In 1972, most of the remaining the statuary in the park, including the Dickens statue, was removed and placed in storage. The statue was then lost in the mists of time, being moved around to locations known and unknown for over 40 years!
An intriguing hunt for Dickens!
When Gaenor Vallack, a volunteer at the NSW Library and member of The Dickens Society, was flicking through Edwin Wilson’s book The Wishing Tree a picture of a Charles Dickens’ statue caught her eye. “Where is that beautiful statue?” she asked the NSW Dickens Society and her simple question prompted the Society’s then President, Sandra Faulkner, on a trail of discovery and intrigue.
In November 2006, Sandra wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Column 8 asking if anyone had any idea if the statue still existed and if so, where was it? The request was republished in February 2007 as the initial letter did not elicit a single response. “We must find Mr. Dickens”, the Column 8 editor wrote.
However this was not the first investigation into the missing statue. The Melbourne Branch of the Dickens Fellowship had also tried to locate the statue and the late Cedric Dickens, great grandson of the novelist, had initiated the interest by writing to the Sydney Morning Herald in March 1986. It was the Melbourne Fellowship that established that the statue had been put into dry storage in the basement of T A Taylor and Sons in Rozelle, NSW.
Later in February 2007, Column 8 jubilantly published correspondence from Geoff Hearn saying that the statue was “placed into protective custody by the Royal Botanic Gardens some time ago…necessary due to the damage inflicted by vandals (he lost his head)”. The statue was found.
In 2008, The Botanic Gardens Trust offered to return the statue to Centennial Park. In partnership with the Department of Services, Technology and Administration’s (DSTA) Centenary Stoneworks Program, Centennial Parklands then began preparation for the return of the Dickens statue to its home.
Restoration of a rare statue
The sculptor Ruben Varfi from NSW Public Works had the task of reconstructing Dickens’s head. Other restoration and re-creation works on the statue by the NSW Public Works team included his right hand’s baby finger, scroll and quill (see the pre-restored statue on right).
The restoration required a single quality block of Bianco P marble, a high quality grade of white marble from Carrara in Italy. Sourcing the marble proved extremely difficult and it took three attempts over 12 months to find a perfect match.
Once the marble was procured, the intricate and detailed process of reconstructing Dickens’ missing elements began. The carvers use old photographs, portraits and live models in an effort to understand the form and character. Various models were then constructed for approval, following which the casters took a silicon mould, to create a plaster mould from which they took the Dickens profile. Only then did the carving begin!
“An excellent site”
After much research, it was decided to site the Dickens statue on the junction of Dickens Drive and Loch Avenue. This was the location where it stood for 74 years from 1897 until 1971. It was moved from its original location on the corner of Parkes and Hamilton Drives to make way for a statue of the late Sir Henry Parkes.
The relocation was recorded in the 1898 Report of Botanic Gardens & Domains: ‘An excellent site was chosen for the removal of that of Charles Dickens to a scarcely inferior site in the park, near the centre, at the junction of what are known as flat roads. The spot is much frequented by the public and there is very little statuary within a considerable distance.’
A 1935 site plan of Centennial Park shows that Loch Avenue was then known as Dickens Road which indicated that the statue was in the vicinity and the road subsequently named after it.