Centennial Park has been watched over since the 1890s – watched by a protective and ancient set of eyes. In fact, two sets of eyes. These protective presences are part of a tradition that dates back several millienia. These presences are two fantastic sculptures that you may have walked past many times without stopping. Hopefully next time you might pause and take a closer look.
One of the Griffins, in place since the 1890s
Two griffin sculptures were originally installed on Parkes Drive in the 1890s, at the junction of Hamilton Drive near the statue of Sir Henry Parkes.
The griffins guarded each side of the main entry road leading down from Paddington Gates.
They were originally manufactured by Villeroy and Boch and made of ceramic. They sat on the same sandstone plinths they sit on today.
By 1946 the griffins were in poor condition. Each sculpture was missing detail including the head, wings and feet. The surface coating of the sculptures and the mouldings on the top coping stones of the plinths had also eroded.
In 1971 the griffins were removed for safekeeping to the Centennial Parklands Depot.
Firstly, what is a Griffin?
The Griffin, according to Encyclopaedia Mythica, is a legendary creature with the head, beak and wings of an eagle, the body of a lion and occasionally the tail of a serpent or scorpion.
Its origin lies somewhere in the Middle East where it is found in the paintings and sculptures of the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians.
The later Romans used them for decoration and even in Christian times the Griffin motif often appears. Griffins were frequently used as gargoyles on medieval churches and buildings.
Griffins are usually heroic symbols. They are well known for their speed, ability to fly and having eyes like an eagle, as well as the strength and courage of a lion (there’s even more information about Griffins here if you’re interested).
But Centennial Park’s Griffins don’t have eagle heads!?!
True. Although referred to as griffins, winged lions such as the ones seen in Centennial Park are not true griffins but a hybrid known as a ‘gryphonic’. True griffins have the face, beak, talons and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.
So, what happened to the Griffins in Centennial Park after 1971?
The Griffins sat in the Centennial Park Depot for around 30 years. Then in December 2004, an opportunity arose to work with a consortium of organisations to fully restore and return the Griffins to Centennial Park (this consortia included the then Department of Commerce, Government Architects Office, Heritage Services, Maxim Consulting and Millennium Art Services).
The Griffins, pre-restoration, are moved to the Government Stoneyard
The modelling of the missing portions of the griffins was carried out on the existing griffins—allowing for complete accuracy. The modelling was guided by the catalogue supplied by Villeroy and Boch in Germany.
Once completed, the mould making process began. The missing elements were modelled in clay then coated with silicon rubber between 6-8mm thick. Once the rubber was cured, castings were made of a micro-ceramic composite material. 16mm stainless steel rods were set into the wings and head for reinforcement.
One of the Griffins in the stoneyard awaiting restoration
Returned to Centennial Park
One of the Griffins lowered into place
On Thursday 7 April 2005, a small ceremony was held to mark the return of the Griffins to Centennial Park.
The Griffins were lifted off the back of a truck and lowered onto the original plinths that they had stood in since the 1890s.
The then NSW Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, the Hon Sandra Nori MP, said the return of the two statues marked a great day in the history of Centennial Parklands.
“To see the return of these lovingly-restored creatures gives a sense of the Parklands as they looked many years ago,” Ms Nori said.
“These two magnificent creatures will once again guard the statue of Sir Henry Parkes as diligently as they guarded their gold in ancient mythology.”
The Griffins today
We have since installed uplighting of the Griffins which park visitors may enjoy if they are walking by at dusk most evenings.
The Griffins today stand either side of Parkes Drive in Centennial Park, flanking the statue of Sir Henry Parkes.
The Griffins are two of Centennial Park’s great statues. Which statue in Centennial Park is your favourite?
Griffin statue standing near Sir Henry Parkes statue – photo by Phil Quirk
Close details of the Griffin wing – photo by Suzanne Peri-Chapman
The Griffin today – photo by Phil Quirk