Statue of ex-NSW premier Sir James Martin arrives in Sydney’s Martin Place

November 2nd, 2020

Article written by Anna Caldwell for The Daily Telegraph

After a year in which statues have been torn down by protestors, in Sydney a statue of an Irish Catholic of servant and convict stock will be unveiled on Thursday.

A bronze statue will pay tribute to James Martin, after whom Martin Place is named. He was premier of NSW three times, attorney general and then chief justice of NSW - the only person to have ever held all three positions. But it’s his plucky determination as a boy - to walk 20km to school from Paramatta to Sydney every day - that caught Treasurer Dominic Perrottet’s attention.

Sir Henry Parkes named Martin Place after Martin, but it is only now that a statue has arrived.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said

NSW could certainly do with a bit of Martin’s plucky determination right now.

The statue is one of a pair, crafted by sculptor Alan Somerville, with the other already at Parramatta.

At long last, a place for Martin in Martin Place

By Dominic Perrottet

Lysicrates Foundation James Martin Statue in Martin Place Sydney
The current statue of James Martin in Parramatta with Treasurer Dominic Perrottet.

It is said that Sir Henry Parkes, Australia’s “father of federation”, wanted a statue of his mentor and friend, Sir James Martin, in the plaza that bears his name: Martin Place.

It was Parkes who decided to name Martin Place in Martin’s honour, but the statue never came. In fact it took 191 years from Martin’s death for a NSW Government to establish a memorial of any kind in Martin Place.

That 1977 memorial was a small plaque, camouflaged amid Martin Place’s brown and grey stone surfaces, barely visible and rarely noticed. That’s why so few know anything about the namesake of one of our most well-known city locations.

The son of a horse groom from Parramatta, the young James Martin famously did whatever it took to get an education at what would later become Sydney Grammar, including even walking and hitching from home to school because his family couldn’t afford to live nearby.

Those early, determined efforts set him on a career trajectory that boggles the modern mind: journalist for national newspapers, a legal career, election to parliament, then appointment as Attorney-General, NSW Premier (three times), and Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court.

He believed passionately in the idea of Australia as a self-sufficient nation. He championed education for all — especially disadvantaged kids — because he knew from experience that education unlocks opportunity. He left an indelible mark on our city and our state — and ultimately our nation, through his protege, Parkes. All of that explains why Martin Place bears his name.

This week — finally, thanks especially to the dedication and perseverance of passionate Sydneysiders John and Patricia Azarias — Martin Place will also be home to that long-awaited statue: a tribute to pique the interest and capture the imaginations of Sydney-siders and outsiders alike.

The statue is no burly bust of some soup-strainer moustachioed man of history. Rather, it depicts a boy in full stride, confidently walking towards the future — a future we know was storied, but about which he knew nothing except the promise of opportunity for those who work for it.

In his hands, books represent his lifelong love of learning. And his upward gaze depicts the steely determination to make his own path.

Sir James Martin as NSW Premier circa 1880. Picture: NSW Treasurer's office

The new statue in Martin Place will be one of a pair, both magnificently crafted by sculptor Alan Somerville. The other statue already sits in Parramatta. Together, they represent the unbroken link between Parramatta and the Harbour City — east and west — at the time Greater Sydney is evolving into a global metropolis with Parramatta at its centre.

The inscription on the lower part of the Sir James Martin statue being erected in Martin Place on Thursday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

The statues also offer a timely lesson in perseverance and hope in adversity. An ungentrified Catholic, married to a convict’s daughter, Martin’s personal success was earned against the odds. From very little he achieved a lot. NSW could certainly do with a bit of Martin’s plucky determination right now.

The boy from Parramatta dedicated his life to serving the people of NSW at every opportunity and left this place better than he found it. It’s a lesson and inspiration for all of us, but especially our young people, no matter what their circumstances.