Long face: Jeff Kennett Gargoyle, St Patrick’s Cathedral, corner Albert and Gisborne streets, East Melbourne.
I normally only visit a church for a wedding, and I’m not big on weddings. I was married once but didn’t breed very well in captivity, so I generally run as fast as I can as soon as the ceremony is over.
With this in mind, I had to practise some yoga breathing before I tiptoed through the imposing gates leading to St Patrick’s Cathedral. The great size of this church and the soaring height of its Gothic spires are spectacular and intimidating. I immediately felt guilty and wondered whether I’d ever done anything right.
I turned right beside the statue of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, walked past St Catherine of Siena and stood at a side entrance. My heart was pounding out a rumba as I looked up to see two stone heads, one on each side of the stone arch.
One is a lion; the other a man, with a familiar long face, hooked nose and impressive hairdo. The resemblance is unmistakable and frightening, especially the large, gaping mouth that gushes water when it rains.
For years I’d heard that Jeff Kennett was the model for one of the gargoyles on the side of the cathedral. I’d thought this was just another urban myth, but here I was staring into Jeff’s nasal cavity.
In 2002 master stonemason Tom Carson, who finished the two new gargoyles in 1992, confirmed to Mary Ryllis Clark in The Age that he’d been inspired by a caricature of Jeff by John Spooner. He said it was “just a whim but in keeping with a centuries-old tradition”.
Carson explained that stonemasons have always used people in positions of power, including priests, bishops, mayors and lords, as models for their gargoyles.
“When they first began doing Gothic buildings in the 12th century, the stonemasons were cartoonists, so they did all these funny animals and they’d get the local mayor’s or lord’s face, or the dean of the cathedral and make him look like a monster.”
I don’t know what Jeff Kennett thinks about his gargoyle but my hunch is that he’d like it because it’s utilitarian and not just another grotesque ornament. It’s a draining device and, according to tradition, its repulsiveness wards off evil spirits.
Everywhere I looked there were cramped and crouching monsters, their twisted faces sending a clear message. Gargoyles are the carved tops of water pipes that carry rainwater away from a cathedral’s gutters and spouting. The word comes from the French gargouille, meaning throat or gullet. They’re usually grotesque creatures, part human, part monster, but they can also be caricatures of people known to the carver – in other words, cartoons set in stone.
Carson said he’d seen French gargoyles of men showing their backsides to the world and of men and women with distorted faces and tongues poking out. “This is where the playfulness comes in; it was the master mason’s way of making fun of local dignitaries, or perhaps settling a score.”
Note to self: never, ever date a stonemason!
What a difference a Di makes ... plus Apollo and the mane event
Diana and the Hounds sculpture, Fitzroy Gardens, East Melbourne
If I had to choose a goddess to accompany me into battle, it would be Diana. In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt, a goddess of chastity and fertility (that’s confusing!) and also of the moon. No evil spirits could get past the statue of Diana and the Hounds erected outside the Conservatory in the Fitzroy Gardens. Sculptor William Leslie Bowles completed the mould in 1939, but the onset of World War II temporarily delayed casting by A. B. Brunton in London. Miraculously avoiding German U-boats, the statue made it to Australia and was unveiled by the lord mayor, Arthur Coles, on September 4, 1940.
Apollo Belvedere, Queen Victoria Gardens
Apollo was the Greek god of the sun, who would harness four horses to his chariot each day to drive the sun across the sky. In art, the youthful Apollo is traditionally seen as the epitome of buffed male beauty, a hunk who also had associations with music, prophecy and medicine. A perfect representation of the Melburnian man. This bust of Belvedere Apollo was donated to the city by well-known solicitor, politician, newspaper proprietor and educationist Theodore Fink. He acquired the bust for the people of Victoria when he was visiting Rome in the late 1920s. I wonder how Fink described the purchase on his import declaration?
Chinese lion guardians, Cohen Place, Chinatown
In Cohen Place, just off Little Bourke Street in Chinatown, two marble lions stand sentry at the door of the Chinese Museum. They were a gift from the city of Tianjin, in recognition of Melbourne as its sister city. These guardian lions first appeared during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and were thought to have mythic power and therefore stationed at temple doors to protect the dharma. In China they were traditionally placed at the gates of imperial palaces and tombs, temples and government offices to ward off evil and misfortune, but now you also find them outside supermarkets. And why not? We all need protection from Red Spot specials! \