Glossy metal - usually brass, aluminium or similar. Most often rectangular and, if so, about A5 in size. Other shapes, too, but – ironically - rarely large enough to attract attention. Plaques.
They occupy corners in communities and hearts across the country. At the same time, however, their familiarity can breed indifference and even contempt. Their purpose at the time of laying is rarely questioned, but years pass and attitudes change. Some plaques and the people, the events and landmarks they commemorate retain the reverence with which they were unveiled. Others much less so, becoming nagging reminders of the embarrassing, the ugly and the odious in our past. The #readtheplaque challenge had goons sharing photos of plaques from all points of the compass. In doing so, they shared glimpses of history from their part of the world. Some goons, it seems, had a go-to plaque, while others found themselves truly challenged and needing to hit the street in search of plaque prey. If there was a rise in the number of injuries to pedestrians nationwide coinciding with this challenge, it was likely due to goons looking left and right rather than straight ahead.
So what was unearthed?
|The poignant. Like the ‘Blacksmith’s Tree’ at Strathewen Community Bushfire Memorial for those lost to, and those who fought, the Black Saturday fires in 2009. The despair that gripped the nation throughout those dark days won’t soon be forgotten, but who knew that blacksmiths from across the world would come together and gift the local community amazing art in a wonderful act of compassion?
|The sad. The good old days weren’t always that good. This plaque marks the burial site of 33 of the 96 men and boys killed in Australia’s worst ever workplace accident, a Mount Kembla mine explosion. May they rest in peace.
|The downright depressing. The Boab Prison Tree serves as a powerful reminder of a shameful chapter in Australian history. Say what you want about the Voice to Parliament, past injustices against Australia’s first peoples cannot be wished away.
|The uplifting. Surfers’ Paradise offered up its ‘Matey’ plaque. And why shouldn’t we simultaneously celebrate a homeless but beloved canine, acknowledge another’s sacrifice and fundraise for animal welfare?
|The just. Trailblazers are widely memorialized through the laying of plaques and more often than not, those trailblazers were men. Excellent, then, that The Royal Melbourne Hospital should give a well-deserved nod to women in medicine. Well done, them.
|And honourable mention to the funny. ‘Shoes on wire’ speaks for itself! We’ve all seen shoes dangling over power lines; suburbia just wouldn’t be suburbia without them. While there are competing theories as to their meaning (and that’s a whole other story, already penned for posterity), one has to question how many of them have been immortalised in plaque form. Challenge accepted. Challenge completed.