Art on the waterways

29 October, 2021

Day 29 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

Not much walking going on today, to be honest, and not much writing, because as everyone in Victoria knows, last night’s thunderstorm developed into something rather fierce over night and this morning, and it’s still pretty miserable, with lashing rain. There’s a great deal of damage all over the state – roofs off, power out, NBN down, at least one sighting of a trampoline flying through the air, and everything smashed.

Especially trees.

I went back to the Moaning Tree Forest today, after the worst of the storm had passed. Two big eucalypts were uprooted and crashed right near where I sat in my car to write yesterday, and I could see trunks snapped and tree limbs torn off all along the area and in the Sanctuary – I didn’t go in, because it was still pretty wild and teetering branches are not my favourite thing. To be honest, for the final day of lockdown, a minor apocalypse seemed appropriate, after all we’ve been through, and also a little bit freaky. The roads and lawns were covered in debris – leaves, branches, and blossom – to the great delight of a huge gang of galahs who were feeding on the gum nuts and seeds scattered everywhere. I feel very sorry for all the fledglings who were trying to stay in their nests in that wind. I’m sure there must’ve been quite a few casualties.

So let’s think of something happier. I stopped at one of my favourite pieces among the many in the huge outdoor sculpture garden that is the Bundoora campus: Karen Ward’s Hermitage (2001). Before the pandemic, when I was teaching Writing Creative Nonfiction, I’d bring my students here, or to the Sanctuary, for a walk and a few writing exercises. We’d look at things – bark, mushrooms popping up in the lawn, Hermitage, the old hospital buildings, the waterhole with frogs – and everyone would wander off to write some short pieces about place, then stand together and read them out loud. It was always my favourite class. I hope we get to do it again.

Karen Ward's sculpture Hermitage, which is shaped like a timber shack.

And that made me remember that I haven’t yet written about the sculpture that can be found along the waterways in Nangak Tamboree. So here are a few I have admired on previous days’ walks over the past few weeks.

I find my students often don’t realise that they’re studying in a sculpture park. But then, I didn’t realise we had all these different waterways and open spaces. I guess you take it for granted, once you’ve seen a life-sized bronze rhinoceros or an upside-down Governor La Trobe. And some of the pieces along the waterways probably don’t get noticed so often. Which is a pity, because some of them are splendid.

This is another favourite, partly because of its positioning. You can’t get to it easily – instead you glimpse it through a break in the shrubs along the banks of the moat. It’s Heather B. Swann’s Horned Night Walker (2003).

Heather B. Swann's sculpture, Horned Night Walker, shaped from thin iron bars, seen across the water.

Further along the Moat are two pieces by one of Melbourne’s best loved sculptors, Inge King. (Probably her most recognisable work is the series of massive black-painted waves, Forward Surge, on the lawn between the NGV and Hamer Hall.) There are several of her pieces along here, but the most dramatic (and she was very good at drama) sits almost in the moat, at the foot of the amphitheatre, so that it forms a backdrop to performance and everyone in the audience can see it. It’s called Dialogue of Circles and was commissioned in 1976.

Inge King sculpture Dialogue of Circles - two massive steel plinths hold spirals.

A hundred metres or so further on is a small group work, also by Inge King, called Group of Boulders. It’s right next to the Main Lake, on the grassy slope that I have learned is called Academic Lawn. I imagine that means that it’s a lawn where, on a warmer day than this one, academics are meant to lounge about like extras in Brideshead Revisited, and possibly roll right down and end up in the lake.

Inge King sculpture, Group of Boulders: short painted steel blocks facing each other.

If you want to wander around the sculpture park for yourself and have a look, here’s a map. If you need a reason to go for a walk, it’s a damn good one.

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