Aussie Icons #4 – ‘The Saint’, Castle Hill, Townsville QLD
Those nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ would do well to consider the enduring legacy of Townsville’s ‘The Saint’, a 1962 student prank that continues to generate controversy.
A tragic reminder (!) of the lawlessness and anarchy characterising 1960’s society degeneration (!) from the wholesome family values of the 1950’s, the James Cook University students responsible have left North Queensland’s largest city with an unlikely icon!
And what better place to make your mark with graffiti than Castle Hill – the pink granite monolith (at 286m just short of ‘mountain’ height) that dominates Townsville’s skyline?
Castle Hill, no stranger to the plunder and pillage that characterised European settlement, was a well known firewood and timber-rustling spot before its 1888 gazettal as a recreation reserve – an early and uncharacteristic attempt to save it from complete denudation! And while reserve size continues to diminish, Castle Hill’s distinctive skyscape, 360° views, challenging climbs, scenic public toilet and historical features are enough to grant it ‘icon’ status in its own right.
But it’s the 1962 addition of ‘The Saint’ to Castle Hill’s northern face that cements its place in Townsville’s cultural landscape.
However, The Saint Castle Hill Townsville AND its spectacular backdrop have more in common than shared space.
Castle Hill is a World War 2 survivor – after the US troops stationed in Townsville who famously offered to blow it up and build a causeway to nearby Magnetic Island with the rock were knocked back. And ‘The Saint’ was reprieved after the local council reversed its 2002 decision to remove it. But only after a poll indicated 54% of the population considered it an icon!
Leaving 46% who don’t …
So the controversy continues – graffiti vs art; eyesore vs landmark; student prank vs sacred site desecration; vandalism vs Aussie larrikinism (is that a word?!) – but ‘The Saint’ is now (arguably) photographed just as much as its scenic backdrop!!
Maybe tourists are the deciding factor??
During a visit to Townsville in the 1990’s, the debate raged on talkback radio. Should ‘The Saint’ be removed? Did it defile the natural beauty of Castle Hill?? Had it transcended its dubious origin to become a local landmark???
Then a caller rang through. ‘Mate, after more than 30 years up there in all sorts of weather there’s only one question to be asked,’ the caller stated.
‘What’s that?’ the announcer asked.
‘What kind of paint did they use?’
And that, my friends, puts it all into perspective!!
In July 2011, Castle Hill still sports ‘The Saint’, and it’s still the subject of discussion, photographs and debate.
But in early 2012, its 50th anniversary MAY mean historical respectability – AND lay any controversy to rest! We shall see …