Jeff Kennett Gargoyle

By Mary Ryllis Clark
The Age, June 7 2002

Walk through the tall wrought-iron gates leading to St Patrick’s Cathedral, turn right beside the statue of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, walk past St Catherine of Siena and you will come to the eastern transept or side-entrance. Look up and you will see two stone heads, one on each side of the stone arch. One is a lion; the other a man.

There is no mistaking the long, lean face, the hooked nose and thick quiff. It bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain former premier. When it rains, water gushes out from the large, gaping mouth. At other times, it seems to utter a silent but gleeful: "I’ll be here long after you’re gone!"

For years it has been rumoured that Jeff Kennett was the model for one of the gargoyles on the side of the cathedral. Now the master stonemason Tom Carson, who carved the two new gargoyles, confirms the truth. Mr Carson finished the job of carving two new gargoyles for the east transept in 1992. He describes his Kennett gargoyle - inspired by a caricature in The Age by John Spooner - as "just a whim but in keeping with a centuries-old tradition".

Mr Carson says that stone makers have always used people in positions of power, including priests, bishops, mayors and lords, as models for their gargoyles.

"When they first began doing Gothic buildings in the 12th century, the stonemasons were cartoonists, so they did all these funny animals and they’d get the local mayor’s or lord’s face, or the dean of the cathedral and make him look like a monster," he says.

Jeff Kennett, the man, has not seen the gargoyle but intends to and is clearly delighted. "I did hear rumours about the gargoyle but have not tried to locate it," he says. "Not being of the Catholic faith but sympathetic to it, I think it’s highly appropriate."

Gargoyles are the elaborately carved tops of water pipes that carry rainwater away from a cathedral’s gutters and spouting. The word comes from the French gargouille meaning throat or gullet. While gargoyles are mostly grotesque creatures, perhaps part dragon, part monster, they are also caricatures of people known to the carver. In a sense they are cartoons set in stone.

Mr Carson says he took "a bit of liberty" in using Kennett as the model, as stonemasons are generally supposed to reproduce originals when undertaking restoration work. It took him six weeks to make; first he made a clay model, then copied it in stone.

Mr Carson has seen French gargoyles of men showing their backsides to the world and of men and women with distorted faces and tongues poking out.

"This is where the playfulness comes in," he says.

"It was the master mason’s way of making fun of local dignitaries, or perhaps settling a score."

The cathedral, which was designed by William Wardell in 1858, is one of the largest Gothic Revival churches in the world. It took more than 80 years to build and was completed in 1940. Most of its gargoyles are in the form of animals; some fantastic, such as the monstrous lion head, others familiar, such as the koalas.

"I was very lucky to be able to get away with doing something a bit different," says Mr Carson.

"If you look at it, it’s a classic big-mouth Jeff Kennett face."

- with Chee Chee Leung

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/06/06/1022982745434.html