The former Mercury Building, Macquarie Street, Hobart.
The former Mercury Building, Macquarie Street, Hobart.
Sunday 10 November 2019
I was really looking forward to our first port of call today, having seen photos from people who had been there on instagram yesterday. This was the Riverfront Motel at Rosetta.
Built in the 1960s in classic mid-century style as a stopover for travellers on the newly built Brooker Highway. Major extensions to the dining room were completed in 1970, with a bar, function space, dance floor and additional story added. Now owned by the Beck family, the motel is gradually undergoing sensitive refurbishment to retain many original features, including a large mid-century guest house and Glenorchy’s iconic Royal Arch.
Say no more. You already want to go and stay there don’t you? Hell, I want to go and stay there. Let’s all go! Let’s stay in the mid-century guest house and have a mid-century party! Seriously, how fun would that be?
The Royal Arch is brilliant. It was built in 1954 by the EZ Company to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Tasmania. It was meant to represent the industrial nature of the Glenorchy area, and was funded by local businesses including Cadbury. It was temporarily installed at the lower end of Liverpool Street for Her Majesty’s visit and then moved to the Berriedale Reserve. In 1961 it landed at the motel and has been there ever since.
There’s a project underway to restore it being undertaken by the Beck family and Glenorchy City Council, which includes tying to find out what happened to the crown that was originally on top and the “Municipality of Glenorchy” sign in the middle.
Enough words. Photos!
We got to see the reception and bar/restaurant areas and one of the rooms.
Check out the bathroom floor!
The mid-century guest house, aka the River House, is an orange brick house located next to the motel and it is so cool! A shoes-off affair, it has four bedrooms, a funky kitchen, a central courtyard . . . and it really would be fun to stay in.
No bookshelves though so I don’t think I could live there . . .
My Open House Hobart adventure continued with my sister after our visit to the Jarvis House and lunch. We headed back to town to find some more buildings before our 4pm tour.
We started at Town Hall on Macquarie Street, which was designed by Henry Hunter and opened in 1866. The basement space, known as “The Underground” was also open so we went there first.
There was a flower show in the main hall so it wasn’t possible to take any photos that showed the room, but we got to see the council chambers and pretend to be Lord Mayor, so that was fun.
We spoke to a lady who was visiting from Brisbane and she told us how great it was that we still had so many of these old colonial public buildings in Hobart. She told us about Brisbane Town Hall, which was build in the 1920s and sounds amazing. If I ever go to Brisbane that is definitely on my to-see list.
We then ventured around the corner to the Maritime Museum in Argyle Street, housed in the Carnegie Building. It was formerly the public library and was badged as the State Library of Tasmania in 1944, before the state library moved to its present location in Murray Street.
There was a great photo of the building, when it was still the library, which demonstrates that sometimes cars parked in front of buildings, much as I hate them now, are a good thing because they provide a way to date the photograph and a window onto what the living streetscape looked like many years ago. Perhaps one day I will look back on my own photos of buildings with cars parked out the front that really annoyed me at the time, and appreciate the history I have documented.
We were able to see the caretaker’s flat upstairs and the boiler room downstairs, and the attendant said that the caretaker would have to climb up and down the stairs regularly to make sure the boiler was still operating. That was all sealed up because of asbestos. There was also no bathroom in the flat so we were standing round debating whether the caretaker had a chamber pot or used to have to climb down three flights of stairs every time he needed the bathroom. These are need to know issues!
We didn’t really have time to look around the museum in detail because we had our 4pm tour at the Henry Jones Art Hotel. This is within the broader Henry Jones complex in Hunter Street, designed by Circa Morris-Nunn and constructed out of the remains of the former IXL jam factory. The tour was led by the hotel’s history liaison person, Greg (how do I get this job? does the Supreme Court need a history liaison person? I’m sure they do . . .), who told us the history of the complex, the story of Henry Jones and the philosophy of the art hotel.
I didn’t know anything about the place except that Henry Jones ran the IXL jam factory and that the Peacock and Jones restaurant is very very good. The Peacock in the name is George Peacock, who ran the jam factory before Jones took it over. I love the fact that Robert Morris-Nunn built his own office into the complex. What a fantastic spot to work from!
Turns out an art hotel is, well, a hotel that showcases art. Who would have thought.
