ACT News

Gang-gang. Archives (virtually) digs up sculpture buried in Commonwealth Park.

An ancient Canberra saga (folklore, surely?) yarns that the great and famous sculptor Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) created a work to be buried in Commonwealth Park. The improbable saga says that the artwork is there, underground beneath park-goers' feet, to this very day.

This is a grimly evidence based column (alas, scarcely a day goes by without our having to let the truth spoil our items), and we had never quite believed the saga. But now, suddenly, ancient (1975) files and photographs just exhumed (we use that word advisedly) by ArchivesACT​ show that the saga telleth the truth.

Nankeen night heron counting sleeps to World Wetlands Day.
Nankeen night heron counting sleeps to World Wetlands Day. Photo: John Bundock.

ArchivesACT has found records of Canberra's Australia 75 Festival of Creative Arts and Sciences:

One big component of this ten-day March 1975 jamboree was the Sculpture '75 exhibition staged in the roomy and not quite completed Commonwealth Gardens.

Trench being dug for Bert Flugelman's waiting tetrahedrons.
Trench being dug for Bert Flugelman's waiting tetrahedrons. 

With one exception the works were arranged above ground in the same, old, unimaginative way (did it even occur to Michelangelo to perhaps install his David in such a way that it couldn't be seen?). The Sculpture '75 exception was Flugelman's Earth Work consisting of six large, polished tetrahedrons.

His work had the tetrahedrons installed, quite deeply buried, in what can be seen from the photographs is a considerable trench.


And for Flugelman it seems that the actual bulldozer enabled digging of the trench, the installation of the tetrahedrons (he placed them in a neat row at the bottom of the trench) and then the filling in of the trench were all part of the artfulness of the artwork. Once the burial was complete he placed a sign on top of the mound that displayed photographs of the process of the tetrahedrons' artistic burial. Flugelman said he wanted visiting people to "imagine what is under their feet and dwell upon the artistic merit of how they were interred".

The Canberra Times, arts-sensitive and enlightened then just as it is today, opined: "Let the scoffers depart to their conventional galleries and other established sites for visual sculpture."

"But let those with imagination spend creative hours gazing at the bulldozed earth in Commonwealth Gardens. Given only the slightest prompting they can begin to imagine the $10,000 the sculptor, Mr Flugelman, says this work is worth."

If the notion of sculpted polished tetrahedrons is ringing some bells in your belfry then you may be thinking of another work of Flugelman's. His shining, stainless steel Cones (1982) is perhaps the best-known, most visited work (childlike folk love to see their funnily distorted reflections in it) in the National Gallery of Australia's sculpture garden.

My teeming readers, do any of you feel (all this cricket! all this tennis! all this footie bad-boy news!) we are a nation philistinely preoccupied with sport at the expense of an interest in higher things? If so you will hear an echo of your modern discontent coming from the Australia 75 Festival. Its artistic director Stefan Haag described his creation as "a celebration of Australian achievements of which we can be proud".

"The celebration, however, is not to cheer our tennis players, swimmers, or footballers, but to draw attention to the work of our fellow artists and scientists, whose work frequently has to wait for foreign recognition before it is acknowledged at home."

Meanwhile, here above ground today is World Wetlands Day.

And so, Canberra being wetlands blessed and having wetlands preserving obligations we mark the day with John Bundock's photograph of a handsome Canberra wetlands denizen.

It is a nankeen night heron (aka a rufous night heron) and the photographer has just admired and photographed this one at Black Dam, Tidbinbilla Wetlands.

World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Ramsar Convention, in Ramsar, Iran, on February 2, 1971.

You can read all about Wetlands, their importance, and about an "alluring for young people" wetlands photography competition at the federal Department of Environment's leafy website:

And from our just mentioned heron we glide to some other fowls of the ACT.

Depending on what sorts of trees your suburban shopping centre is blessed with you may have the added blessing, as we write, of those trees being decorated with cockatoos nibbling at those trees' fruits.

In enviable Garran the shopping centre is blessed with Chinese pistachio trees. And so right now those shops have sulphur-crested cockatoos and (rapture!) gang-gang cockatoos industriously dining in the trees and sending down a gentle rain of nibbled debris.

It is fun to watch the nibblers and so this is a good time of year to report, again, that scientific studies confirm that Australia's cockatoos are overwhelmingly "left handed". When and if you see a cockatoo nibbling from a spray of something held in its right claw you are seeing a most unusual (but not unknown) phenomenon.

Last weekend, looking up into the Garran trees in hope of seeing an unorthodox diner among the cockatoos, this reporter received a refreshing cascade of water. One cockatoo had disturbed some rain-soaked leaves.

It is hard to explain why this kind of thing brings joy (to the sensitive victim) but it does. And when it does, we know that we are in good company because of the famous Dust of Snow verse of the wonderful wildlife sensitive US poet Robert Frost.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.