Once grubby and overgrown, the grave of Canberra’s designer now shines, thanks to the efforts of an ACT MLA who hopes the transformation will forge stronger connections between Canberra and India.
HE designed Canberra – and the lake in its centre takes his name – which makes Chicago-born Walter Burley Griffin one of the best-known architects in Australian history.
But in a derelict cemetery in Lucknow, India, where Griffin was laid to rest 83 years ago, you have to look hard to find his grave, as Yerrabi MLA Deepak-Raj Gupta discovered.
“People just don’t know about it,” Gupta said.
Indian-born Gupta was elected on countback to the ACT parliament last year, filling the spot left by the sudden resignation of Meegan Fitzharris.
His “mission” to find Griffin’s grave coincided with a trip to India in January to a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association of India Region in Lucknow.
“It took about an hour to find it… the grave was in a pretty bad state… abandoned and forgotten because people just don’t know who he (Griffin) is,” said Gupta.
“I’ve been living in Canberra for almost 20 years, so I knew about Walter Burley Griffin, he’s the man who designed our beautiful city. I’ve clearly never met the guy, never seen him and have no relationship with him, but standing at his grave, I felt there was something between us.”
Moved by the experience, Gupta arranged to have the grave cleaned and the weeds around it cleared. He adorned the architectural maestro’s resting place with flowers and organised a special ceremony where wreaths were laid.
“It was a very touching moment,” he said.
Griffin spent the last 15 months of his life in India with his wife and design partner, Marion Mahony Griffin, setting up an architectural firm in Lucknow and producing more than 50 projects between 1935 and 1937. He died of peritonitis aged 60 on February 11, 1937, and was buried the same day in Lucknow’s Nishatganj Cemetery.
Griffin was largely under-appreciated during his time in Australia, but since his death recognition of his work has steadily grown.
Gupta, a long-term resident of Gungahlin, is the first ACT government representative to visit Lucknow and hopes his experience will forge strong bonds between Canberra and Lucknow.
“This is a good opportunity for people to know Lucknow,” he said.
“I’d like it to become a place where people can come and pay their respects to the designer.
“I’m recommending that a display board with a brief history of Griffin’s work and achievements be placed in the vicinity of his grave… because people just don’t know who he is, and I can confidently say that people from Canberra who visit would have the same touching experience.
“I have handed over a proposal in this regard on behalf of my Chief Minister Andrew Barr to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and I’m trying to establish a committee and an NGO who can look after Griffin’s grave on an ongoing basis.”
In 1964, when Canberra’s central lake was filled, as Griffin had intended, Prime Minister Robert Menzies named it Lake Burley Griffin, making it the first “monument” in Canberra dedicated to the city’s designer.
Gupta says he’d like “more to be done” in Canberra, to acknowledge Griffin’s work.
“We are living in his legacy,” he said. “I’d like to see a street named after him in Canberra or a day of celebration on the anniversary of his death.”
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