I've done some sleuthing for you, and tracked down the sculptures !
Much of the information comes from telephone conversations with:
Tim Rollason, Curator of the Araluen Galleries, Larapinta Drive, Alice
Springs, Tel: +61 8 8951 1134
Mrs. Elsa Corbet, who still lives on the property where the sculptures
are displayed. Many thanks to both of them.
The works are those of William Ricketts, a sculptor who worked in
kiln-fired clay and who died as recently as 1993. He mostly lived and
worked in Mt. Dandenong near Melbourne, where he was supported by the
State Government of Victoria who built his studio and kiln on
condition the property revert to the state on his death - this is now
the William Ricketts Sanctuary and a major tourist attraction.
William had a friend Leo Corbet who lived in Alice Springs on a
property called Pitchi Ritchi, which he had set up as - I think - a
bird sanctuary, in 1955 - and Ricketts worked there when visiting;
leaving the sculptures in your photos - and others - behind when he
returned to Victoria, since he considered them to be an integral part
of the landscape in which they had been created.
The slim rather Western figure emerging from the treetrunk in your
photo, and again seen surrounded by three Elders in another photo, is
Ricketts idealisation of his own youthful self. He appears in about
fifty per cent of his work.
The property was open to the public in the late sixties and seventies
and beyond, but after the death of Elsa's husband Leo in 1971 various
leaseholders ran the property - not always very well.
Substantial vandalism occurred. See:
"VANDALS HIT THE HISTORIC PITCHI RITCHI COLLECTION OF SCULPTURES.
An important part of Centralian heritage is in a danger of being lost
with the vandalising of many of the sculptures at the Pitchi Richi
sanctuary in Alice Springs. Caretaker-manager, Frank Ansell, who took
over at the museum in 1990, is trying to restore a cracked piece of
statuary with a commercial hole-filling compound, but the damage needs
the skilled attention of an expert craftsman. "Vandals get in at
night," he says, "and they just go around breaking things. I can't
understand them." According to Mr Ansell, many of the sculptures, by
William Ricketts (1899-1993), have also gone missing. He suspects -
but is not sure - some pieces could have been deliberately destroyed
by tribal elders as they were likenesses of people who had died. ....
Victorian tourist, Vivian Rowbotham, sighed over a damaged piece,
saying: "Who in their right mind could do something like this to a
thing so beautiful? I find it personally offensive. Why can't the
authorities, or someone, do something to protect these invaluable
works?" Elsa Corbet, widow of Leo Corbet, who still lives on the
property, said she was not at all surprised over the reports of
vandalism: "That's been going on for years. We've had it forever,
since it was started back in the 50s. Didn't you know that some people
destroy things if they don't like them? "About 20 years ago the
artist, Ann Marshall, spent months helping to patch them up for us."
Mrs Corbet said Ricketts' sculptures were beyond financial valuation:
"How could you put a price on thing like that? But, at the same time,
there are very few of Ricketts' works that haven't been vandalised."
Perhaps the old sculptor himself predicted an element of ultimate
realities. Before his death at the age of 86, he wrote: "One glance at
the so-called progress ... is enough to understand the cataclysm of
violence that awaits us at the end of the present road we are now
Mrs. Corbet told me that the beautiful portrait head of the Aboriginal
Elder in your photo is probably the only sculpture not to have been
vandalised at some point.
Mrs. Corbet closed the property to the public a couple of years ago
since it was becoming difficult for her to manage and talked-of
government assistance was still in the "talking" stage.
She said, however, that there was no real need for concern over the
sculptures outdoor location - as kiln-fired clay they are well able to
withstand the extremes of heat experienced in "The Alice". The
occasional below-zero frosts were more likely to cause damage !
Ricketts' work can be seen at his old home, which is now the William
Ricketts Sanctuary: There is a slideshow which will leave you in no
doubt that this is the right man at:
Other useful sites on the Victorian display are:
which says: " Kiln-fired clay sculptures of Aboriginal figures are
discreetly set among rocks, fern trees and Mountain Ash. These
sculptures are an expression of Rickett's philosophy - that all people
need to act as custodians of the natural environment in the same way
as Aborigines, the inspiration for much of his work
Stroll through the gardens and explore the 92 ceramic sculptures of
people and animals which merge with the natural surroundings.."
The Alice Springs News article quoted above has some more about
"Ricketts .... was a strange, elusive man, seen by some as a rebel,
outspoken, one-eyed and an egomaniac. Some of the Pitchi Richi
sculptures portray his face and youthful form. Ricketts told the
Centralian Advocate: "When Captain Cook arrived with a gun in his
hands, Australia was betrayed." He insisted he was definitely not a
Christian, claiming his spiritual beliefs were greater than any
church. Spiritually, Ricketts regarded himself as a transformed
indigenous tribesman. Advocate editor, Jim Bowditch, quoted the
sculptor as saying: "We (the Aboriginal people) stand for gentleness
and the preservation of life ... while you stand for brutality and
destruction." Ricketts underwent the initiation rites of the
Pitjantjatjara tribe and his remarkable works in rock and clay
portrayed naked Aboriginal figures and totemic symbols...... The
sculptor told the Advocate: "As I try to understand the deepest
meaning of life, I have become inspired by the unique growth of love
for the Australian bush. "Because of that powerful love, I have become
an integral part of my environment: bird, animal, forest, mountain,
desert, rock, water - everything, everywhere, at one time." ......
Thank you for a fascinating question.
(This lead to the discovery of the Araluen Gallery's sculpture garden,
which does not have any Ricketts' work, but whose curator instantly
recognised the descriptions I gave him on the phone.)
"Alice Springs" Pitchi ritchi