Amidst ongoing bad news about bashings and alcohol-related violence, the Kings Cross community had reason to celebrate over the weekend, with the reopening of the El Alamein Memorial Fountain.
An icon of Kings Cross and of Sydney since it opened in 1961, the Fountain officially reopened on Saturday, marking the end of six months’ reconstruction work.
Work on the Fountain – which commemorates the Battles of El Alamein, Egypt during World War II – included replacement of its 211 brass and bronze ‘water wands,’ waterproofing, repairs to the red sandstone surrounding the Fountain, replacement of thousands of missing or damaged mosaic tiles and maintenance to the fountain’s tanks, pumps and filtration systems.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP said the reopening marked the end of a painstaking five year project.
“Five years ago the City of Sydney began consulting with fountain architect Bob Woodward on a restoration project, and following his death in 2010, the work was carried out with the help and guidance of family members,” said Ms Moore.
“This extensive project was undertaken in accordance with the State Heritage Register’s guidelines and it’s terrific to see the Fountain restored to its original glory.”
The 2011 Residents Association, which represents residents of the Kings Cross area, was effusive in its praise for the project. The association’s president, Lucas Crabtree said: “We really support this refurbishment, which was done in a sensitive, thoughtful way with due respect to the relevant heritage considerations.
“It’s great to have our landmark back. It symbolises our community and it’s a great meeting point for local residents. I’ve already arranged to meet up with friends there on the weekend.”
Local resident and City of Sydney Liberal councillor, Shayne Mallard was also enthused. “I’m a big supporter of the restoration,” he said. “It’s an important memorial and an iconic landmark of the city.
“What I really like about it is that it brings the freshness of water and the harbour into the suburb and, in fact, I would like to see more fountains in Sydney.”
But the reopening was not without controversy.
Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society, said it was a political stunt to benefit the Lord Mayor ahead of imminent council elections.
“Saturday’s reopening was just a standard ribbon-cutting exercise for Clover’s benefit,” he claimed.
Mr Woodhouse broadly supported the Fountain’s restoration but criticised the funding arrangements. “This was a straightforward matter of maintenance, so funding should have come out of the City’s maintenance budget, not its public art budget,” he said.
“This particular piece of public art was created more than 50 years ago, so excuse me for yawning about the City spending public art money on it.”
A City of Sydney spokesperson countered: “No public art programs in Kings Cross, or anywhere else, have been put on hold as a result of this restoration project.
“The City has a dedicated Public Art Conservation Program and funding from this program is used to maintain and preserve more than 240 public artworks across Sydney.
“The restoration was funded through the Public Art Conservation Program within the City’s Capital Works Budget.”