John Dowie's Three Rivers Fountain

John Dowie's Three Rivers Fountain

Dowie’s design was inspired by both tradition and the site. He was quoted in the Advertiser on 22 February 1967: ‘It’s an ancient tradition for fountains to honor the gods of the rivers that feed it. We have no river gods, but the water feeding this fountain will come from the Murray, the Onkaparinga and the Torrens and I decided to make it symbolic of this’. The rivers were represented by human figures and birds: ‘I made the two lesser rivers female figures (a woman and a black swan for the Torrens and a woman with a heron for the Onkaparinga). These are the cultivated areas, so I made the women European. But the old substantial Murray is male and had to be Aboriginal’. The Aboriginal man holds an ibis.

The three figures also echoed the triangular site made by the diagonal roadways. The whole construction was designed to be ‘a spectacle’, able to be viewed from all angles, and dominating the northern end of the square and the vista along King William Street north.

As well as adding to the controversy surrounding the redevelopment, the design adopted by the Council on 15 February 1967 was indeed a spectacle.

The three-sided fountain sits in an 18m-wide hexagonal pool with an outer wall of unpolished Angaston marble. Three Harcourt granite pedestals support the large cast aluminium basin and the aluminium figures. The basin reaches 4.6m above the ground. When the fountain is fully operational jets of water rise a further 4m from the basin, giving an overall height of 9m. Water cascades from the central bowl into three mid level pools and then via a fringe of streams into the main pool below. A further 33 jets of water shoot from the central pedestal and the main pool.

The 3.3m-wide basin was cast in one piece. It weighs 1800kg. The three figures weigh 227kg each.

The fountain was switched on by the Duke of Edinburgh on a subsequent visit on 28 May 1968. He commented ‘although there is not material advantage in having a fountain, it will give future citizens a great deal of pleasure, and no doubt a great deal to argue about’. He is reputed to have called the modernist fountain 'a monstrosity'; a view shared by a council gardener, James Purcell. James Irwin, however, noted the shift in public art that the fountain represented. It was something Adelaide could be proud of.

In March 2012 the Three Rivers was placed on the South Australian Heritage Register. The latest redevelopment of Victoria Square which began in 2013 sees the fountain being relocated to the southern side of the square.


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The Three Rivers Fountains is of heritage significance because it demonstrates a high degree of creative aesthetic and technical accomplishment and because it was produced as a major work by a South Australian sculptor (John Dowie) of national standing at the height of his creative powers.

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Images of John Dowie's Three Rivers Fountain

John Dowie
John Dowie
Building materials
Stone, Granite, Marble
Architectural styles
5 Late Twentieth-Century Period 1960–2000
1968 -
Architecture and design features
Engineering features
Victoria Square- Tarndanyangga
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Adelaide City Council
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Gardening, parks and urban space, Park
AS2482 classification
44000 - General Inland Water Features
Public Access
Access unrestricted
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CR 5779/247 F218073 A117
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
5.1 Local Government
5.1.3 City Improvements and City Planning
6.2 Recreation and Entertainment
6.2.7 Enjoying the natural environment
6.6 Arts and Sciences
Australian Curriculum references
Year 6: Australia as a Nation


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