Greg showed us through the hotel’s John Glover collection, which is housed in the hotel’s restaurant, Landscapes, as well as their Glover Prize winner collection. The painting that caught my eye was the 2009 winning entry by Matthew Armstrong called Transformed at Night, which shows everyone’s favourite Hobart street, Mellifont Street, at night.
Upstairs is a function room that used to be the offices of the factory.
Greg told us the story of Henry Jones, whose parents were both convicts, and who started working at the factory as a child and worked his way up to eventually own the company. We heard how hard the work would have been in the factory but how the company had the philosophy of “a job for life” and built a real community for its employees that included things like a band and sports teams.
We looked at some photos of the site before the work commenced and Greg explained that if it had taken much longer to make a decision to reconstruct the complex, it probably would have all been demolished and we would have lost what is an iconic part of Hobart’s history.
It had all been all in a very bad state, but what they tried to do was retain as much of what was remaining as they could and build the new parts so as to reveal what used to be there. So there are beams and pipes out in the open.
One sandstone wall had been rendered over, and they removed a lot of that to bring the sandstone back to life but kept some of the render to tell the story of the history of the wall.
The carving on the main staircase up to the office is incomplete and Greg said this was because Henry Jones thought that kind of decoration was keeping people from doing real work, so he stopped the worker mid-task and sent him off to do something more worthwhile.
The best part was the story of the decades-old cold jam leaking through the ceilings and walls once the buildings were completed and heated. At first, people weren’t sure what was going on with the smell of jam permeating the hotel and then there were complaints . . . from people whose room didn’t leak jam!
This has to be the craziest building I have ever been in. It puts whole new perspective on the word “random”.
The contemporary art collection is displayed in the corridors of the hotel and we wandered (quietly) around admiring it.
Then it was time for a recovery drink after such a long day before dinner and our final event of the day.
The Dark Sky tour was conducted by Landon from Dark Sky Tasmania, a group that aims to “preserve and protect Tasmania’s might-time environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting”. Landon took us on a walk from Salamanca to the city, explaining why dark skies are so important for our health and for the environment. He said, and this completely blew me away, that six per cent of Australia’s energy emissions comes from inefficient, inappropriate and ineffective lighting.
Six per cent of our total emissions! Think about that.
As we walked, Landon pointed out some lighting and explained why it worked or didn’t work and explained why brighter doesn’t always equal better. Some of the brightest lights make it harder to see than some of the dimmer ones just because of the way they are positioned and where the light goes. There were some very bad examples at Salamanca and in the Parliament lawns, along with a nearby lit up crane and building site.
The steps behind the Executive Building, which are lit with small downlights in the handrails—exactly where you need to be able to see when you’re ascending or descending stairs in the dark—and the lighting in Franklin Square were much better examples of effective lighting. Landon was less complimentary about the Shadforths sign on the building across the road.
The final stop was the Sportsgirl corner on Murray and Liverpool Street, from where you can see four generations of street lighting, ranging from the old sodium lights to the new and very bright LEDs, which, Landon said, don’t light up the places they need to light.
Finally, we walked into the bright lights in Liverpool Street, covered one light with our hands and looked up at the sky to see the one star Landon said we could still see. I couldn’t even see that, but I have crap eyesight, so there you go.
This was an interesting and thought-provoking way to end what had been a wonderful day of exploration, and I will never look at street lighting the same way again. We headed home to get ready to do it all again tomorrow.
Part 1: Supreme Court
After our tour of the Supreme Court, Lil Sis and I had some time in town before our next tour so we rushed through three buildings in quick succession. The crypt at St David’s Cathedral, which sounded a bit grim but turned out to be a couple of small underground storerooms. At least we know what’s down there now.
Next stop was City Hall in Macquarie Street, which is a very cool building dating back to 1915.
Last time I was there it was full of rallying unionists. Today, it was empty. We had access to the caretaker’s cottage and the roof so there were some good views across the city and some potentially interesting photo opportunities.
Construction House on Bathurst Street is an awesome example of mid-20th century modernist architecture, and that was where we headed next.
It was designed by the architects Bush Parkes Shugg and Moon and built in 1956. I recently learned it was originally their offices before the Department of Education moved in. It is known for the massive rubber plant that grows up the staircase and for the beautiful mosaic by Max Angus on the front. I also recently learned that the original building only had three levels, with the other two added later.
