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bendigo Landmark


man on the

Bath Lane’s newest resident is three metres tall, wears a top hat and carries a pig. Confused? John Holton visited Bendigo’s popular lane in search of answers. Writer: John Holton - Photographs: Anthony Webster

It’s eleven o’clock on a Friday morning and Bath Lane is jumping. There’s not a carpark to spare, the street cafes are spilling with customers enjoying the spring sunshine, and shoppers are coming and going from the many specialty stores I’m sipping a coffee with Bob of Mr Good Times fame, a long-time trader in Bath Lane, and he couldn’t be happier. It’s what he and his fellow traders in the lane and Bendigo Bank precinct have worked so hard for. But I haven’t just come to socialise. I’m here to meet one of the Lane’s newest residents. He doesn’t have a name, but he’s not hard to find given that he spends his day standing on an upturned bathtub at the Mitchell Street entrance to Bath Lane, watching over the constant stream of foot traffic. With his imposing top hat, theatre programme in hand and a pig under his arm, he’s something of an enigma. But already Bendigonians are warming to his presence. Those I ask on this lovely morning give the thumbs up. “He definitely has a sense of mystery about him,” says Maureen from Quarry Hill. “Even though he’s only new to the street, you somehow feel like he’s seen a lot of history.” Coby from Kangaroo Flat is less prosaic in his response. “The pig’s funny,” he says with a grin. You can’t argue with that. So, who is this masked man cast in bronze, and what does he stand for? To find the answer we need to go back a couple of years to 2009 and the beginnings of the Bath Lane upgrade project. “The Lane was originally ear-marked to be part of the Walk Bendigo plan,” says Bob. “But the all traders knew it wasn’t the right approach for Bath Lane and fought to change the plan. There were two things we wanted for the lane – improved footpaths and some sort of public sculpture to make Bath Lane more interesting.” City of Greater Bendigo Urban Design Advisor, Brad Hooper, was part of the original tender process. “A panel of artists, primarily from Bendigo and central Victoria, was approached and invited to express their interest in the project,” he says. “The brief for the sculpture was developed in close consultation with the Bath Lane business and

traders community. “Once the candidates were short-listed they submitted a maquette (small model) of their idea to the project group.” While the project was originally aiming for a single sculpture, the group found it hard to separate the work of Melbourne artist Craig Haire and local sculptor Yvonne George. The decision was made to bookend the lane with a sculpture from each artist. “In the end, each of the sculptures explored elements of the Lane’s history in different ways, and we liked that idea,” Brad says. “Craig’s take is quite whimsical, drawing on the history in a more enigmatic and figurative way, while Yvonne’s piece is a much more literal reference. Both are wonderful pieces in their context.” Craig Haire’s bronze statue stands over three metres tall and is designed to capture the attention of passers-by. It references the public bath houses of the gold rush era (the upturned bath), the Lyric and Plaza theatres (he wears an opera cloak and clutches a theatre program), and the livestock market that the lane was home to well into the 20th century. Yvonne George’s giant film reels, cast in laminated, rust-coloured steel, are installed at the Edward Street end of the lane and also refer to the theatres that were the hub of Bendigo’s entertainment zone until the closure of the Plaza Cinema in 1975. Architecturally, Yvonne’s circular film reels also reference the heritage-listed circular building across the road, now home to the Good Loaf Bakery. Both sculptures definitely deliver what the project group set out to achieve, adding a sense of identity to Bath Lane; building a whole new history for what is fast becoming Bendigo’s most vibrant precinct. I recently overheard a young teenager say to his mates, “Who’s the dude with the pig?” It just the sort of response traders were hoping for, according to Fiona Naughton, owner of Rob’s Jeanery. “We wanted people to be saying in future, ‘let’s meet at the man with the top hat’,” she says. “It’s a great example of traders and council working together for a positive

outcome. In years to come, these sculptures will have real historical significance.” Back at the café, Bob is telling me about another unexpected connection between the new sculpture and Bendigo’s history. “Norm Quinn, whose fruit shop is just a few doors away from the new statue, reckons the bronze theatre goer is the spitting image of Dr Henry Backhaus (the entrepreneurial Catholic priest of the Bendigo goldfields). If anyone would know, Norm would,” he says with a wry grin. It’s the kind of ironic coincidence that no doubt will have historians scratching their chins in another 150 years. ■

issue 25 - bendigo magazine | 83

BgoMag Issue 25  
BgoMag Issue 25  

Bendigo Magazine Issue 25 - Summer 2011