One of the delights of Perth is King’s Park, within walking distance of the city centre, and corresponding roughly in size to our own Phoenix Park. Mind you, with the Bougainvillea in flower, cockatoos and kookaburras singing in the trees and the temperature in the mid-thirties, it doesn’t really remind you of the Phoenix Park.
The main road through King’s Park is lined with tall, elegant gum trees, which provide just enough shade to make a walk in the park comfortably cool. At the base of every tree is a small plaque, maybe a foot long by eight inches high, and fixed in the ground by a spike coming out of the bottom of the plaque, no other form of fixing is visible. Each plaque bears the name of an Australian soldier killed in the First World War, and they were erected by the soldier’s families. They are incredibly sad, these bronze plaques, put there, under a gum tree, to commemorate the killing of a boy, thousands of miles from home, in Gallipoli or some other cold, wet, scene of mass carnage. I saddened me to think that such commemoration would not be possible in the Phoenix Park; the plaques to our heroes would disappear very quickly.
Nearby are the Botanical Gardens, so after my walk, I would find a place to sit and enjoy the sun, a rare enough treat for any Irish person, especially in the middle of March.
Last year I had the rare good fortune to pay my first visit to Paris. On my first day there I set out to visit the Arc De Triomphe, breathtakingly visible from the Place De La Concorde along the Avenue Des Champs Elysees. Napoleon commissioned the Arc as a tribute to France’s military heroes, but didn’t live to see it built. The view of Paris from the top of the fifty metre high Arc is something you could never forget.
Coming from the Place De La Concorde the first part of the Champs Elysees is a park, the road is lined with trees, and on the footpath on either side of the road there was an exhibition of sculpture. Priceless pieces of art, on the footpath, you could put out your hand and touch them, Picasso’s six foot tall woman, Giacometti’s frail thin man, Henry Moore’s squat Locking Piece. And I thought, what a wonderful expression of confidence by the City fathers in the cultural refinement of the citizens of Paris, that these works of art could be left unguarded on the footpath.
Later on in the year I went with my family for our holidays to Sligo. One of the things we do every year that we come here is to have a picnic in Hazelwood, on the shores of Lough Gill. It is a small wood, dense with undergrowth, with mossy paths leading through the trees, and the lapping sound of the lake reminding you of its presence. There is nowhere on earth nicer for a walk.
Dotted here and there in clearings in the woods, are pieces of sculpture, commissioned originally I think by Sligo County Council. And as befits their location, they are all made of timber. The largest piece is by James McKenna, and is called “Fergus Rules the Brazen Cars”. It consists of three elements, of heroic proportions, two horses and a charioteer. The horses are about nine feet high and ten feet nose to tail. Fergus is of the same noble stature. To walk through the trees of Hazelwood, to turn a corner and see this inspired piece of art in front of you would take your breath away.
But this year was different. Someone, using a sharp implement, a hatchet or a rock, had gouged lumps out of the horses. Fergus had lost a part of his head. The horse’s heads had been attacked, pieces were broken off their legs and tails, and worst of all, their backs and haunches were mutilated and were no longer weatherproof. In time the rain will lodge in the holes, and slowly rot away the entire, wonderful work of art. God knows how long these pieces could have lasted if left alone, many generations to come could have been delighted by them.
Further along the trail is another of my favourite pieces, two wooden doves sitting on perches, framing the view of the lake. This too had attracted attention since my last visit; one of them had been decapitated.
My picnic sandwiches had a slightly bitter taste that day. I think it will be a while before I go back to Hazelwood.