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Two Pillars of Melbourne


Atlantes  

I was making a brisk pace through the darkness to the carpark when I heard a low but sonorous voice from the bushes. Unsure whether the best option was to stop or to quicken my pace I chose the former. The voice came again – definitely from the bushes on the left. It said “abandon all hope” and was almost immediately joined by a voice from the right which said “ye who enter here”. I was facing the ominous darkened entrance to the underground carpark at the university and on hearing these words I involuntarily muttered “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.”

“There!” said the statue on the left. “I told you we should always use the Latin. This is a university, after all.” “Yes” said the statue on the right “but how long is it since they abandoned a classical education and the liberal arts. We’ve got a far better chance of scaring them if we use the vulgar English.” “If you had your way” said the statue on the left “we’d be using classical Greek and you can’t even use that to order a souvlaki. But we’re interrupting our new friend in the white hat. What are you doing here?” “I’m here to pick up my car – what are you doing here?” “We’re here to hold up the lawn and form an entrance to the carpark.” “Yes but mainly to hold up the lawn” added the other.

By way of making smalltalk and in order to gain entry I commented that they seemed well constructed for holding up things such as lawns. “Lawns!” said the one on the left. “We used to hold up a whole building. In, out, in, out they’d go while hardly noticing it was us that were holding up the Colonial Bank of Australasia. But we knew the main reason they chose our business for their banking was the symbol of solidity we provided.” “So you could be called two pillars of society” I said. I knew it was the wrong thing to say even before I had finished the sentence. “Pillars! Pillars! Our correct title is Atlantes! You as a Latin scholar should know that, and I’m sorry if I’ve been a little testy so you may just wish to call us by the names our friends use. I am A1 and my friend here is A2.”

“You might not realise it, young fellow” continued A1 “but when Melbourne was at its height you really had to compete to show how established your business was. Back then, ancient Roman” [“or Greek” added A2] “meant solidity. There was one insurance company that used the statue from the Ballarat Gardens as its symbol – ‘The Flight from Pompeii’” “Huh – Flight from Pompeii” said A2. "Running from Pompeii with just a flimsy sheet above your head to protect you from the molten lava and flying boulders! What sort of protection is that? A good pair of Atlantes is what you need.” “To hold things up” added A1. “That’s what we do!” said A2.

“We were in Elizabeth Street” “Corner of Little Collins” added A1. “I bet they’ve still got impressive Atlantes on the major banks”. “Well, not exactly” I explained. “The big bank over the road from where you were has a big yellow diamond with a black part where some of it has fallen off. It’s called a logo.” “And that inspires confidence and solidity. I’m glad we’ve moved on A2.” “At least we’re holding up something – even if it’s only a lawn. . . She’s up there you know” confided A2.”Who?” I asked. “The pretty one from the Equitable Life Assurance Society. She used to be on the corner of Elizabeth & Collins. She’s on the lawn up there now.” “I keep telling you stop thinking about her” said A1. “She’s got children and . .” “HANDS ON HEADS! said A2 suddenly. All three of us froze as the female student made her way out of the darkness and into the carpark. Once the sound of the snazzy little convertible had receded the Atlantes relaxed their hands from above their heads. “Did you see the flimsy little legs on that one?” asked A1. “They might be long, but they’re no use for holding things up.” said A2. I agreed although I thought they may go some way to explaining why she was driving a snazzy little convertible.

“Whatever happened to Atlas?” asked A2. “Now there was a fellow who knew how to hold things up. He was right up there on the skyline in Collins Street on top of the Atlas Insurance Building holding up the earth.” “He’s now at street level in the same place” said A1 “where thousands of people pass him every day and nobody notices him.” “Position, position, position” mused A2. “Remember when they started removing us from the city and you threatened a mass walkout of Atlantes. Imagine that – buildings falling down everywhere all over Melbourne! But you only ever talked about it.” “Well I was going to do it but they shifted us here before I had a chance to organise it. They’ll always need Atlantes to hold up buildings. What are they using now?”  I explained that a much-praised modern apartment block in the city has a number of bronze Atlantes. “Bronze!” “Bronze!” echoed A2. “Try tapping it. Hollow!” “Flimsy!” “No substance!” Would you use hollow eggshells to hold up your building? No – solid stone!” said A1 thumping his chest.

Atlantes  

I attempted to divert the discussion from bronze to modern building methods. I pointed out that the modern office block at 101 Collins Street has a set up columns out the front which hold up – nothing. “Nothing?” “Absolutely nothing” I replied. “Ah, they’ll never get rational people through that door. Who is going to walk into a building that isn’t being held up? Mark my words A2, they’ll soon realise they need Atlantes and then we can name our own price.” But A2 hadn’t been listening. “Whatever happened to that poncy Mercury that was on the Age Building in Collins Street? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s somewhere in Kings Cross now.” “No, he’s in the museum.” “What’s a museum?” “It’s a place where you get ‘interpreted’. They put you on display with labels which tell people what they’re supposed to think about you and school children fill out worksheets about you.” “I’m glad we’re here and not being interpreted A1. And we’ve got something to hold up.” “Even if it’s only a lawn.” added A1.

"Now, I’ve been thinking” said A1. "Remember Britannia and the Goddess who were on the Union Bank of Australia in Collins Street. Well they’re not far away now in the Architecture building and I was thinking that maybe me and Britannia and you and the ..” “Has she got good load-bearing legs?” “Sturdy as they come.” “Well let’s give it a try. Maybe we could make up different pairings for holding up things.” “It would save having to talk to you every night . . “

I used this chance to slip into the carpark and make my way home.

If you find yourself at the entrance to this carpark one night just try mentioning the name White Hat (in Latin of course) to the Atlantes and you will find that their hands will slowly slip from their heads and they will tell you stories of an earlier Melbourne and its buildings that you wouldn’t believe. . .I promise.

BL

Copyright © 1995 - 2019 White Hat.

Other articles in the series Seven Monuments of Melbourne:

Seven Monuments of Melbourne - overview

No.1 – A Monument to Sydney-Melbourne Rivalry
No.2 – Two Yarra Bookends
No.3 - An Antarctic Monument
No.4 – Troubles on the other side of the world
No.5 - A Plaque but no Statue
No.6 - Two Pillars of Melbourne
No.7 - Two Horse Troughs

You can find a comprehensive guide to markets around Australia at The White Hat Guide to Markets in Australia.