Abigail Treeby, 4, of Hackett explores the a cone sculpture at the Sculpture Garden by visual artist Bert Flugelman. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Bert Flugelman, creator of Canberra's most approachable and most-approached public sculpture, has died at his home in Bowral.
Since it was purchased in 1982, his enormous (it stretches over 20 metres) polished stainless-steel Cones in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Australia has been approached by surely hundreds of thousands of Canberrans and tourists. That's because, you see, as well as being so irresistibly big and gleaming where it stands in its own clearing, it amusingly distorts your reflection on the sides of its polished cones. It turned this average-sized columnist first into a squat garden gnome and then into an impossibly tall and lean basketballer.
It transformed, too, four-year-old Abigail Treeby of Hackett, somehow making a garden gnome of her.
A 1901 portrait of Austin Chapman. Photo: National Library of Australia
Then it transformed a party of children from Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School in Canterbury in Victoria. Their enthusiastic outdoor education guide Zoe Tulloch told them excitedly that that very morning she'd heard on the radio not only that the artist was dead but that long ago ''he buried some giant tetrahedrons, 10-sided spheres, over there [gesturing across the lake] in Commonwealth Park. They're as big as two people and they're buried there and when you walk over the spot you get the vibe coming out of them''.
''Will they dig them up now?'' one of the children shrilled.
Tulloch said that, yes, she'd heard that very possibility being discussed on the radio, the question of whether to dig them up now that the artist had passed away (''Why would you do that? Now of all times?'' this curmudgeonly columnist grumbled into his beard) ''or will we let the mystery of them stay there''.
She led the children, ''on the count of three'' in the throwing of their arms in the air and the shouting of the artist's name.
''Bert Fugelman!'' they roared, slightly mispronouncing the sculptor's name but celebrating him with sincere feeling. Then they walked away, becoming pupils in the mist, through the water vapour fog created by Cones' popular neighbour, Fog Sculpture.
Few of the hordes to have visited Cones to treat it as funny mirrors will have mused about what's going on with it but on the gallery's website we find Deborah Hart explaining that ''While on one level the impression is of brilliant clarity and geometry, the whole is energised by dynamic interactions of the forms across the space; they reflect sky, ground and eucalypt trees, involving the visitor as an active participant, enmeshed temporarily in the flow of constantly changing possibilities''.
When the children were gone, tiny wrens came out of the nearby shrubbery and, cheeping merrily, played around and under the sculpture. Nearby, the carillon was playing cheerful melodies. Only the sculpture gardens' ravens, dressed in black and yodelling mournfully, struck the properly funereal note on this day of the sad news that Bert Flugelman had died at 90.
Dreaming of a capital in the Monaro
This centenary-minded column's readers like a good singalong so here's one historically charming and prophetic song of 1902 turned up by my historical researches. Anyone who's twanging and warbling at the coming Folk Festival need only ask and I'll email all the lyrics (today's is an edited version). It's by a Monaro man who wanted somewhere in the heavenly Monaro for the federal capital city but feared that Sydney would insist on somewhere far closer to Sydney. His fears were to be realised in 1908 when the Canberra site, just a Sydney suburb really, was chosen. The Bombala Herald published the song in 1902. The ''Chapman dear'' is Austin Chapman, the federal member for Eden-Monaro, pictured. There's no excuse for not singing along because it is set to a very famous Irish tune you all know, used for example by the Irish Rovers for their The Orange and the Green.
Federal City Song
Oh, then Chapman dear, and did you hear
The news that's going round?
The federal city ne'er will stand
Upon Monaro ground.
We've got the water, got the clime,
And got the harbour too,
But we're too far from Sydney's sphere,
And that will never do.
[Chorus] We're the most distressful people
That ever yet were seen.
We have the site par excellence,
But it's too good I ween [think].
But we've got Nature on our side,
Right bounteous she has been,
And every needful want required,
In plenty round is seen.
Shall jealousy, and mean despite,
And speculation win?
Shall wrong prevail against what's right?
'Twill be a nation's sin.
But young Australia will not fail
Her duty plain to do:
Fair play and Justice must prevail!
Hurrah for Manaroo!
A loser in the arms race
Ah, what might have been! Almost all people that on Earth do dwell agree C.R. Wylie's Canberra's coat of arms design, adopted in the late-1920s, is dull and obscure and that 2013 might be just the year for a refreshing change.
Nick Swain has been researching other designs for Canberra's coat of arms, submitted in 1927 but of course rejected in favour of Wylie's swan-dominated one (with the white swan representing Europeans and the black one representing the first Australians).
Swain is especially taken with entry 29, which he has found in the appropriate National Archives file.
It describes, but alas doesn't depict, the design - but this allows us to enjoy imagining it.
It's description is: ''CANBERRA (represented by a classical figure). She (Canberra) is holding the reins of government, driving six black horses representing the six states. Underneath is the word 'Onwards'.
''Canberra has the Australian flag as a cloak from her shoulders and a gold sunrise behind her.
''She is in a grey chariot and the horses are galloping upon grey and white clouds.''
With a sad want of seriousness, Swain thinks this would have been ''a cartoonist's dream'' and says he imagines the classical figure in the chariot as Julia Gillard, with the ''Onwards'' changed to Gillard's short-lived mantra, ''Going Forward''.