The Great Petition Sculpture
The Great Petition Sculpture:
Commemorating 100 years of the Women's Vote in Victoria
Video By Sophie Boord
Not for downloadCopyright
"Great Petition" was created by artists Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee and launched on 3rd December 2008 to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote in Victoria.
In this video, Susan and Penelope discuss the meaning of the artwork and the process of making it: from community consultation, choosing the location, developing the design, and fabrication.
"Great Petition" was commissioned by Arts Victoria in collaboration with the City of Melbourne.
Penelope Lee: There hasn’t been a significant artwork dedicated to women’s history here in the State, so there was recognition that this was pretty much pioneering something, and so it had a magnitude in itself. We were able to bring together quite a comprehensive group – a bipartisan group of women
Susan Hewitt: ..that could inform us and educate us about what the work was to be, or what they could sort of see it to be.
Penelope Lee: They were really adamant that they wanted it in a public space in the CBD, because the suffragette movement was about claiming the public domain. So they wanted it prominent. They wanted people to see this work. It was interesting because what needed to happen was that we needed to find a bit of…some cultural material, which encapsulated something. What really finally sort of struck us was…there was this Monster Petition.
Susan Hewitt: When you saw this 260m of paper all carefully collected on A4 sheets – or it would have been a different measurement at that time – by a number of Victorian women, you know, walking around door to door. So you could actually see the magnitude of the effort and the time required to have put this petition together. We ended up having three concepts in maquette stage. Penelope and I had a number of meetings, initially with the engineer in putting together the final drawings in which the fabricator is obviously going to work from.
Penelope Lee: We knew it was going to be mild steel, but as to how that steel is subsequently supported
Susan Hewitt: …and how it would translate as well…
Penelope Lee: … and constructed and translates, and finishes and such…
Susan Hewitt: So that’s where we were guided by the engineer in obviously making recommendations to the form of steel that would be used – and also under…having an understanding that even though we had the maquette and we wanted the work to be virtually identical to that, there was going to be some limitation.
Penelope Lee: It doesn’t matter how many maquettes you do, until you have the physical reality of something scaled up, you know, you …there is always a sense of “How exactly is this going to work?” I know that I’ve done all my checks and balances; I know we’ve considered everything, but really, what presence is it going to have?
We decided that we would have the work sitting on a bluestone plinth…that emulated the steps of Parliament House. It was a great platform on which to put their primary signage, because I don’t think we wanted the meaning to get lost in any way. And what’s so beautiful is that the way it’s going to be achieved is using an age-old skill of…you know…chiselling into a piece of bluestone. It’s a tradition that’s…that really hasn’t changed over…I wouldn’t…you know…hundreds and hundreds of years, so it’s been a really nice element to see…again, some of these old skills being brought into the work.
Susan Hewitt: So it will read as “Referencing the Monster Petition of 1891, this artwork celebrates the individual and collective efforts of Victorian women and their fortitude in claiming the right to vote. It is a permanent acknowledgement of those who united to bring about change.”
Penelope Lee: We had the extra challenge though of actually not having the site determined for this work. We came up with the ideal spot, Susan and I on many evenings, walking around Melbourne, came across this small triangular piece of land at the top end of Collins and Bourke. We had spent some time thinking about site characteristics and it ticked the box on every level. It feels very natural in that environment, I mean it’s commanding, though it’s not intrusive in any way. People can pass it by the tram…you’ve also got the proximity of Parliament Station…a number of pedestrians that walk in and around the work…so that the way in which people can engage with the work is on multiple levels. There is also the opportunity to sit within the park, and probably considering, I know Susan and I would be thrilled to think that maybe in future generations it could ultimately be a meeting spot for people.
Susan Hewitt: Fabricated in steel and bluestone, the work symbolises the strength, the determination, and the courage of Victorian women, and finished in parchment, the work is a testament to their grace, subtlety and ingenuity. In our consultations one emphatic request was made by a prominent ex-Parliamentarian “Make it big so the blokes can see it”.
Penelope Lee: Our brief has been to create a lasting public work that would capture and celebrate the immense, but for many, unknown history of women and Victorian suffrage.
Premier of Victoria, the Hon John Brumby: As we’ve heard from Penelope and Susan, the sculpture was inspired by the Monster Petition – the suffragettes’ response at the time to the then Premier’s challenge to prove to the Government, to prove to the Parliament, to prove to the People, that ordinary women did, in fact, want the right to vote – and this unveiling today of this sculpture is a strong reminder, I think, if all that’s been done, and that remains to be done over the next decades and hundred years ahead. So it now gives me great pleasure to formally launch ‘The Great Petition’ by Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee. Well done!