Monday, April 22, 2013

Public art in Dunedin

The first photo I took during the Dunedin trip earlier this month -- the Speights "Southern Man" sculpture at Dunedin airport (photographed from inside the shuttle bus, because I'd got in, strapped up ... and then realised there was a cool object to photograph. So I carefully leaned sideways ...), which is utterly cool and a fantastic work of art. Reportedly 1.2 tonnes, 3 metres high and cast in bronze, it dates from 2000 and is the work of artist Sam Mahon. It is apparently the largest equestrian sculpture in the country.  More images here.

On the break-of-day walk my first full day there, I spotted this wrapped around a lamp post. Very Dunedin-relevant, I thought. I have no idea why it was there, though ... some kind of a marker for a special event?

At the Octagon,  this tiled wall. I have a feeling that this is similar to tiled art we used to have in Queen Street here in Auckland, before the tiles were reported to have been removed and sent to Onehunga for resiting.

Also at the Octagon -- the Robert Burns statue.

Historian Donald Gordon in his book Robbie, the story of Dunedin's Burns Statue (2009) traced the story of the statue, from advocacy via one of Dunedin's stormy petrels James Gordon Stuart Grant, through to public meetings from 1881, commissioning Sir John Steele as sculptor, even the taking of "measurements from a plaster cast of the poet's skull made by phrenologists, people who believed a person's personality and talents could be deduced from the shape of the cranium," for the design.The statue was eventually unveiled in 1887.

In the Queen's Garden reserve, this statue in memorial to Queen Victoria, soon after her death.  The reserve, close to the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, was originally just The Triangle. After the laying of the foundation stone of this statue by the Duke of York (also Prince of Wales) in 1901, the reserve was renamed Victoria Gardens in 1904. The statue was unveiled by Lord Plunket on 23 March 1905. The reserve eventually became known as Queen's Gardens. (Source: Otago Cavalcade 1901-1905, p.112, by Hardwicke Knight. The Otago Cavalcade books, seven in all, are among my favourites, and a great way of learning some general history of Dunedin and greater Otago. I found six of them at the Otago Daily Times office.)

Cargill's memorial, or what's left of it, in Exchange Plaza, Princes Street (formerly Exchange Square, and Customhouse Square). The monument to William Cargill, early leader of the Dunedin settlement, has been shifted at least once, from the Octagon where it had originated in the early 1860s, to Princes Street later in the 19th century. Compare how it looked in its heyday, 1880s, below at right (Photo ref 4-7301, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library):

Some didn't think much of it when it was new ...

We suppose an architect, besides being an artist, should have some conception of the appearance his designs will wear when transposed from paper to reality. Many pretty pictures make very unsatisfactory structures. The Cargill Monument is a case in point. The design seemed very pretty, but now that it is erected, one shudders at its ill taste. Instead of the enduring lasting appearance which is appropriate to a monument, it is a flimsy, light, trifling structure, more fitted for a pleasure garden than anything else. In fact, it has somewhat of the appearance of a Chinese Pagoda, and a stranger who approaches it will think he is nearing the entrance to a Cremorne or Vauxhall Gardens. It is an insult to the memory of Captain Cargill that such a trumpery unsubstantial looking thing should be considered a fitting recognition of his services. It surely is paying him a poor compliment, to erect a memorial that as long as it lasts must be an eyesore to the people of Dunedin. Modern taste revolts at the expenditure of nineteen shillings on ornament to one shilling on substance. Dunedin is a sufficiently queer City without barley-sugar ornaments of this description. It is not yet too late to undo the work. Captain Cargill has well earned a public memorial, but an unambitious obelisk of marble—of marble from the Province his labors founded and settled —would not only be a more fitting recognition, but one which we are sure would be more pleasing to his family. In such a matter expense should be no consideration—anything is better than the ridicule which will be showered on the present Pagoda affair by the visitors from other parts of the Colony, who will throng to the Exhibition. Mr. Farley might be induced to purchase it for Vauxhall.
Otago Daily Times, 19 September 1864

Now, it's been decapitated while restoration work is underway, apparently for earthquake strengthening. There's a video of the dismantling process here.

I found it interesting that a plaque is attached to the monument to Cargill about the Salvation Army's commencing their work in New Zealand on 1 April 1883. They apparently assembled at Cargill's monument in the afternoon before a service at the Temperance Hall, "sang several hymns and spoke a few words to the considerable number of people which assembled," with Captain Pollard accompanying the singing with a concertina. (Otago Daily Times, 2 April 1883)

Today, what remains of Cargill's monument is guarded by three penguins (I caught sight of only two, unfortunately, while I was there). "We Are Not Alone", installed August 1999, are by artist Parry Jones, each modelled to reflect back on the nature of the businesses sponsoring them. Auckland needs stuff like this. Random bird sculptures throughout the CBD would be great ...

I headed further along Princes Street, and caught sight of a particularly colourful bus shelter.

Okay, this isn't art, but I feel it's an example of the quirkiness of Dunedin -- the bus destination signs on their fleet. Passing by the depot on Princes Street, I photographed this particular bus with its version of the "Sorry not in service" sign ...

... but I also spotted while I was there those few days buses passing by with special graphics on their destination signs reflecting where they were headed to. We're so damn boring up here in Auckland with our buses!

Boer War memorial at the Oval Reserve, unveiled 29 November 1906.

At this point, I nearly got myself lost in a strange city. Fortunately, Dunedin's I-Site folks have a great little street map with attractions and such which every tourist in Dunedin should have. I had mine with me, and was able to navigate (eventually, after a wee period of worry) back towards the wharf area. However, my misguided route took me past lovely murals painted on the pillars of a rail overbridge on Anderson's Bay Road.

As well as the "Harbour Mouth Teeth" at Kitchener Street Park, by Regan Gentry (2009).

I love these. They sum up Dunedin city's quirky sense of humour.


  1. The bus destinations are wonderful and people must smile while they are disappointed about a bus not going. So funny to use Scottish words.

  2. No disrespect to the other excellent and interesting photos, but the buses were the best of the lot!

  3. Oh what a great post Lisa!!!! I laughed my head off at the bus destination lights on the buses and the teeth!

    Not surprising that you mention the Dunedin Boer War memorial...but again our paths cross in our interests because a few weeks back I wrote a blogpost on the man who designed and produced it


  4. Cheers, Sandy. Thanks for that link!! Our paths may cross, but hopefully we don't collide ... ;)