14 February 2024

Griffins to finally get their place in the sun with own commemorative artwork

| Ian Bushnell
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two women sitting next to Lake Burley Griffin

Project Manager, Capital Works, Vicki McLean and NCA Chief Executive Sally Barnes discuss a possible site for the Griffins artwork at Rond Terrace. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

It seems inexplicable that in a city designed by the Griffins, filled with statues and memorials, nothing commemorates them, despite many calls for such a work, first for Walter and, more recently, Marion.

That is about to change with the National Capital Authority planning to commission a commemorative artwork of Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin, with a range of locations identified on the northern side of the Lake near Commonwealth Park.

The commemoration will recognise their contribution to Canberra’s design and acknowledge their contribution to city planning, architecture and landscape design more generally.

The apparent form would be bronze statues, but the NCA wants to stay open to other possibilities to celebrate them and their work.

Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in 1930

Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in 1930. Photo: National Library of Australia.

NCA Chief Executive Sally Barnes said that after the 150th anniversary of Marion’s birth in 2021, there were concerns that if it didn’t do something, she could disappear into history, so the idea emerged of a commemoration, in line with NCA’s objective to address the underrepresentation of women in commemorative works on the National Estate.

But on talking to the Walter Burley Griffin Society, the NCA accepted its recommendation that the proposed work should be of both, a couple who worked together and were trailblazers of their times.

Project Manager, Capital Works, Vicki McLean said this seemed fairer than just plucking out Marion as a woman because they were genuine partners.

“This sort of recognises that back then, women did get recognition working in a partnership, and that appears to be a very equal partnership,” she said.

“And he acknowledged her when they won the competition by saying her drawings were really important to winning the competition, so it does seem appropriate to recognise both of them.”

An expert advisory group is being set up to recommend a brief and location for an open tender process to select an artist. The work should be completed and installed in about two years.

woman at Regatta Point

Project Director Vicki McLean at Regatta Point. It should be something with a vista, which was so important to the national capital design.

Ms Barnes said the NCA did not want to preempt what form the work could take.

“It could be bronzed statues, but Marion was so into landscapes and so into design that maybe it’s something else,” she said.

Ms McLean said it could be a combination of statue and landscape. But the feeling was that whatever it would be, it should be something with a vista, which was so important to the national capital design, looking out across the Lake to the Brindabellas and having some sense of the mainland and water axes that could be built into the commemoration.

The current possible locations include the top of the Regatta Point hillside and several spots further north at Rond Terrace by the water or on the grassy bank.

Ms Barnes’ personal preference is in the eucalypt wood at the eastern end of Commonwealth Park as it evoked the Griffins’ Castlecrag work in Sydney, but she acknowledged that wasn’t part of their Canberra story.

Rond Terrace

Several locations are being considered at Rond Terrace.

How extensive the work may be is still an open question.

Ms McLean said it could be similar to other sculptures around the city, such as the Two Dames outside Old Parliament House.

“It may be lifelike, or it may be a bit more abstracted; it depends on what the brief is,” she said.

“What we’ll be seeking ideas on is whether it should just be a sculpture on a pavement or whether to include somewhere for people to sit and appreciate the view that was so important to their design, whether there’ll be a landscaped area or some shading.”

The NCA will pay for the work and has budgeted an amount for it.

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Cecily Short3:19 pm 18 Feb 24

A jetty in front of Blundells Cottage in their names. The Lake is so inaccessible along that whole side. A monument that is useful to Canberra residents & tourists alike for kayaking, paddle boarding, visits by the small hire boats etc

The immigration bridge was dumped in 2010 and hopefully never again sees the light of day Fabio Fabbo. A majority of submissions to a Parliamentary inquiry into the bridge at the time opposed its construction. The bridge was also inconsistent with Burley-Griffin’s vision of the lake.

The bridge proposal was foisted on Canberrans by self-interested individuals and the inquiry found that it did not take into account the needs of other lake users and posed safety risks.

Good riddance!

Peter Graves9:42 am 15 Feb 24

It is to commemorate both Walter and Marion, remembering them together as the architects of Canberra. Acknowledging Canberra was built to be the nation’s capital, acting
in the national interest for all Australians.

Your alternative suggestions relate to responsibilities of the ACT Government. The welcome decision of the NCA is a federal responsibility.
Peter Graves
Chair, Canberra Chapter
Walter Burley Griffin Society

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