Client: The Mounties Group
Location: Sydney, Australia
Completion date: 2018
Artwork budget: $109,000
Memorial was conceived to remember a special group of 6 Australian soldiers (Diggers) who returned home to the Northern Beaches of Sydney after WW1. Six hand-beaten copper poppies shimmer and glow in a reflective pool, backgrounded by a luminous ocean of laser-cut bronze, greeting visitors and dignitaries. With the Australian soldier’s prayer “Mateship, Sacrifice, Courage, Endurance” in carved black granite text on its infinity edge, the reflecting pool is a loved feature of the Club, where the tossing of coins has become an integral remembrance ritual. The Diggers is more than just a club, its a holistic community hub that includes affordable housing, integrated care for the elderly, playgrounds for children, hip bars, and diverse family entertainment. Designed by one of Sydney’s foremost architects, it is magnificently perched on a sandstone headland overlooking one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches. The artwork greets people on arrival.
Memorials are notoriously sensitive projects because veterans are charged with an emotional load few of us will ever understand. One of the hardest challenges was to steer them away from literal and figurative representations of their memory and heritage. Winning them over, the artist brought a contemporary interpretation to the Digger’s story which was imaginative and soulful, as well as inclusive- that even children could engage with. Under the artist’s poetic spell, the client fell in love with a more symbolic way of telling their story, using the giant poppy so universally recognized, and embedding them in a local sense of place with the ocean and prayer. The actual location for the artwork was prescribed well before an artwork concept was sought: at the Port Cochere entry to the complex - so it was always going to be integrated. In fact, our job was to make it look less integrated! As a memorial it deserved to stand out. The original approach was for an overly prescriptive installation of lights suspended above a water feature. In the artists hands, and with the support of the architectural team, it evolved into something more sculptural, capturing the historic story with subtlety and grace.
Our specialist fabricators were involved right from the outset coming to all the client design meetings. This may seem unusual, but on a hair raising schedule, precious time was saved by having the maker's expertise present for the immediate resolution of the tiniest design problem. We had an intense working relationship with not just the veterans, but everyone from a hydraulics engineer to a Feng Shui expert. Infinity ponds are very finely tuned, and calculating how the words of the prayer were attached affecting flow and spray did our heads in! Not every aspect of an artwork can be tested, and we begged for a leap of faith. It worked!
Interestingly, the Club had employed a Fung Shui expert to whom they assigned significant design influence. Water movement and depth, air movement, lighting intensity, the movement and orientation of the poppies, colours and all finishes had to be run by her. Initially, this somewhat vague design input reared itself as an insurmountable irritation, constantly restricting the artist's design in the most unpredictable ways. But in the end, the Feng Shui expert became one of our greatest champions!