Melbourne’s original docklands, a complex of wharfs, warehouses, railway facilities and light industry were developed towards the end of the 19th century on swampland to the west of the city centre. At one time is was a busy hub of activity with ships being loaded and unloaded. However, they fell into disuse following the containerisation of shipping traffic and by the 1990s it was virtually abandoned. Since then, like many docklands in cities that have suffered the same fate (e.g. Darling Harbour in Sydney, Salford Quays and the various docklands in London) they have undergone redevelopment which has seen the construction of office and residential blocks, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, including the Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. We’d picked up leaflets in the tourist office on Federation Square about Art and Heritage (i.e. industrial history) Trails, so being interested in both, thought we’d go and have a look.
We took the tram out from the City Centre. The route was entirely within the “free zone” so nothing to pay. It was something of a grey day (although the cloud cleared during the afternoon) which wasn’t great for photographs, but I snapped a few anyway.
Like many developments in former industrial locations, it felt a little desolate and hadn’t developed fully. The art trail is no doubt intended to encourage visitors and that certainly worked in our case. I guess it will take some time before it fully develops it’s own atmosphere.
There are 26 works of art scattered across the Docklands, too many to see during one visit, and some are not accessible to casual visitors. Here are the ones we saw
Meeting (2013) by Wang Shugang – 8 red, life-sized men crouching in a meeting circle – at the NewQuay Promenade.
Silence (2002) by Adrian Mauriks
This next piece Cast IV (2015) by Anthony Gormley was located in the lobby of a residential building and could only be viewed through the window.
However, I sneaked inside the lobby when a resident entered and got a look close up without having to peer through glass!
Round the corner, facing the Etihad Stadium (no, we hadn’t nipped back to Manchester. The stadium is home to Melbourne City, part of the empire of the owners of Manchester City) a large mural Edge of your seat (2015) by the street artist, Rone
Next stop, on the dockside facing the Stadium is Cow up a tree (2001) by John Kelly, a work that certainly “does what it says on the tin”
Moving round the dockside we came across this large work in glass reinforced cement by John Meade, Aqualung (2006). It rather reminded me of a giant whale or fish diving below the surface.
Whitecaps (2011) by Ari Purhonen, a Finnish-born Australian artist based in Sydney.
It’s a kinetic work where the metal cones resting on top of the old timber piles, which once supported the wharves, move in the wind creating sound, the intensity depending on the strength of the wind
Shadow Trees (2014) by Sally Smart, described by the artist as a “choreography of trees”.
We really liked this large scale work, The River Runs Through It (2011) by Mark Stoner
It consists of a series of shaped paving, 16 white pre cast concrete ‘wave’ forms, 5 brick ‘dunes’ and carefully placed planter forms.
The artist’s blog tells us that
The intent is to create a sense of a spatial landscape that references some notion of the wind, sun and physical form of the original bank of the Yarra (River).
Webb Bridge (2003) by Robert Owen is a pedestrian bridge over the Yarra “transformed into a work of art by the unique metal weave that surrounds it”. It’s design is inspired by the woven eel traps used by local Indigenous people.
Blowhole (2004) by Duncan Stemler is another kinetic sculpture where the arms and cups are moved by the wind, rather like a cup anemometer used to measure wind speed.
We particularly liked this next work, Reed Vessel (2004) by Virginia King
Set in a recreated marshy wetland, viewed from a distance it looks like a boat emerging from the water. The artist tells us that it
embraces themes of migration, the river and the sea. The work references the history of the site, the once-abundant food source of the vast, tidal wetland that existed here, stories of the river and marine archaeology.
The final work I photographed was Continuum (2005) by Michael Snape a tower made up of two dimensional figures cut from steel.
The artist is said to have found inspiration for the work by the way the Docklands was coming back to life after a period of abandonment. That certainly seemed to be the case, but it will probably take a little while for it to be fully realised.
There was more to see, but we’d been wandering round for a couple of hours and as we were near a tram stop, caught the next one that would take us back towards our apartment. On the tram we got talking to a local who had been temporarily located to the Docklands. She wasn’t impressed with the area feeling it was too far out from the centre and lacking atmosphere. It clearly needs time to “grow into itself”.