Monday, December 14, 2009

The Robert Brough Memorial Fountain

Things I like about Sydney No. 6: The Robert Brough Memorial Fountain.

Within the precincts of the Sydney Hospital near the perimeter of the Botanic Gardens in the centre of town lies a beautifully hidden surprise....

The Sydney Hospital in itself is a marvellous thing - it reminds me more than anything else in Sydney of Victorian London with its iron and glass lamps and soft-coloured stone. But go beyond its brash facade and the copy of the Florentine Boar (Il Porcellino) whose nose you rub for good luck and you will reach an inner courtyard in the centre of which is the most splendid, camp, magical fountain...

It comprises three tiers of colourful cast-iron which look like they are pretending to be majolica. On the largest tier there is circle of brolgas (an Australian stork) surrounded by bright orange bulrushes. On the tier above, a national symbol - black swans. All these birds have preposterously bright brick red beaks and legs set off against a vivid yellow background dotted with olive-green lily pads. The effect is stunning and somewhat unexpected, as if you have stumbled into an ex-patients' morphine-addled hallucination.

Made in England by the Colebrookdale Factory, shipped out here and installed in 1907, the fountain was paid for by the funds raised by the many fans of Robert Brough. But why? Who was Robert Brough?

Well it turns out that during the period of Oscar Wilde's trial and eventual imprisonment in 1895 (after which, as we all know, poor Oscar was cast into prison and into the depths of despair), whilst the whole of London ceased to perform his plays or even to mention the sodomite's name,  in Sydney it was a different story. For Robert Brough, who was both an actor and the founder of the unfunny-sounding Brough-Boucicault Comedy Company, was busy shamelessly introducing Australia to the delights of Wilde's dramas. Brough's productions of Wilde were enthusiastically attended by colonial high society including several governors and their wives and Brough had the nerve to promote the plays as being by Wilde in his theatrical advertisements a full decade before London dared to do likewise.

So Hoorah for Robert Brough! Hoorah for Sydney! Hoorah for the Robert Brough Memorial Fountain.  If only Wilde had been exiled to Sydney like all those other convicts instead of living his last years dying miserably in Paris all would have been well and he would, no doubt, have found something extremely withering and witty to say about this fountain....

1 comment:

  1. Wow Jonathan. I'm learning things from this blog! Keep it up! You'll might succeed in civilizing us all!