to a busker, or watch the occasional chess match. Next time you pass by or through the lawns, go exploring. Whether it be literature, history or nature, you can experience something wonderful in this space.
Beautifully written article with even more beautiful photos. Well deserved gold editors award JM Bowen. Your efforts in putting this valuable local information together will inspire locals and tourists to take more notice, well done.