Beechworth calls for Burke and Wills statue to be moved to historic town

AUSTRALIA’S most ill-fated explorers could be coming to Beechworth, with residents rallying for Melbourne’s Burke and Wills statue to be erected in the historic town. 

Heritage enthusiast Darren Sutton said the community overwhelmingly wanted to bring the statue of Beechworth superintendent Robert O’Hara Burke, home.

In April, Melbourne’s oldest public monument was removed from display for five to six years, to make way for a rail tunnel built under Melbourne’s City Square. 

The monument commemorates the Victorian Exploring Expedition of 1860-61 of Burke and William John Wills.

The pair died on the return journey at Coopers Creek in central Australia.

Mr Sutton said it was appropriate Burke was removed from storage and moved to Beechworth either permanently or during City Square works. 

He said not only was Burke an important part of Beechworth’s fabric from 1854 to 1858, but the statue too had ties to the region. 

“It is a shame to simply take it off display and bury it in a dusty repository somewhere, out of public view,” Mr Sutton said.

“So I thought, why not bring it to Beechworth? I did a little research and found out that the tin used in the bronze that the statue is made from came from the Beechworth gold diggings.

“I just see him standing proudly near the Burke Museum which was named in his honour.”

Since its unveiling in 1865 the travellers have journeyed about Melbourne from Collins Street, Spring Street, Carlton Gardens, City Square and now into storage.

A Melbourne Council spokeswoman said the Future Melbourne Committee voted to store and eventually reinstate the statue at City Square.

“The temporary removal of the statue provides an opportunity for a thorough conservation assessment and treatment which was difficult to undertake while it was on display,” she said. 

The Burke and Wills Historical Society previously told Fairfax Media the current west-facing location is "ridiculous" and the statue "was never designed to be locked into a modern city streetscape and viewed against a backdrop of tall, high-rise buildings”.

Beechworth Chamber of Commerce president Elizabeth Mason said it’s time Burke came home. 

“There’s a huge amount of support for it, most people feel the statue has great relevance to the area,” she said.

“Storage is a disappointing outcome for all – we’d be very proud for it to come to town.

“Here it will be preserved, taken care of and will command the admiration of anyone who visits.”

Mr Sutton said he planned to raise the idea with Indigo Council before contacting Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and other groups.