Ethos large



Tom Bass








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Ethos was the first work of art commissioned by the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) for a public place in Canberra and was co-sponsored by the Canberra Chamber of Commerce. The title uses an early Greek word meaning ‘the place of living’.

The winged figure female figure celebrates the civic pride of Canberra and the fabric of her robe is richly embossed with emblems and figures representing the community. Ethos stands in a dish bearing a relief map of the City and holds aloft a bursting sun representing culture and enlightenment.

The work stands before the ACT Legislative Assembly building and has, overtime, become a well-known Canberra landmark and a symbol of the city.

Ethos is listed on the ACT Heritage Objects Register. The Draft heritage nomination states:

“The NCDC intended that the work would emphasize that Canberra is the non-political centre, the locale of commerce and of private enterprise in its best sense. "The restless, virile, energetic movement of free enterprise" arising out of the planned city "and the two facets should become as one, striving forward progressively".(NCDC Meeting notes not dated, early 1960, NCDC file 66/1181).

The sculpture was thus conceived as representing the spirit of the community. Bass interpreted this in the figure which he intended "the love which Canberra people have for their city to be identified with her...I want them to be conscious of her first as an image from a distance...then comes the moment when they become personally involved with her... they feel her looking at them, reflecting their love for the place". (Daily Telegraph 7/12/61) She was "beauty arising from and through a plan - in this case, beauty represented by the National Capital arising from and through a planned city" (NCDC file note 4/5/60) and in form possessing true civic style and scale.

The form of the work is highly symbolic. The figure is robed in a fabric richly embossed with emblems and figures representing the Community. The shallow saucer on which the figure stands represents Canberra's nick-name "Frosty Hollow". The saucer is 6 sided because the plan for Civic square is itself hexagonal. The surface of the saucer bears a relief map of Canberra and the rolling countryside around it. At the feet of Ethos are indentations that represent the lake that was later to fill the space between the Civic Centre and the administrative part of the city. The bursting sun she holds aloft is symbolic of culture and enlightenment which the presence of Canberra's University, its research organisations and the Diplomatic Corps and so on give to the City.”

Tom Bass composed a poem inspired by Ethos for the 90th anniversary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom which was celebrated with a week-long festival of peace in October 2005.

The poem is reproduced below:


I am Ethos
and though I do not speak
with words
I speak to you
in other ways.
I say to you that
I am the spirit
of this place
and this people.
I am the love
peace and beauty
of this place.
I am Ethos
and in me
there is no violence
no war, only peace
the resolution
of all the conflicts
that lead to war.
I am Ethos
I am peace and love
and I give you
these things
every day
and always.
(Tom Bass for Canberra's Festival of Peace, October 2005)

You can download the full PDF version of the heritage object listing here:

Ethos Heritage Listing (PDF 270KB) PDF

Tom Bass
Ethos, 1961
Copper figure on concrete base
Outside the entrance to the ACT Legislative Assembly, Civic Square, Civic