2003/51/1 Plaque depicting Federation pavilion in Centennial Park, fibrous plaster, designed by Frederick Winchester Grant, made by Grant and Cocks, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1901-1903
The Sydney firm of Grant and Cocks specialised in 'plastic art'; that is the modelling of plasterwork for both domestic ceilings and cornices and public works such as the temporary ceremonial arches of the type that featured in Australia's various Federation celebrations. The firm also cast metal statues including the lions outside the NSW Treasury Building, which became the Intercontinental Hotel.
This plaque was made, probably by modeller Frederick Winchester Grant himself, to commemorate the involvement of his firm in the construction of the Federation pavilion in Centennial Park. It was in there that the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated on January 1 1901. Designed by NSW Government Architect WL Vernon, the white marble-like pavilion had a dramatic impact upon those who witnessed the ceremony. The Sydney Morning Herald described its 'pure whiteness and chaste beauty' at length. The pavilion's 'simple purity and graceful elegance of outline, its exquisite modellings designed to symbolise the arts and crafts of the Commonwealth stood incomparably above all other inanimate displays of the day.' (SMH 2/1/1901)
Built only of fibrous plaster and wood, the pavilion was dismantled after 3 years. The frame was reputedly relocated in Cabarita Park but nothing of the original plasterwork is known to have survived. However as it was extensively photographed and filmed on the day of inauguration, the pavilion has remained the most instantly recognisable icon of Australia's Federation.
Grant only made five plaques. One was given to Lord Hopetoun. The others remained within the Grant family. This plaque, kept by Grant himself, is the only example known to have survived at the time of acquisition and has remained a source of pride for the descendants of Grant since it was made.
Like the structure it commemorates, the plaque is made of fibrous plaster by the firm, and probably the man, that modelled the original pavilion. It is very significant as a unique and tangible link to that most significant of structures, and to the aesthetics, material and techniques used in many of the temporary monuments that characterised civic art in Australia in the Federation era.
In itself the plaque is also an interesting piece of historical interpretation. That the four prominent corner relief busts are all NSW figures demonstrates a strong NSW bias. The inclusion of now largely forgotten figures such as Robert Philp and Sir Neil Lewis, and the exclusion of Alfred Deakin in the pantheon commemorated in busts and cartouches adds to the interest of the plaque.