Crown Street Mall art will ‘look like it’s off the back of a truck’

"It will be a contrast to the very square effect that’s here," Gordon Bradbery, pictured with artist Mike Hewson, said.
"It will be a contrast to the very square effect that’s here," Gordon Bradbery, pictured with artist Mike Hewson, said.

More than 200 tonnes of rock will be lifted in to Crown Street Mall over the next six weeks, as Wollongong’s controversial public art piece is installed.

To be made of huge pieces of sandstone and four live, uprooted cabbage tree palms, the art is designed to break up the mall’s stark concrete jungle. Pieces will be spread throughout the mall and act as functional seating and a playground.

New Zealand artist Mike Hewson has acknowledged his project – which “should just look like it’s off the back of a truck” – will spark mixed reviews.

“It’s quite complicated to make it sound like it will work, but that’s okay – it will be nice,” he said. “We’re trying to help the mall function better, and break up the regularity of the poles and trees… and I think the children’s playground will be pretty amazing. It’s bringing the landscape into the mall into a fun way – just wait six weeks: I think it will provide identity-forming icons for the city.”

An artist's impression of the playground design.

An artist's impression of the playground design.

The art will included “tree seats” made from naturally misshapen palms and sandstone rock formations.

“I think the trees are the most interesting element, because they’re actually a live, growing element – they’re quite slow growing and will gain about a metre every 10 years,” Mr Hewson said.

Read more: Troubled history of Crown Street Mall in photos

One of the playground rock formations will weigh more than 30 tonnes, while the others will weigh more than 20 tonnes each. They are expected to be lifted in by mid-October.

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the work posed a series of “interesting challenges”.

“There are going to be those who think it’s great, those who think it’s a waste money,” he said.

“It will be an interesting contrast to the very square effect that’s here at the present time, and I think it will create a lot of interest and conversations.”

Read more: 18 iconic structures Wollongong destroyed in photos

“That’s what an artist is about, to stretch the visual possibilities.”

“The sandstone coming down from Bundanoon is really beautifully cut and shaped, and it will be a great contrast to the basalt tiles – and it will really show what you can do with a palm tree.”

Councillors voted to work with Mr Hewson in 2015, with the $430,000 fee for the work set aside out of the original Crown Street Mall upgrade budget.

The rocky playground and seating concept was selected by the council’s specially appointed art curator from more than 150 artists around the world.

Installation to take six weeks

  • The 130-tonne crane will be brought to site in six pieces before being assembled in the lower Crown Street Mall.
  • The playground is made up of three major rocks, quarried to order from Bundanoon Sandstone Limited who have provided them to the community in an in-kind sponsorship arrangement.
  • The playground is the first component of the artwork to be installed, followed by rock boulders and seating near Kembla Street in the lower Mall and at the intersection of Church and Crown Streets.
  • Work is expected to take about six weeks.