My dentist operates out of this building, after the building that previously housed his practice at 173 Macquarie Street (also, coincidentally, designed by Bush Parkes Shugg and Moon) was demolished to make way for the Ibis hotel. I’ve never been as good at remembering to go to the dentist as I am now. I have a theory, after seeing other dentist practices in beautiful modernist buildings, that dentists operate out of lovely buildings to encourage their clients to visit regularly.
Today, thankfully, was not a dentist visit and we had access to the staircase and the rooftop, which was great because of the views and the chance to see the rubber plant all the way up.
We didn’t stay long because we had another tour booked in Bellerive and had to leave for that. This was the Jarvis House, which is one of the many sensational houses designed by Esmond Dorney. This one is from 1959.
The owner of the house, Carol, was recently featured on an ABC radio segment about the house and as I was listening to it, I was wishing I could actually see what they were talking about. Today was that opportunity.
It’s a lovely house with great views (which would be much improved by removing the tree over the road . . . . ) but if you go over the road the outlook across the river to kunanyi is breathtaking.
It was worth the trip just for that and the house was a bonus! One interesting feature of the house is the way the ceiling actually slopes downwards towards the back of the house, which isn’t immediately obvious until someone points it out to you. (Look at the drawing!)
It’s been (sympathetically) extended over the years and Carol has been very passionate about keeping it consistent with its original form. It really is remarkable and I am very grateful that Carol was so willing to share it with us.
So that was our Open House morning, with much more to look forward to in the afternoon and the next day.
This weekend, the weekend of 9-10 November was Open House Hobart, which is an annual showcase of Hobart’s architecture, history and everything in between. Heaps (I have no idea how many because I’m too lazy to count) of buildings that the public normally don’t have access to, or have limited access to, are open over the weekend and you can either walk right in and have a look around in your own time or book a tour for the more popular (or secure) places.
A lot of the open buildings are private residences, so they’re only open for a brief period during the weekend, and for most of them you need to book a tour, so it becomes a bit of a juggling act to work out what you want to see, and what you can see in the times that the buildings you want to see are open. It’s a beautiful thing because there are so many buildings to choose from, but oh so many choices!
Last year my sister and I spend the entire weekend exploring the places that were open, sometimes together and sometimes on our own. (Last year she got one of the highly coveted spots on the West Hobart reservoir tour while I was at the Supreme Court). We decided to do it again this year and, because she was home and I was out, the task of navigating the booking system fell to her. I am forever grateful that she persisted for two hours to book us both tickets to the Supreme Court tour.
That’s where we started on Saturday.
The Supreme Court, you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram, is one of my favourite buildings in Hobart. No, it’s my favourite building. I love it. I photograph it often. It is a beautiful building and it is beyond fabulous that the tour was run by three people who have a very close affiliation with the court: Peter Partridge, the architect of the complex, who is still involved with it today, Justice Stephen Estcourt, and the Deputy Registrar, Brendan McManus. Between them, they gave us a rundown on how the court works and the history of the building. Having been on the tour last year and followed up some reading about the building, I already knew a lot of what they talked about and it was wonderful to sit, listen and reflect, rather than take lots of notes like I did last year (yes, I am that person).
In brief, the complex was constructed to house the criminal court, which until 1975 was located at what is now the Penitentiary Chapel site in Campbell Street and the civil court, which had been located in the 1860 courthouse in the Treasury building in Macquarie Street. It was relocated in 1980 when the second Supreme Court building was completed. There had been plans for a multi-story building on the site but that idea was rejected by the government and Peter was handed the brief of designing a low building made of sandstone. Basically, it needed to “fit in” with the surrounding area (which one of the reasons for the death of another nearby building, but that’s another story . . .).
When I was researching the history of the complex, I learned that Peter designed it using five principles: letting the park flow through the complex, randomness, using local materials (which almost everything is, except the slate, which they couldn’t source economically from Tasmania), providing quiet and privacy (if only modern office designers would think a bit more about this) and construction detail that would assist the builders (e.g. use of pre-cast concrete columns). The intention was to create a complex that was human in scale and that retained the dignity required for the justice system.
