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HerStory in Port Melbourne

On International Women’s Day, the City of Port Phillip launched a map of the places in Port Phillip named after women. Needless to say, they can easily fit on one map since there are so few of them.

The Council’s initiative is part of a wider movement, Put Her Name On It, to increase the representation of women in public monuments.

Port Melbourne hosts a monument to a memorable woman, Olive Zakharov2.

The memorialisation came about in this way. The newly formed City of Port Phillip invited suggestions for the naming of a triangular road reserve in Port Melbourne. The Port Melbourne Historical Society nominated Olive Zackharov. She was an active local resident and Senator for Victoria at the time of her death. Her influence as an educator, peace activist and social justice campaigner was widely respected. The City of Port Phillip must have commissioned the memorial, likely in consultation with her family. It was opened by then Mayor of the City of Port Phillip, Councillor Julian Hill in 2001.

Julian Hill unveils Olive Zacharov memorial, Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society

It is a monument to ‘her life and values’, rather than a representation of her face or form. My favourite part of the memorial is the pile of books that influenced her on one of the pillars. Her values, expressed in the visual symbols of the many campaigns she was involved in, are embedded in the memorial.

In 1983, Zakharov publicly revealed that she had been a victim of domestic violence for more than ten years before divorcing from her husband. She campaigned for an end to domestic violence.

The monument is the focal point of triangular Olive’s Corner. The Reserve has been designed to make it quick and easy for people to get from local streets to Bay St. Those who gather on the Reserve’s benches to enjoy the late afternoon sun in milder weather pay no attention to the monument.

From my observation, there is little engagement with the memorial by passers by. However, when people are introduced to Olive Zakharov’s life story and how that is reflected in the monument, they find it extremely interesting.

On the Labour Day weekend, memorable for the prolonged heatwave, we sought out shade. Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens offered generous shade from avenues of trees, cool green grass, running water and lively cooling fountains.

On the edge of Treasury Gardens, at St Andrews Place Reserve, is the Family Violence Memorial. It doesn’t announce itself as a memorial. There are no icons or statues. The project arose out of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Muir + Openwork architects worked with care, sensitivity and respect with survivors of domestic violence to inform the design.

A ribbon of purple flowers of many shades and forms soften the edges of the memorial. The purple ribbon is a unifying symbol of courage, survival, honor and dedication to ending domestic violence. It remembers and honours those who have lost their lives at the hands of a person they once loved and trusted.

The memorial is described as ‘sculpted by landscape, informed by lived experiences and guided by empathy’3.

Even in the extreme heat, the flowers were alive with European honey bees Apis mellifera. Since they are so abundant, the observation task is now to look for anything that is not a European honey bee. That is when we saw the Australian Painted Lady butterfly.

Australian Painted Lady butterfly

Two monuments created twenty years apart. One to walk past. One to walk though, or an invitation to sit encircled for quiet reflection. After being unexpectedly soothed by my experience of the Family Violence Memorial, a phrase returned to me:

‘the ability of a place to nourish life’

Matt Novaceski identifies this quality as one that people involved in designing places should work towards.

This living memorial does just that.


1 Read the stories of Port Phillip women from the City of Port Phillip website.

The City of Port Phillip invites further contributions about memorable women

2 The story behind Olive’s Corner, Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society

3 Read this beautiful piece by Georgia Birks  Landscape Australia 10 October 2022

4 Matt Novaceski Looking through Layers: Evaluating the Impact of Placemaking Activity Melbourne School of Design


  • Anne Garrow

    Thank you Janet for this very interesting reflection and a reminder to stop and notice the detail of Olive’s monument and the small things that nourish life.

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