Permanent place for Menzies in nation's heart
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Permanent place for Menzies in nation's heart

There may not be a Canberra suburb named after former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies, but there is now a statue of him beside the lake he inaugurated and across from the national institutions he supported.

His daughter, Heather Henderson, told a crowd at the unveiling of the bronze statue on Menzies Walk on the northern shore of the lake that she ''loved the fact dad is happy and smiling and walking, it's exactly as it should be''.

Sir Robert Menzies' daughter Heather Henderson and artist Peter Corlett with  Sir Richard and Lady Kingsland , at left, at the Sir Robert Menzies sculpture unveiling in Commonwealth Park. Sir Richard was a department head during the Menzies Government.

Sir Robert Menzies' daughter Heather Henderson and artist Peter Corlett with Sir Richard and Lady Kingsland , at left, at the Sir Robert Menzies sculpture unveiling in Commonwealth Park. Sir Richard was a department head during the Menzies Government.Credit:Richard Briggs

''I know he would be pleased. And I know he would prefer it to a suburb, so don't fret about the suburb business,'' she said.

The statue, which cost $173,000 in total, was commissioned by the ACT government under former chief minister Jon Stanhope who was in the crowd and to whom Mrs Henderson directed particular thanks for supporting the project.

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The statue was crafted over six months by renowned Melbourne sculptor Peter Corlett, whose others works include Sir Edward ''Weary'' Dunlop and Simpson and His Donkey 1915 at the Australian War Memorial and Prime Minister John Curtin and Treasurer Ben Chifley 1945 in the Parliamentary Triangle.

The Curtin, Chifley and Menzies statues were all commissioned by the ACT government to honour prime ministers who had made a significant contribution to the development of Canberra.

Among the crowd yesterday was former secretary of the Department of the Interior, Sir Richard Kingsland, 95, and Lady Kingsland, 94.

''I think it's magnificent,'' she said of the statue.

''So life-like,'' Sir Richard agreed.

Sir Robert was Australia's longest serving prime minister - his two periods in office totalled 18 years, five months and 10 days. But it was less his length of time in office than his impact as a leader and a supporter of Canberra as the national capital that was the focus of tributes yesterday.

Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott sent statements, Mr Abbott describing Sir Robert as ''the capital's greatest builder and supporter''.

Ms Gillard said he was ''a great Australian and we do well to remember him''.

''For those of us who call this lovely place home, it was Sir Robert's ambition to develop Canberra as a worthy national capital that will be regarded as his most visible and enduring contribution,'' Ms Gillard wrote.

Deputy chief minister Andrew Barr unveiled the statue, saying Canberra had become a ''fantastic, modern city'' thanks to people such as Sir Robert and their foresight, vision and belief in the national capital.

''[I] trust that this statue is a fitting and positive recognition of the work of your father in advocating and establishing the Canberra we know today,'' he told Mrs Henderson.

Mr Barr also signalled that while the commissions from the defunct Percent for Art scheme were coming to an end, the government would continue to fund public art. The government would also consider Mr Stanhope's suggestion that it use a percentage of its lease variation charge revenue to pay for works.

''I acknowledge there's been some controversies in the past but if you take a sensible and mature look at the sorts of works that have been delivered and the enhancements they've made to our city, then I think most reasonable people will acknowledge that it's a worthwhile program and one that should be part of the city's second century as well,'' Mr Barr said.