The lively bronze sculpture of ‘Alice’, the adventurous girl from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in wonderland and Alice through the looking glass, shows her turning in apprehension at what might be behind her.
The life-size statue is surrounded by a bronze frieze crowded with characters from the books, including the White Rabbit, the grinning Cheshire Cat, the Dodo, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Alice stands on a pedestal of Waikerie stone surrounded by a bed of flowers. The inscription on the pedestal acknowledges Josephine and Norman Lewis in donating the sculpture ‘For the children’ in 1962.
The Lewis’s were inspired by the revitalisation of the East Parklands by the Adelaide City Council in the 1950s–1960s. Children were central to this redevelopment, which included a lake for boats, a picnic area with barbeques, and a playground.
By February 1960 a shallow lake had been installed. It was very popular. Council staff reported that children ‘were everywhere’ and ‘sailing little boats’. Additional seating and barbeques were needed.
A drinking fountain, sculpted by John Dowie, was added to the amenities. His ‘Piccaninny’ fountain, designed with children in mind, was erected under gum trees near the sand play area in October 1960. Town Clerk Bill Veale said that he was ‘reasonably hopeful that it will be the forerunner of several other works of various dimensions’.
The offer of £1000 by Norman and Josephine Lewis presented the opportunity for another sculpture. Norman Lewis was the founder and deputy chair of the Beneficial Finance Corporation. The Lewis’s initially proposed a piece based on characters in JM Barrie’s 1928 story Peter Pan and a statue in Kensington Gardens, London:
We are particularly impressed with the transformation in the East Parklands and suggest that the island in the boating lake would make an ideal setting for the erection of a replica statue in bronze of Frampton’s 'Peter Pan and Wendy', a notable work of art that would give joy and pleasure to all, and which holds a particular fascination for children.
Further discussion, including with John Dowie, confirmed a sculpture for children, but of Alice rather than Peter Pan. The Lewis’s agreed to defray the costs of a sculpture of Alice created by Dowie and located on the western side of the lake, overlooking the play area.
Dowie began a clay model of the sculpture in November 1960. The model was then sent to Italy for casting in bronze. It was unveiled on 17 December 1962 by Lord Mayor Charles Glover.