Julia Gillard's bronze statue in Ballarat could be the last

Julia Gillard unveils her statue in the Prime Ministers Avenue on Thursday.

Julia Gillard unveils her statue in the Prime Ministers Avenue on Thursday.

JULIA Gillard was the 27th prime minister to have her sculpture revealed along Ballarat’s Prime Ministers Avenue. But for many of the hundreds who turned out to witness the unveiling, she was also the first.

Australia’s first and only female prime minister to date received a rousing welcome on Thursday as she arrived to unveil the bronze bust. 

The sculpture was crafted by political cartoonist Peter Nicholson, who is one of only four sculptors whose work appears along the avenue. Mr Nicholson had previously created the busts of Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

WATCH JULIA GILLARD REVEAL HER STATUE BELOW:

Ms Gillard said she had a special fondness for Ballarat, but admitted to some nerves when told she would be honoured by a sculpture here.

“I always feel like Ballarat was always good news for me but it was with some sense of trepidation I learned a sculpture would be made of me for this avenue,” Ms Gillard said.

“.... when you are told that a man who does cartoons for The Australian is going to serve as the sculptor, it doesn’t necessarily fill you with confidence,” she joked.

“Having spent a bit of time with Peter, I did start to relax and think it is probably going to be all right. I hope everyone comes to the conclusion it is not only all right but it is better than all right.”

Mr Nicholson said it was not easy  to “capture” a prime minister in bronze but Ms Gillard helped make it easier.

“When I was doing this portrait, Julia Gillard was under ferocious attack from the left, the right, the centre, from the back and from the front. So I was trying to make an image which captured the idea of her courage and not letting all these things beat her down.”

Money runs out for avenue busts

THE bronze bust of former prime minister Julia Gillard could be the last to be completed, with the City of Ballarat revealing it has run out of funds to continue the tradition.

The iconic Prime Ministers Avenue in Ballarat’s Botanical Gardens showcases a collection of 27 bronze busts dating from federation to Ms Gillard’s time as leader.

Ms Gillard made a highly anticipated visit to the gardens on Thursday to unveil her bronze bust. 

Ballarat-born politician Richard Armstrong Crouch was the original donor of the first six busts, which were unveiled in 1940. 

Mr Crouch also bequeathed funds for maintaining the project to date, but Councillor Des Hudson revealed on Wednesday that the fund had run out.

“We are now due to create the 28th bronze bust of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, however the funds have been fully utilised,” Cr Hudson said.

The busts are displayed as bronze portraits mounted on polished granite pedestals and cost between $45,000 and $55,000 each. 

Cr Hudson said the cost included trips to Parliament House in Canberra for the artist working on the project to have sittings with the current prime minister, and installation of the bust.

Cr Hudson vowed to lobby the federal government for funding to ensure the unique tradition continued.

“Ballarat is the only location with busts of all the prime ministers since the Australian Federation and we need to make sure the avenue continues,” he said.

“Every year, thousands of people stroll through the gardens to catch a glimpse of the collection and have knowledge of just how special it is.”

Cr Hudson at this stage there were no funds to commence work on Mr Abbott’s bronze bust.

“We would like to have a conversation with the federal government to discuss the impact and significance of this tradition,” Cr Hudson said. “The Prisoner of War Memorial in the South Gardens and the collection of bronze busts are a significant reason why people come to Ballarat.” 

Cr Hudson said the issue would be discussed at the next assembly meeting of councillors.

However the prime minister’s office seemed less than receptive to the idea when contacted by The Courier.

Andrew Blow, a spokesman for Mr Abbott, said the funding was matter for the City of Ballarat and that to date the federal government had received no request for money.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au