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History

09 Mar 2017

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When you cross the Yarra to Southgate, the first building you encounter is Hamer Hall.  Finally opened in 1982, the Hall occupies the space previously called the Snowden Gardens. As gardens in Melbourne go, they were very small. Established in 1903, they contained rockeries and public seating amidst a variety of foliage and were a haven of grass and trees that provided a spatial link between Princes Bridge, the Yarra and the industrial area that became Southgate.

The gardens were named for Arthur Snowden, a former Lord Mayor, who represented the council on the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the body responsible for sewage and water supply.  

During the post World War II period, the once ornamental Snowden Gardens had become a crime-ridden rubbish dump and then a car park within the land under redevelopment for the Arts Centre.

One Melburnian who was upset by this was Ken Myer, of Department store fame, who was a generous patron of the arts and deplored the lack of fountains in the city.

Reputedly he funded (anonymously) a new modernist-style fountain in the gardens called the Wind Fountain. Designed in 1957 by the famous Melbourne architect (and critic) Robin Boyd and completed in 1960, it consisted of a series of three shallow bowls of decreasing diameter that collected water ejected from the bluestone walls of the plaza. The bowls hung over each other and descended towards the river.

It was an exciting day for Melbourne when the fountain was turned on, even if it was turned off immediately to resolve problems with the water. At street level was a railed walkway, with water blown from the top providing a spectacular experience. The flow and the height of the water were determined by strength of the wind, and Boyd must surely have smiled when observers were covered in spray on windy days. Despite this, many Melburnians felt that it was very calming to watch, less so when uni students added soap to it, making it froth and foam!

Boyd was a partner in Gromboyd, the legendary architectural practice that also included Roy Grounds (soon to leave the firm and design the NGV) and Frederick Romberg.

Sadly the fountain was lost to Melbourne when it was removed as part of the development of the southern bank of the Yarra and it made way for Hamer Hall. It was reputedly placed in storage awaiting reassembly in

Alexandra Gardens opposite where it was damaged beyond repair and then dumped.  But maybe not. I’d like to think that it’s in a council shed awaiting rescue and re-assembly.

Robin Grow

President - Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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