Date of Award
Master of Philosophy (School of Arts and Sciences)
Schools and Centres
Arts & Sciences
Christine de Matos
The sacred sites of Gargatup (Mount Eliza) and Gooninup (Kennedy’s Spring) were revered by Whadjuk Noongar people long before the arrival of Europeans in Western Australia. Now part of the site of Kings Park in Perth, it remains cherished by today’s community for its botanic beauty and panoramic views. European traditions have replaced the Indigenous cultural heritage, most notably with the erection of war monuments, statues, and memorial plaques, amidst the herbaceous gardens and native flora. The first president of the Kings Park Board, Sir John Forrest, and his successor, Arthur Lovekin, envisioned that the Park would emulate ornate British Victorian landscapes. From 1902 to 1934, they executed a program of public history and ornamentation, transforming the parkland into Western Australia’s stately memorial precinct by building the major monuments. Yet, the public’s knowledge of Kings Park as a site of memory, and its contributions to the cultural heritage of Western Australia, is less understood. Further and importantly, the monuments have received little attention from historians. This thesis, then, aims to fill this research gap by increasing knowledge and understanding of Kings Park as a place of public memory. It does this by querying the symbolic intent and utility of the Kings Park memorials, and analysing the decisions made on what could and could not be included in the park.
The thesis focusses on four case studies, all constructed in the formative years of the state’s development and in the aftermath of World War One: the Fallen Soldier’s Memorial (1902), the Queen Victoria statue (1903), the State War Memorial (1929), and the Edith Cowan Memorial (1934). The investigation into the symbolic intent of these memorials utilises Gillian Rose’s framework, the Four Sites of a Critical Methodology, with a focus on two of these sites, image, and audience. These help determine where the meanings of the image, symbol, or object concur. An in-field examination of the memorials’ composition provides clues to the meaning of the memorials. The visual evidence is considered with reference to archival sources, including the Kings Park Board meetings, the Edith Cowan Memorial Committee Minutes, Hansard, City of Perth letters, newspaper articles, and photographs. These sources tell us something about community engagement with the memorials and aid the analysis of memorial inclusion or exclusion decisions.
This analysis has produced three key findings. The first is the graphical symbols of heroism and patriotism, linking duty to glory, represented by the early twentieth century memorials, and created exclusively by Perth’s elite, intended to instil civic pride and loyalty to Britain. After World War One, patriotic symbolism transitioned to venerating sacrifice, not war, enabling the Perth community to focus on their war dead. Second, there is evidence that the Kings Park Board, in collaboration with
an elite few, failed to democratise the memorial building process. They chose which memorials were built in the park, how they were designed, the artists who sculpted them, and the builders who erected them. I argue that they arose almost exclusively at the wish and whim of the governing board (made up of civic, religious, and military leaders), excluded community engagement, and largely ignored public utility. There is evidence that the Kings Park Board rejected memorial building applications, which raises questions, considered in this thesis, about who had the power to make these decisions and whether they were in the public’s interest. Finally, the thesis demonstrates the rich historical context that exists behind each memorial, which is an opportunity to broaden contemporary audiences’ understanding of the memorials and increase their appreciation of the structures. This thesis thus contributes towards a better understanding of the significant heritage value of the memorials, which may inform any future conservation debates that rely on the elucidation of their meaning.
Critchley, A. (2022). The Politics of Eternity: Public History and Monuments to Memory in Kings Park, 1902-1934 (Master of Philosophy (School of Arts and Sciences)). University of Notre Dame Australia. https://researchonline.nd.edu.au/theses/349
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