After more than 150 years of wandering, the custodians of the Burke and Wills legend say it’s finally time to settle a commemorative statue in an appropriate setting.
The statue is currently sited in the City Square on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets but will need to be moved during construction of the Melbourne Metro Rail project.
Burke and Wills Historical Society spokesperson David Dodd says the statue has moved too many times and enough is enough. Rather than store it during the construction period, Mr Dodd says its time to take the opportunity to site it permanently at The Royal Society of Victoria’s headquarters on the corner of LaTrobe and Exhibition streets.
Mr Dodd said the Royal Society site was appropriate for a number of reasons. In a submission to the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority (MMRA) on September 19, Mr Dodd pointed out that the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition was conceived there.
“The full expedition also met in person on August 18, 1860 prior to their departure from Royal Park on Monday, August 20, 1860,” Mr Dodd said. “And it is here that the remains of Burke and Wills were returned by Howitt in December 1862 and subsequently lay in state prior to the state funeral which the citizens of Melbourne attended on January 21, 1863.”
“Why waste a golden opportunity and grasp the only sensible solution in the 151-year life of the statue, and remove it to a significant permanent site?”
Mr Dodd said the Royal Society site was actually considered but overlooked in the first instance. What followed was an inappropriate series of temporary homes for the highly-significant statue.
“Since its unveiling on April 21, 1865 in the middle of the intersection of Collins St and Russell St, the statue’s siting around the Melbourne CBD has been dogged by controversy as well as being a casualty of the development of Melbourne’s public transport system,” he said.
“Following removal to storage in 1973 its subsequent partial re-assembly, its siting in the City Square in 1979 over a large waterfall literally ‘takes the cake’ in the oddest of all planning and conservation decisions.”
Burke and Wills died in Australia’s central outback desert from thirst and starvation after failing to return to Melbourne after crossing the continent to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
“Even its present location on the footpath at the north eastern corner of Swanston and Collins streets does not do justice to the statue and, in addition to facing west, the setting is ridiculous and it appears to have been simply dropped there as an afterthought,” Mr Dodd said.
The Royal Society welcomes the statue. In a supporting letter, its president William Birch said: “The statue’s permanent relocation to a position on our site would be a fitting acknowledgement of the society’s commissioning and governance role in the historic expedition.”
Public hearings on the effects of the project are expected to run until at least October 7.