“A HUMANE and humble tribute to two great men,” is how Prime Minister Julia Gillard described a new sculpture of former Prime Ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley, unveiled today opposite the National Archives in Parkes.
The bronze sculpture, installed just around the corner from the Kurrajong Hotel where Chifley both lived and died, was commissioned by the ACT Government from Australian sculptor Peter Corlett and produced in Melbourne’s Meridian foundry.
It recreates a photograph taken in 1945 by Don Stephens showing the two men walking from the Kurrajong Hotel to Parliament House and has been located as close to the site of the original image as possible.
The Prime Minister interrupted a busy day at old Parliament House, where she was outlining her vision for Labor, for the happier task of reminiscing about two leaders dear to the hearts of most Australians. And she stayed on to chat.
In the past year, she told the assembled photographers and ACT visual arts leaders, she had visited the homes of Ben Chifley in Bathurst NSW and John Curtin in Cottesloe, WA.
There she had paused to reflect on the patriotism, commitment and leadership of the “two mates.” Both had died in Canberra and both had suffered.
Curtin, she said had been jailed fighting conscription during World War I and Chifley, author of the inspiring “light on the hill” speech, had found himself out of work.
In a veiled reference to her own situation, she told the crowd that Curtin couldn’t survive as a politician because of what she called “destructive oppositionism.”
Ms Gillard also spoke of “what I feel for them in my Canberra lodgings” and suggested that while the famous photograph was being snapped, they could have been “talking about the future – that means talking about us.”
Few present were about to disagree with the Prime Minister when she summed up, “history judges them well.”
To ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, the unveiling was proof apparent that that the Federal Government could comfortably join in with the ACT Government, which had commissioned the sculpture, in telling national stories that were “Canberra stories too.”
Ms Gallagher said she believed it would become one of the most popular pieces of public art in the ACT.
Mr Corlett, known for his large figurative bronze representations of Edward “Weary” Dunlop, Simpson with his donkey at the Australian War Memorial and John Gale, “Father of Canberra” in Queanbeyan, said “it’s always easy to celebrate people you admire.”
Harrison Kerr, 10, from Holt could hardly take his eyes off the sculptures. He said he and his dad had been driving past when they heard about the opening on the radio.
His father thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to see the Prime Minister close-up and they weren’t disappointed – Ms Gillard greeted Harrison as “matey.”