Australian Public Art: There’s Something For Everyone in Your Local City

Creating public art is an important way to develop a unique urban character for a city. Public art is a chance for the city’s inhabitants to commemorate the facts, myths and legends of the city’s history and to reflect on contemporary trends that define the city today. It is also a way for the city to broadcast its personality to visitors. Every city in the world has public art. Here are some of the best spots in a number of Australia’s capital cities:


Tarpeian Way, which now covers the entrance to the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, hosts Memory is Creation without End by Kimio Tsuchiya. This art is a spiral of sandstone blocks, consisting of relics carved by stonemasons from demolished historic landmarks and buildings. The art symbolizes the circular connection of the past, present and future.

Youngsters by Caroline Rothwell includes two enchanting miniature hooded bronze figures in different poses in Sydney’s CBD. One statue stands nonchalantly outside the Burberry shop on George Street. The other is cheekily performing a handstand a few metres up Barrack Street. Locals like to pat the upright statue, giving it a gold sheen.

[Image sourced from Pollockgraphy]

A truly original piece of street art is Forgotten Songs by Michael Thomas Hill. Situated in Angel Place, Forgotten Songs is a collection of chirruping birdcages swinging above the laneway to remind us of past landscapes. The names of the bird species are engraved on the pavement, while an auditory rendering of the twitters of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney echo between the buildings as you walk past.

Finally, you can find Banksy art in both Sydney and Melbourne. Banksy is a pseudonymous street artist from the United Kingdom whose distinctive stencilling technique has featured on streets, walls and bridges in cities all around the world. The art often contains highly political or social observations - in both Australian cities, his most popular creation is the 'Little Diver', a figure in a heavy jacket and an antique diving helmet.


If you’re looking for wacky public art, Melbourne is without competition.

Architectural Fragment by Petrus Spronk is one of the most well known pieces of public art in Melbourne’s CBD. Positioned just outside the State Library of Victoria on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets, this artwork depicts a classical monument steadily sinking into the ground, hinting at the transient nature of humanity.

[Image sourced from City of Melbourne]

Simon Perry’s Public Purse is perhaps one of the most unique interpretations of street seating you may ever encounter. Resembling an oversized dropped purse, this monument outside the GPO on Bourke Street reflects the bustling shopping district in can be found in.

Arguably a favourite among Melbournites, however, is the lengthily entitled Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston and Hoddle. This art piece by Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn comprises three waif-thin, rather lost-looking pedestrians lingering on the corner of Swanston Street and Bourke Street. The life-sized images pay homage to the city’s pioneers in a more original way than a stiff commemorative statue.


Brisbane is a particularly imaginative city when it comes to public art, which can be found on just about every street corner. City Roos, for example, is an artwork spread out along George Street. Constructed from discarded scrap metal by Christopher Trotter, City Roos respects the shared space between recent arrivals to Australia and the country’s natives. It also encourages thought about the conservation of natural resources.

Steam by Donna Marcus is another work of public art made from recycled materials, this one from discarded aluminium kitchenware, or more specifically from vegetable steamers. The 15 steel geodesic spheres are made from 7,000 steamers and 780 plates bolted together. They are scattered about Raddacliff Place like enlarged runaway golf balls.

Finally, Feathers in Queen Street Mall is yet another artwork made from aluminium. The artist Bronwyn Oliver used Brisbane’s premiere gathering place to string two large feathers suspended on overhead wires. The artwork alludes to the ways in which humans, just like birds, use plumage to display status, beauty, availability and belonging.


Adelaide is a city of parks and as a result, many of its public artworks can be found surrounded by nature. Talking Our Way Home by local acclaimed artist Shaun Kirby is one such work of public art. This series of glass boats actually floats on the River Torrens. It is designed to engage with significant social and cultural issues.

Slate Pool Walkway by Catherine Truman is another artwork, found beside the Art Gallery of South Australia. The work consists of paginated cast bronze fish caught in the diamond gaps in painted steel gates. It is a metaphor for the boundaries we face in life.

[Image sourced from Adelaide City Council]

Adelaide’s public art displays like to raise questions, and this is no more obvious than in The Eternal Question by Richard Kelly Tipping. Located in Light Square, the monument asks why we’re here at all. It comprises six large black granite blocks in a circle. On each block is inscribed the word IS, IT, or IF. In the centre is a spiral question mark with a dot representing the sun.


Isolated as it is from the rest of Australia, much of Perth’s public art is themed around city’s origins and its environment. Heritage Map by Malcolm MacGregor on Royal Street is literally a granite map set into the pavement. It shows the streets and blocks of old East Perth with other elements to describe the suburb’s history.

Macey Walk Sculptured Seats is both artistic and functional. The artwork, by Mark Cox, consists of four seats carved from recycled jarrah timber and is based on industrial themes.

Bronze Swans by Sue Flavell and Gina Moore and Kangaroos at Stirling Gardens by Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith are both monuments to some of Australia’s beloved animals. Whether waddling beside the Swan River or bounding across Stirling Gardens, they are design to reconnect inner city residents with nature.

Of course, what we’ve listed above is just a small example of the great number of public artworks on display for Australians and foreigners alike in just a few of the country’s cities.

But the true beauty of public art is in the adventure of discovering it for yourself. Your favourite public artwork may be hidden down a seemingly unimportant laneway or it may be a bold but controversial structure outside your offices. But that’s the thing about cities: there’s enough public artwork around that you’re bound to have your favourites.

Richard Tarrant - Bio

Richard Tarrant - Founder and CEO of PictureStore Pty Ltd
Richard is founder and CEO of PictureStore and has worked since October 2000 to make wall art accessible to all Australians. Google+

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