This week’s naming of Hobart’s Railway Roundabout as the best in the world by the UK’s Roundabout Appreciation Society was probably greeted with quiet bemusement by citizens of Hobart.
As a traffic feature, the roundabout, which calms and converges traffic arriving in central Hobart on major highways from the north, south and east, is a conundrum, as it relies on traffic lights to do its work, rendering the point of a traffic roundabout somewhat redundant.
But as commuters wait for lights to change, they are offered a glimpse of a sunken garden at the centre of the confluence, and at its centre, a futuristic fountain that has become one of the familiar everyday sights at the heart of the city.
Looking more like a retro rocket ship that has become detached from an episode of 60s space-age cartoon family The Jetsons, the fountain was built in 1963. Its designers were three young workers at the Cadbury chocolate factory, one of the city’s major industrial employers. Engineer Rod Cuthbert, draftsman Vere Cooper and designer Geoff Parr (who became Director of the Tasmanian School of Art and continues work as an artist of note) won a design competition to create the fountain.
The fountain and the park in which it sits are reached from three corners of the intersection around it via underground footpaths and forms the major pedestrian connection between the city centre and the Domain, which includes inner suburb The Glebe, the city’s major sporting and recreational facilities, a campus of the University of Tasmania, the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, the Soldiers Memorial Avenue and the Cenotaph.
The fountain incorporated what were at the time cutting edge technology which at night lit up the jets of water that would play on the central spire. However time took a toll and by the turn of the millennium the fountain was reduced to a rusty dribble and was looking very sad.
The Hobart City Council invested significantly in restoring the fountain, replacing the worn workings with new state of the art hydraulics and LED lighting and the fountain was re-opened to wide local acclaim in time for its 50th anniversary in 2013. It has since resumed its proud place as a symbol of Hobart and a fitting symbol of a city that still struggles to balance development with conservation of its built heritage, particularly its 20th century architecture.