Living in the 70’s – gas fountains at Princes Bridge

If you thought that the nightly fireball show at Crown Casino was gaudy, back in the 1970s was an even more insane proposal – a pair of gas ‘fountains’ burning 24 hours a day beside Princes Bridge.

The brainchild of a City of Melbourne councillor, Mr R. Walker, the idea was first made public in 1971.

Two Gas ‘Fountains’ Planned For City
The Canberra Times
Wednesday 10 February 1971

Melbourne City Council may consider erecting two natural gas “fountains” at the entrance to Princes Bridge, the main Yarra crossing between the city and the southern suburbs.

A Melbourne City Councillor, Mr R. Walker, said today that the fountains would be a symbol of Melbourne’s “coming of age” and of the industrial explosion in Victoria.

The plans, which were designed by a leading architect, Sir Roy Grounds, were to be outlined at the council meeting today.

Mr Walker said the fountains, to be placed on each side of the St Kilda Road entrance to the bridge, would be 14ft in diameter and would contain 400 gas jets.

They would burn pollution-free natural gas and would change colour every 10 minutes.

Mr Walker said he had been working on the project for the past six months.

But nothing happened until 1974, when the City of Melbourne approved the idea.

City will get a warm glow
The Age
23 July 1974

Two fountains of flame which change color every minute are to be built in St. Kilda Road at the foot of Princes Bridge.

The fountains will be powered by natural gas and are likely to be built before next July. They will be more than 32 ft. high and 17 ft. 6 in. in diameter. They have been approved by the Melbourne City Council general purposes committee and the Arts Centre building committee. They are to be built on either side of the southern approaches to the bridge. Cr. Ronald Walker, who proposed the idea more than two years ago, announced details of the fountains yesterday. He said they were still subject to Environment Protection Authority approval, but he expected them to be approved because they complied with EPA regulations.

Cr. Walker said the fountains would be made of copper and financed by a group of Melbourne business and professional leaders. They would burn 24 hours a day every day, he said.

The fountains were designed by leading architect Sir Roy Grounds, with Cr. Walker. The Gas and Fuel Corporation provided technical assistance.

Cr. Walker said the fountains would be unique in the world and would be “a tourist attraction and a symbol of Victoria’s industrial success”.

But got dunked on immediately.

An aesthetic monstrosity
The Age
24 July 1974

It appears as if the Melbourne City Council is about to commit an aesthetic and environmental atrocity in the proposed erection of “gas fountains”.

Not only will the fountains consume a precious natural resource, but they will consume an excessive amount of oxygen witch the motor car has already considerably diminished, and will produce even more carbon monoxide. The heat they will produce is a pollutant.

The planting of a tree is more of an aesthetic asset to a city. The council’s aim of attracting tourists with a multicolored fountain is seeking the “lowest common denominator” I am surprised that the creator of such a culturally enriching structure only a few hundred yards away from the site of the proposed fountains could be so irresponsible.

Miranda Milne (Parkville).

With an expat Aussie inviting comparisons with Sydney.

Melbourne City Council wants to erect some tourist-attracting gas-flame “fountains” on Princes Bridge, across the Yarra. They would stand about 10 metres high and
change color.

Just what they will contribute when temperatures in Melbourne get to summer peak has not yet been discussed.

Sydney is unfazed, and is talking of a new super-fountain, running not on gas but water in the normal way.

The Melbourne burghers think the gas flames will suitably mark the “Gateway” to Australia. How could they, Sydney asks, when Sydney is the “Gateway” to both Australia and the Pacific?

Silly isn’t it?

But from there the trail goes cold. Following completion of the Arts Centre underpass, construction of the Melbourne Concert Hall (now Hamer Hall) commenced on the site of the fountains in 1973, and was completed in 1982 – with no gas fountains to be found.

Building the new Hamer Hall forecourt beside the Yarra River

With it taking until 1997 for Melbourne to get a fountain of fire – when the “Gas Brigades” at Crown Casino were switched on.

The eight towers along the Yarra River shoot fireballs into the night’s sky every hour, from dusk until 1am.

Footnote: not just a coincidence

The Melbourne City Councillor behind the 1970s proposal was a Mr Ron Walker.

Elected to the Melbourne city council in 1969, he served as the Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1974 to 1976.

In 1976, he held a partnership with another Melbourne businessman, Lloyd Williams. The pair formed a property development company called Hudson Conway.

And who developed the Crown Casino complex – Hudson Conway. It might have taken 25 years, but Ron Walker finally got his gas fireballs.

And another aborted proposal

Back in 2015 a “world-first fountain and flame show” was proposed for Melbourne’s Docklands, but went nowhere.

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4 Responses to “Living in the 70’s – gas fountains at Princes Bridge”

  1. Andrew S says:

    Go back further to the Melbourne Olympics and a giant gas fired torch was temporarily suspended over the Flinders Street – Swanston Street intersection for the duration of the games that was lit at night. Needless to say this was prior to gas being pipe to Melbourne from Gippsland and the increase of gas heating and hot water that came as a result. It can be seen in this film at 2:45 – wonder where the supply came from?

  2. Andrew says:

    Mr R Walker was also head? of the Grand Pricks corporation and principle donor to the rather unimaginative Walker Fountain.

    I had no idea about the gateway fire fountains, so thanks.

    Non polluting natural gas, lol.

    I always get a kick out of seeing the casino fire blasts. Wow, I’ve just remembered seeing them from our Sofitel suite where we celebrated my partner’s birthday and that was 22 years ago.

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