July 29th, 2013 | Photos, Sunnyside, Web Gilbert
I want to talk a little about Web Gilbert.
“Who is Web Gilbert?” you may well ask.
Gilbert was a sculptor, but perhaps I should go back to the beginning.
My favourite poet of all time is C. J. Dennis. Dennis was very much influenced by a small artists’ colony that was beginning to take shape in Kallista in the Dandenong Ranges. (It wasn’t called Kallista then, though. It was known as South Sassafras.)
John Garibaldi Roberts and his wife Roberta owned a hobby farm, called “Sunnyside”. Roberts worked in various senior positions for the Melbourne Tramways Company, and was wealthy. He and his wife were also very enthusiastic and active patrons of the arts.
The Roberts invited many of their artist friends to stay with them at “Sunnyside”. When the house proved too small, they arranged for their son, Frank, who was managing the property, to tow a number of the horse-drawn omnibuses that had been rendered obsolete by the new cable tram technology up to “Sunnyside”, to be placed in the paddocks around the house.
C. J. Dennis was given his own omnibus, and it was here that he completed writing his masterpiece, “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.
Another frequent visitor to “Sunnyside” was Web Gilbert. Gilbert’s life ran in a rough parallel to Henry Lawson’s. They were both born in the same year. Gilbert died three years after Lawson, but they were both very young – Lawson 55, Gilbert 58.
Gilbert actually began as a cake decorator, but moved from there to sculpting. Initially he used marble, but later he discovered the wonders of bronze. Gilbert did everything himself, a real ‘one man band’. This meant carting his own clay in wheelbarrows to make the moulds to eventually pour the bronze into. I have read that he dropped dead suddenly one day while wheeling his barrow. He had a studio in Gore Street, Fitzroy.
I will talk more about Gilbert later, but the sculpture that he is best known for is the Matthew Flinders statue outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
How many people walk past this statue every day without giving it a second thought? I know I did for many years.
I still know very little about it. I rang the Melbourne City Council one day to find out more information, and they very apologetically explained that they also know very little. They pointed me to the Public Records Office. I haven’t had a chance to get there yet, but hopefully I will one day.
Sadly, Gilbert died before the Flinders statue was installed.