Commemorative drinking fountains honouring events and individuals have been installed in streets and parks since at least the 1870s. They became popular in the early 20th century as a useful type of public memorial. Most were funded by public subscription but some were sponsored by individuals, sometimes in memory of a relative. Many older fountains have been moved from their original street locations because of increasing traffic.
The two earliest surviving fountains, at Williamstown and North Melbourne, with the water pedestal and basin beneath a decorative cast-iron canopy, carry the quaint warning 'Keep the pavement dry'. Nearly all later fountains constructed before World War II were made of finely crafted stone.
Nineteenth-century examples marked events as diverse as Queen Victoria's golden jubilee and the Windsor railway accident. The expatriate colonist William Westgarth installed a Scottish granite fountain in the Carlton Gardens for the Centennial International Exhibition in 1888 to commemorate the centenary of white settlement in Australia. Featuring two kangaroos supporting a cast-iron lamp, a trough for horses and a bowl for dogs, it was also able to supply iced drinking water on a 'moderate scale'.
A large 'temple'-style fountain, sponsored by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union to mark the 1901 royal visit, was the forerunner of a new design which remained popular until the late 1920s. This type of fountain, with the water outlets located within a small temple-like structure, was sometimes crowned with a bust, obelisk or lamp.
Nearly all post-World War II fountains are simple squat masonry pedestals supporting a basin and bubbler tap. The fountain commemorating a popular black swan named 'Cookie', who lived in the Alexandra Gardens and was killed in 1973, is one such example.