The Australian Capital Territory Government has, of late, taken the view that the citizenry of Canberra needs more art and culture. This has, to a large degree, manifested itself in a plethora of new statutory most of which is lacking in any sort of taste, art or culture or whatsoever. The shot-gun approach however does mean that a least a few of the new statues will hit the mark. The subject of this review, Sir Robert Menzies’ statue, is one of those which certainly hits the mark for me.
A significant number of ex-Prime Ministers have had Canberra suburbs named after them. Not Menzies though which is rather ironic as he is one of the handful of Prime Ministers who have actively supported the growth and development of Canberra – a true apostle for the city. In fact, Menzies specifically requested that a suburb not be named after him. Instead this life-size figurative bronze statue by Peter Corlett was unveiled in 2012 in Commonwealth Park alongside Lake Burley Griffin, which he championed the creation of and dedicated in 1964. Menzies was very much at home here and enjoyed many long contemplative walks along this lakeshore – now called the R.G Menzies Walk.
Sir Robert was Australia’s longest serving prime minister – his two periods in office totalled 18 years, five months and 10 days. That said, Menzies is more celebrated in Canberra for his development of the capital than for his longevity in office. On the unveiling of the statue the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, stated “For those of us who call this lovely place home, it was Sir Robert’s ambition to develop Canberra as a worthy national capital that will be regarded as his most visible and enduring contribution” while then Opposition Leader, Tony Abbot, described him as “the capital’s greatest builder and supporter.’
Within Menzies’ second term as the Prime Minister, Canberra’s population grew from 28,000 in 1954 to 93,000 in 1966 and in addition to the creation of the Lake Burley Griffin in 1964, a number of significant cultural institutions including the National Library and the Canberra Theatre Centre were founded during this period.
Peter Corlett (all of whose work I admire for its realistic subject interpretation) has three others works in Canberra – Sir Edward ”Weary” Dunlop and Simpson and His Donkey at the Australian War Memorial and Prime Minister John Curtin and Treasurer Ben Chifley in the Parliamentary Triangle.