Peter spoke about the principle of the park flowing through the complex at length and said that recent plans to create a structure that would join the two buildings so that prisoners could be transferred between them were rejected because that would have completely destroyed the original philosophy of the design. He also described many of the materials in the complex and their origins, which I remember taking very detailed notes on last year. And he spoke of the lengths they had had to go to, to ensure privacy and quiet, to the extent of moving all the buzzy things (technical term) from the fluorescent lights into another section of the ceiling.
The attention to detail in this complex is amazing. Lino instead of carpet under the coat hooks in the jury room so the rain can drop off umbrellas is just one example.
I got the chance to ask Peter whether it was true he had designed the roof so he’d have something nice to look at out of the windows of the (formerly) neighbouring 10 Murray Street offices. He confirmed that this was, indeed, the case. It’s a very interesting roof. I like it.
Of course, no tour is ever going to be the same, so there were things I hadn’t picked up last year that sparked my interest this time. One of the things I hadn’t appreciated was the principle of randomness, which was one of five principles Peter had used in designing the complex. He said if you look around the site, the only symmetry you’ll find is within the courtrooms themselves, which are beautifully designed: round courtrooms and like Peter said, symmetrical. If you know me very well, you’ll know how much I like straight lines and angles and symmetry but I love this building’s use of the round; the “court in the round” being a concept that former Chief Justice, and later Governor, Sir Stanley Burbury had learned about while he was in the US.
And the randomness makes it interesting. The fact that the courtrooms in the criminal court are called Courts 7 and 8 when there are only four courtrooms in the whole complex has to be one of the most random things about it!
Outside, the randomness brings me back time after time to photograph lines and shapes from different angles and with different shadows and light.
It is a wonderful building and one that we are very lucky to have here in Hobart. And I think we are equally lucky to have Peter still involved with the complex even after retiring from practice. He’s very much involved in any decision made about the site to make sure that any changes remain sympathetic to the original designs and the principles under which it was made. Added to this are the judges like Justice Estcourt and Chief Justice Blow, who are also passionate about the complex and about retaining it in the form as it was originally intended.
I felt grateful to have been able to see inside the Supreme Court buildings for the second time and to hear their stories again. It was the perfect start to the weekend.
I love the T&G Building on the corner of Collins and Murray Street. I don’t know a lot about it, other than it was one of several buildings constructed for the T&G Mutual Life Assurance Society in Australia around the same period. Most of these buildings were designed by the Melbourne architectural firm A&K Henderson, which was also responsible for a number of other landmark buildings in Hobart including the building that now houses Dome cafe on the corner of the mall and Collins Street and the Hobart Council Centre, formerly the Hydro Electric Commission, on Davey Street.
Many of the T&G buildings were a similar Art Deco style as Hobart’s T&G and featured a similar clock tower.
According to the sign across the road that gives some of the history of the building, the 1945 City of Hobart Plan recommended that the height of this building should not be exceeded in Hobart’s CBD.
I guess they abandoned that recommendation pretty quickly because by the end of the 1960s there were several taller buildings dotted around the CBD, including AMP (now NAB) House (1968) and 10 Murray Street (1969), to be followed by more in the 1970s including T&G’s neighbour over the road, the distinctive Jaffa Building (1978).
According to a plaque on the wall, the building was significantly refurbished in the early 1980s. The ground floor of the building has several shops and there’s an open linkway between Murray and Collins Street that houses more shops, and the lifts and the stairwells to the businesses on the upper floors and lower. I believe that some of the top floors are residences. At least there’s one. The penthouse apartment on the top floor recently sold for over $1 million.
If you go into the linkway, you’ll find a plaque commemorating the completion of the building in 1938.
When I first saw this, I thought, oh yeah, 1938, it’s not that old. It’s a pretty modern building. But, as I walked on, it dawned on me that the 21st century is nearly 20 years old and that, therefore, this building is over 80 years old. It’s not exactly a young building. (I think that in my mind, nothing has aged since the year 2000, which is why I get such a shock when I see people I met when they kids in 1996 drinking in the pub and turning 21. I genuinely imagined the building was only 60 years old.)
Reflecting on the age of the T&G Building made me recall a comment on an internet post reporting on a building of a similar age in another town that burnt down not that long ago. The person had said that it wasn’t that great of a loss because it wasn’t like the building was 150 years old.
