Ladies and gentlemen – a couple of years ago I met John and Patricia Azarias, founders for the Lysicrates Foundation, and they told me the story behind this monument. And I loved it.
Because it reflects, in so many ways, the rich, diverse and generally eccentric story of our nation.
It is the replica – the distant echo – of a monument from ancient Athens, which is still standing today.
It is an echo that sounds for so many of us, calling across the seas to the distant shores of our own cultural ancestry.
At the same time, it is an emblem of this shore – the Sydney shore – because it is carved from the stone beneath our very feet – the wonderful, delicate, instantly recognisable Sydney yellowblock sandstone.
This monument exists because in 1870, an eccentric and cultured character who is central to our history – Sir James Martin – thought it would be a nice feature in his Potts Point garden. [I’m told Mrs Martin would have been happy with a garden gnome, but Sir James just wouldn’t be told.]
So there is something almost whimsical and unassuming about the monument’s very existence.
And in some ways, that reflects the equally unlikely and unassuming genesis of our nation – a convict outpost at the ends of the earth, that is now among the most prosperous and free nations history has ever known.
‘Passion alone cannot carve stone’
But, ladies and gentlemen, the truth is, this monument had fallen into disrepair. It was weatherbeaten and worse for wear.
And so there are two reasons we are standing here today to unveil a monument that has been returned to its former glory.
The first is passion. And few people I have met have a greater passion for culture, for heritage, for history and the arts than John and Patricia Azarias.
It is their passion that has driven the restoration of this monument, and it is only because of that passion that we are here today.
However, while John and Patricia have many talents, their passion alone cannot carve stone.
Stonework like this is delicate work. And that is where our Government’s fantastic team of specialist stonemasons come in.
And joining us here today are a number of those stonemasons, including the leader of the unit, Master Stonemason Paul Thurloe.
Stonemasons are ‘unsung heroes of our history’
When you wander around our state, so many of the stunning sandstone landmarks you see have been quietly restored and maintained by our heritage stonemasons.
They are the unsung heroes of our history, because the buildings they tend to – from Old Government House in Parramatta, to the Bathurst Courthouse, to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, to the Sydney Observatory – these buildings tell the story of our city and our nation, and we would not know that story without the stonemasons’ work.
They are the custodians of the centuries-old skills that will keep our heritage safe for years to come, and they continue to pass those skills on as the major employer of apprentices for the heritage stonework industry.
Just last week, I announced a major initiative to rejuvenate the heritage landmarks on Macquarie Street – the Land and Property Information building, the Mint, the Sydney Hospital, Hyde Park Barracks, Parliament House, and the State Library.
Our stonemasons have had a hand – a skilled hand – in preserving all of those buildings, and undoubtedly they will be called upon again as the Macquarie Street project moves ahead.
Future generations to enjoy monument for years to come
But of course today we are here because of the work our stonemasons have done to restore this monument.
While I can’t say I have ever laid my hands on a chisel, I was certainly pleased to be able to bring the restoration of this monument into the Minister’s Stone Program so that our heritage stonemasons could weave their delicate magic on its weathered features.
And how magical the monument looks today.
This restoration has brought the monument back to life, and now we – and future generations – will be able to marvel at its intricacy, its beauty, and its history for years to come.
So I would like to thank you all for being here.
Thank you to John and Patricia and the Lysicrates Foundation – and also to the Royal Botanic Gardens – for showing the drive to make this project happen.
And thank you to our stonemasons, who have worked so hard on the project, and whose skills will be celebrated here in a piece of our nation’s history for years to come.