For the love of Myrtle

“Who on earth is Myrtle?” I hear you ask. If you were a Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College student, you probably know exactly who I’m referring to. But for those who do not know, Myrtle was a central figure of the College in the 1950s and ’60s who played a significant role in the, some would say, ‘cultural life’ of the students.

Image of Myrtle
Myrtle of the Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College [SA1/330].
In 1954 a bronze statue was purchased by the College with the assistance of a donation by the Wagga and District Chamber of Commerce. This female figure, holding aloft a lamp, was created by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a French sculptor who was born in 1824.

Myrtle in shop.
Myrtle, while she was still at the place of purchase [CSU2769/684].
She was installed within one of the rose gardens of the College, in front of the administration block and visible from the College gates. The story is that she received her name from a nearby crepe myrtle bush; we only know the students were affectionately calling her ‘Myrtle’ by June 1956.

Myrtle in the garden.
Myrtle in the Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College gardens [SA1/331].
It appears Myrtle was beloved of all the students and they demonstrated that love in a myriad of ways. In 1962, WJ Rowlinson composed a poem in her honour:

A poem about Myrtle.
A poem to Myrtle by WJ Rowlinson, published in Talkabout on 29 March 1962.

For others, that love took another turn… The positioning of Myrtle’s gown resulted in some regular attention by certain students who took to polishing her exposed anatomy. On occasion, Myrtle would even gain extra clothing overnight!

Joke article from Talkabout.
This filler from the December 1961 edition of Talkabout mentions the ‘necessity’ of a monthly donation to the “Steel Wool Fund” for polishing Myrtle’s exposed breast.

Myrtle disappeared from view for the last ten years of the College, having been removed from her place of honour by 1963. Anecdotally, it was the College Principal, Maurice Hale, who was responsible for her abduction.

Some students of the time don’t remember her disappearance, but others say Myrtle was removed on the instructions of the principal, Maurice Hale – either because of the constant attention to her anatomy (“it was ruining the patina”, was one phrase quoted) or that the sun caught the bronze, shining directly into the adjacent administration block which included the principal’s office.  Where Myrtle was moved to remains a mystery but given her height and weight it was not something which could be hidden away easily. [“South Campus – A History” by Dr Nancy Blacklow].

Letter to the editor of Talkabout.
A Letter to the Editor of Talkabout was published in the July 1963 edition, enquiring into the circumstances of Myrtle’s disappearance.

Empty plinth.

It was many years later when Myrtle was finally reinstated. This time, she was placed close to Tabbita Walk on the Boorooma campus of Charles Sturt University, where she could watch over a new generation of students. (Current location of Myrtle)

Myrtle as she is today on the Wagga Campus (North) of Charles Sturt University.

2 thoughts on “For the love of Myrtle

  1. Excellent story. Wondering who she represents; a Greek or Roman goddess? With the lamp in her left hand she might be Hecate? What is in her right hand?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Meg,

      Thanks for the question. I’ve had a chat to the University Art Curator, Tom Middlemost, this morning and found out a few more details from him.

      A few years ago now, Tom found an antique dealer’s website, selling a pair of bronzes named ‘Night’ and ‘Day’ by Carrier-Belleuse and it turns out that our Myrtle is ‘Night’!

      So I did a bit more of a search and found this page on Tobogan Antiques’ website:
      https://toboganantiques.com/en/objets/carrier-belleuse-colin-torcheres/

      It describes ‘Night’ as having her head covered (in contrast to the bare-headed ‘Day’) and holding poppy flowers and fruits to symbolise sleep.

      Like

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