That made me scratch my head. It seemed to be a very now-centred perspective. What I wanted to ask this person was, how do you think a building gets to the age of 150 years if it’s not left alone at 80 years?
If we don’t care for and protect these buildings now, they won’t ever be 150 years old, and If we were to neglect and destroy all our 80-year-old buildings, in 70 years time people would be asking where all the 150-year-old buildings were.
That’s the first reason the comment made no sense to me. The second question I thought of was why would a 150-year-old building be more valuable than an 80-year-old building just because it’s older? The comment implied that if the same building had been 150 years old it would have been sad to have lost it but because it was only 80, losing it was no big deal.
Did the person mean that the longer a building has been standing, the more unfortunate its loss would be? That seemed to be what they were saying. If the building had burned down in 2088 rather than 2018, it would have been a greater loss because it would have been older. I could only assume that this person places greater value on older buildings, for no reason other than they’re old. I didn’t understand that either.
Using this logic, a building isn’t valued because it’s not very old, say 80 years in this case, but at some point it must become old enough that people look at it and say, yeah, that’s important and we need to preserve it. But who’s to say where that point is? If it has to be older than 80 when is old enough? 100? 120? 150? It doesn’t make any sense. If an 80-year-old building isn’t important or significant or valuable now, how it is it that the same building suddenly becomes important or significant or valuable some time within the next 70 years? It can’t be just because it’s achieved the status of “an old building”.
I’d like to think that significance, value and importance have nothing to do with age. I’m sure there are some ugly 150-year-old buildings around that have ended up being preserved primarily because of their age, while there are 80-year-old (and 50-year-old and even 20-year-old) buildings that are deemed expendable because they aren’t very old and haven’t yet reached that point where their significance has been acknowledged—and it never will be because, by the time it would have, the building is long gone and it’s too late.
Dirk Bolt, the original designer of one of those 50-year-old buildings that didn’t survive, speaking about that building before it was demolished, observed that this is exactly what happens.
“It is in a phase where buildings are seen to be too old to be adequate for their task and too young to be part of a significant heritage,” he said. “However, this phase is temporary and demolition denies future generations to judge for themselves.” (The Mercury 21 October 2009)
Often, we don’t appreciate our more modern buildings and don’t put in the effort to preserve them now so that they will still be standing when they’re 150 years old and future generations make that call about whether they are significant. But if we continue to focus on age as a measure of value or importance or significant, many buildings have to wait until someone in the future judges them to be significant—if they survive that long, which a lot of them don’t.
So far, the T&G building has escaped any such debate. People seem to like Art Deco more than many other 20th century styles, which I’m sure helps. I’d say it’s a Hobart icon and I can’t imagine anyone succeeding with an application to knock it down and replace it with a high-rise tower. It’s on the Tasmanian Heritage Register for a start.
Though you can never be too sure. T&G in Townsville, which had a similar design, was on the Heritage Register. It was smaller and built later than Hobart’s T&G and was demolished in 2008 to make way for an office block. This building had been removed from the Heritage Register on the grounds that it had no architectural or cultural heritage significance. Having been designed in Melbourne by our friends A&K Henderson, it was deemed to be an inappropriate design for tropical Queensland and, consequently, was a structural mess that would have been difficult to restore and maintain. (The decision is an interesting read.)
And specifically being an Art Deco building on the Heritage Register won’t necessarily save you either, as the former government printing office in Salamanca Place found out when the Tasmanian Government brutally made legislation that permanently removed it from the Heritage Register so it could be demolished.
No, just being Art Deco isn’t enough. Just ask this building in Macquarie Street that was killed in 1985 and I think is now the Grand Chancellor. (Paul Johnston sums up the dilemma well in this article, where he says, “the generation that creates something is never the one to appreciate it”.)
I wonder what people will make of T&G when it’s 150 years old. I hope they’ll appreciate it as much as we do now. I also wonder if people will still be as obsessed with preserving old sandstone buildings as they are now and if they’ll regret the choices made today to remove some wonderful newer buildings from our streets. (Actually, I really wonder if half of Hobart might not be underwater by then and if preserving our built heritage will be the least of our concerns, a worry long since forgotten.)
Amazing where looking at a simple plaque inside a building can take your mind. For now, I will continue to enjoy photographing T&G and its many angles and intricacies because it really is a delight. And next time I might even take my camera instead of my phone!