Australia just may be the world’s most untapped destination for cultural tourism. When most people think of Australia, they think of its unique wildlife and beautiful beaches. Don’t get me wrong, lounging on beaches and seeing marsupials are both fantastic reasons to visit Australia, but the Land Down Under has even more to offer cultural tourists and art lovers alike who are interested to know more about Australia’s unique history.
In the northern region of Queensland we at McLeod call home, we’ve immortalized our heroes in public sculptures — a tour of these sites gives a unique and personal glimpse into the stories that have made Australia the place it is today. Queensland’s fascinating history is best told through its oral histories, heroic tales, and public sculpture. Once you get a taste, you may be ready to say “G’day” to the Western hemisphere and plan your walkabout with some of these favorite art installations around Queensland.
The Must-Sees for Cultural Tourists and Art Lovers in Queensland
Australian history intersects with the history of other countries and cultures more than you may realize, thanks to its colonial history and its time as a penal colony of the United Kingdom. Many Westerners have ancestors who were sent to Australia as convicts, making it especially attractive to cultural tourists from Europe and the States interested to learn more about their genealogy. Queensland offers some of the art attractions that best exemplify the history and culture of Australia. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
Lady Diamantina Bowen, Gardens Point, Brisbane
As a little girl, I always adored stories of noble women from around the world — no matter what time or place she lives in, an elegant woman is captivating and mysterious. To me, Lady Diamantina Bowen exemplifies that noble woman of nineteenth-century Australian society: delicate and stately, as poised in her life as she is in sculpture. As the wife of the governor of Queensland, she struck the chord for the style of Brisbane women through her distinctive taste in fashion, her high education, and her social and musical accomplishments. In life, she was described as having a beauty that came from her expression: mild hauteur coupled with a slender silhouette and calm elegance. Contributing to charity through active patronage and community engagement, Lady Diamantina Bowen exemplifies the charm and style of her day. Created in 2009, this sculpture from Phillip Piperides is an exciting stop for children and adults who love stories of historical women of importance as much as I did, and it’s an opportunity for the whole family to learn about Australia’s nobility through the life of this intriguing woman.
Petrie Tableau, King George Square, Brisbane
Sculpted by Stephen Walker in 1988, this delightfully whimsical sculpture stands as a monument to the early pioneer days of Queensland. While Australia is famous for being a home for English convicts, this sculpture depicts the Petrie family, some of the first free-settlers to land in the area. It exemplifies the life and stoic spirit of Andrew Petrie, who made his living in construction and building colonial Australia. He was also the first European to climb Mount Beerwah, one of the Glass House Mountains that the celebrated Captain James Cook spied in his travels. The sculpture, located in King George Square in Brisbane, also playfully boasts two kangaroos perched at its base.
Queen Victoria, Queens Gardens, Brisbane
Queens Gardens in Brisbane is named in honor of Queen Victoria of the British Empire, for whom the celebrated and distinctive Victorian Era is also named. Among the many accomplishments she can claim, Victoria notably modernized the English monarchy and made the throne more symbolic than political. Victoria holds a special place in the history of the United Kingdom, and by extension Australia. It’s rare to see a monarch offer increased power to the people at the expense of the throne. The garden’s monument to Queen Victoria was created by Thomas Brock in 1906 but is still relevant today, as another English monarch — Queen Elizabeth II — continues to serve as Australia’s official head of state. This sculpture serves as a powerful reminder to observers of the lingering power of the United Kingdom in the Land Down Under.
The Big Captain Cook, Big Things, Cairns
You can’t make a road trip through Australia without stopping to snap a few selfies with Australia’s cult classicBig Things. Folk art has an ongoing love for big stuff like tall tales and larger-than-life heroes, and Australia’s Big Things do “big” in a big way. With an estimated 150 oversized statues of Australian heroes around the continent, and objects like instruments and local fish, these statues exemplify that winking Australian sense of humor and are a cult favorite for tourists and locals alike.
The Big Captain Cook in Cairns is our pick for the local folk flavor on our tour of Queensland’s figurative sculpture. This sculpture gives you a slice of Australia’s history from a more populist perspective. If you ask any Australian kid of schooling age, they’ll know all about Captain James Cook, the British explorer and cartographer who discovered Australia. Your family will love this history lesson, too, in the form of this larger-than-life sculpture.
The Little Old Man, Endeavour River, Cooktown
In case you haven’t noticed, we Australians love the story of Captain Cook. Aden and Karena McLeod created The Little Old Man sculpture in Cooktown — also named after Captain Cook — as a nod to the story of Cook’s coming to the southeastern coast of Cape York. Cook landed in the area in 1770 and stayed for 48 days while he repaired his ship and explored the local flora and fauna. At one point during his stay, the Europeans had a skirmish over a haul of captured turtles, but an indigenous elder — the inspiration for The Little Old Man — stopped the feud by approaching the armed Europeans holding a spear with a broken tip in a brave gesture of peace. Cooktown is known as an exemplar of social and cultural integration in this remote area of Australia, perhaps best exemplified by the common local saying, “two cultures, one people.”
The Little Old Man celebrates this wise man who helped to establish a culture of peace. This sculpture has a story with a heart beat behind it — you’ll walk away feeling uplifted by the courage of the human spirit, even in trying times.
We Can’t Wait to See You!
Honestly, you can’t capture the spirit and wildness of Australia in words. Whether it’s tromping through Queens Garden for a glimpse of our history as part of Great Britain or learning Australia’s early history through Big Captain Cook, the public figurative sculpture of Queensland paints a vivid picture of Australia’s past you won’t soon forget.
While you’re in the area, stop by and say hello! The McLeod studio is located in Tropical North Queensland in the Cairns Hinterland, approximately a one-hour drive from Cairns. Cairns lies on the coast by the Coral Sea and northern Great Barrier Reef. The hinterland is a World Heritage listed wet tropic rainforest, and it forms part of the Great Dividing Range that runs from North Queensland right down to southern Australia. Australia has some of the most gorgeous weather and beaches on the planet, so no matter where you go, you’ll enjoy the weather while you explore Australia’s outdoor artworks.
If you’re interested in cultural tourism and public art in Queensland, and you’d like to know more about where McLeod sculptures are located around Northern Australia, contact the McLeods today.