On May 30 this year, a brand new piece of public art was unveiled in front of the Western Sydney University building in central Parramatta.
This new work of art is a statue of a boy, so lifelike that he seems about to step down from his low pedestal and stride off into the distance. His eyes are indeed fixed on a point in the distance—the centre of Sydney, 13 long miles from his home in the servants’ quarters at Government House in Parramatta. A school bag is slung over his left shoulder and he carries an open volume of Homer in his right hand.
Who is this purposeful young man? And where is he headed?
It’s none other than James Martin, a 12-year-old in 1832, but destined to become—through the force of the determination evident in the statue—Premier (three times) and Chief Justice of NSW. Although he was a poor child of Irish immigrants, his talent and diligence won him a place at the best school in Sydney. When his father was unable to find a job in Sydney so that his son could attend school, James decided he would get himself there from Parramatta every day.
In 1886, on the day of Sir James Martin’s funeral, his protégé Henry Parkes determined to name the new grand thoroughfare in Sydney ‘Martin Place’ in his honour. Parkes was also inspired to write a poem, which included the following lines evoking the boy’s determination to get an education:
How bravely did the stripling climb
From step to step the rugged hill
His gaze through that benighted time
Fixed on the far-off beacon still.
The statue is the work of veteran sculptor, Alan Somerville, whose work includes the moving statues of the soldiers on the ANZAC Bridge.
At its location in front of Western Sydney University, the statue of the young James Martin will serve for decades to come as an inspiration to the children of underprivileged immigrants with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to make a better life for themselves and others.
And the statue has a twin, which it is hoped will one day stand in Martin Place.