The selection of Canberra, in the early 1900’s, as the new capital of Australia has often been referred to as the waste of good sheep grazing land or a good sheep station spoiled. It has also been, and still is by some, referred to using even mostly derogatory terms but let’s keep to the sheep for now.
Prior to the compulsory acquisition of a large tract of land for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), most of which is taken up by Canberra and its suburbs today, the Limestone Plains area was indeed prime sheep farming land.
In 1825 Robert Campbell, a wealthy Sydney Merchant, engaged James Ainslie, a dandy Scottish pastoralist known for his colourful waistcoats, to secure and set up a sheep station for him in the ‘Outback” which at the time covered pretty much everything to the west of the newly established town of Sydney.
Ainslie, having entered an amorous engagement with a local Aboriginal lady, settled on a property to be called Duntroon in what is now the ACT. It is said that the Aboriginal lady was in fact a sacrifice by the local Aboriginal people to Ainslie, who they thought to be a dead spirit (not having seen a white man before, much less a sheep – of which Ainslie arrived with 700). The lady in question had earlier been stolen from a neighbouring tribe.
Within a short time Ainslie was successfully farming 20,000 sheep in the area though by 1835 there was a parting of the ways between Robert Campbell and James Ainslie, the latter of which returned to Scotland where he sadly committed suicide in 1844.
This 2001 cast aluminium sculpture, by Les Kossatz (1943-2011), is a satirical salute to James Ainslie, the first European pastoralist in the area. Incidentally Mt Ainslie and the suburb of Ainslie are named after James Ainslie.
While officially called Ainslie’s Sheep, the sheep are oft times referred to in less reverential terms including the ‘fxxxing Civic sheep’ and ‘those dirty sheep’ – references to their rather un-sheeplike postures and positioning.
Given the postures, particularly that of the one in a state of repose on the chair, it is little wonder the sheep attract giggles, snide comments and sometimes more from passing drunks and tourists. For some reason New Zealand visitors seem to be particularly attracted to this sculpture! Australians and New Zealanders will understand this last comment.
One commentator, referring to an alleged ‘misuse of one of the sheep’, summed up nicely what many want to say, but don’t:
‘I’ve honestly never seen anyone mount the sheep, but many times has the question been raised as to why it’s presenting is arse for a buggering…”
I will leave it to my reader and the visitor to pardon my vulgarity, if this is how you consider any comment here, and to make what you will of this piece of street art.
Directions: The pedestrianised centre of Canberra City