Concluding Saturday’s Open House Hobart journey, Lil Sis and I visited the Princes Park Magazine, underground from my favourite public toilets in Hobart.
We met Sarah, the Senior Cultural Heritage Officer from the Hobart Council, who told us some of the history of the site, which was built to house gunpowder for the guns of the battery that was built above it. There were a number of batteries built around the River Derwent from 1804 to protect the port from potential invaders over the years, including French, Russian (in the mid to late 19th Century) and German (around the time of World War II) fleets. These include the Alexandra Battery in Sandy Bay, The Queens Domain Battery and the Kangaroo Bluff Battery on the Eastern Shore, which we visited a couple of years ago through Open House.
Underneath the popular Princes Park in Battery Point, a disused, fully intact subterranean magazine can be found. Built in 1840 to carry 144 barrels of powder, or 200 rounds, the Prince of Wales Battery became a public recreation ground in the 1880s. Explore the subterranean space, designed as a ‘room within a room’ to absorb the shock of accidental blast.
Open House Hobart
In what sounds like a series of blunders of judgment by people who were a bit too worried about being invaded, there were three batteries built in this area. The first, the Mulgrave Battery (1818), was near the current CSIRO site and too close to sea level for anyone to be able to see any potential threats sailing up the river. The batteries on the southern tip of Sullivan’s Cove led to the promontory being called “the battery point”, which eventually became the name of the entire suburb.
According to the ABC, it’s been described as a “poor pitiful mud fort” that was likely to shatter if fired upon, and as noted, by the time anyone saw any threatening boats from there, it would already be too late.
The Prince of Wales Battery, further up the hill, replaced the Mulgrave Battery in 1840. It, along with the original Prince of Wales Hotel nearby, was named after Queen Victoria’s son Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. The magazine we visited was built underneath this battery to store the gunpowder. Sarah noted that it was rather small, able to hold 144 barrels, which was much less than the Queen Victoria magazine on the Domain (which we saw a couple of years ago) could hold. The Albert Battery was subsequently built even further up the hill during the Crimean War in the 1850s.
The Royal Engineers designed the powder magazine, and Sarah explained how it was built on a “room within a room” principle. It actually looked like a little one-room house with a gabled roof and four-feet thick walls that would absorb the impact of any accidental blast. Neat hey. There were steps outside the room leading up to the battery.
It was all covered over in the 1860s and the batteries were decommissioned in 1882, when the land was handed over to the Hobart Council. The council redeveloped it into a park in 1934, when the magazine was “rediscovered” and the new entrance and the iron gates were constructed, together with the plaque that has a fairly major mistake on it. Most of the time these are kept locked and Sarah said it’s great to be able to open it up for tours like this. It was an interesting tour and built on some of the history we already knew about the battery system dotted around the city.
Sarah also talked about how this all linked in with the semaphore signalling system used in the 19th century, and mentioned the nearby Signalman’s Cottage, which featured in an episode of Restoration Australia. It would appear I am the only person in Hobart who hasn’t seen this.
Continuing our Open House Hobart weekend quest to visit Esmond Dorney designs, Lil Sis and I stopped in at Kaljuvee House in Lenah Valley.
This is one in a series of “missing” Dorneys, apparently discovered derelict by the current owners and no one had known it was there.
This house was built in 1952 so it’s one of his earlier works in Tasmania. It’s a beautiful space and very much original. The owner, Kate, said the only significant modification they had done was to extend the kitchen a little to be able to fit a dishwasher and more than one person.
It’s distinctly a Dorney but has some features I’ve not seen on other houses, such as the slats over the front windows, which Kate says serve no purpose at all, and this curved ladder-like structure near the entry door, which she says makes it easy to get onto the roof and remove leaves from the gutter.
The Open House website says
This building may be one of Hobart’s great secrets: the house is perched above a quarry face far below the street level and is invisible from any public space. As dramatic proof of the legitimacy of this urban myth, it was discovered in poor condition by the current owners, as no one knew it was there! Now beautifully restored, this is its first public outing.
Approached by a stairway that winds from the street high above, two pavilions – one private and one social – are defined by a partial level change and a butterfly of two opposing skillion rooves. An expressed skeletal structure wraps the portico entrance and shades the fully glazed northern wall which opens to a stunning panorama of the River Derwent and the hills of the Midlands. The open living space (masked by a wall planter Scarpa would be proud of) soars over the garden and into the landscape.
It has a beautiful outlook and a lovely garden. I think I could live here but Kate says she’s not moving out any time soon.
Open House Hobartweekend was held on 13-14 November, with a fascinating range of buildings open for tours and drop-ins.
After our Taroona Esmond Dorney buildings, we were supposed to take part in the Modern Hobart City walking tour, which I was super excited about, but unforeseen circumstances meant it had been cancelled earlier in the week, so we had some free time before our next Dorney house. We decided to wander along Macquarie Street and see what we could find
The National Mutual Life Building at 119 Macquarie Street was open, we think for the first time
Open House tells us this about it.
This six-storey neo-Gothic sandstone building in the centre of Hobart has been a prominent part of the Hobart city landscape since its construction in 1906. The National Mutual Life Association (founded in Melbourne in 1869) commissioned prominent Hobart-born architect, Alan Cameron Walker, to design their Hobart offices. Walker was born in 1865 and apprenticed under the well-known Tasmanian architect, Henry Hunter. The stone facade and carved bas-reliefs of the building are of particular note, and feature a lion and unicorn flanking the company logo above the entrance on Macquarie Street. The building now houses a number of commercial tenancies, with the third and fourth floors being occupied as a residence.
I’ve always been intrigued by this building, especially the turret on the roof, and it sits nicely next to one of my favourite buildings, the Reserve Bank.
It was raining when we got to the roof top and my first impression was of the brilliant view it had of the two beautiful modernist buildings on the corner of Murray and Collins Street, Jaffa and the T&G Building. Who cares about the rain here?
I was so excited by the view I almost forgot about the turret (I don’t know if that’s the actual term, I’m sure it’s not).
It also sits nicely against the Reserve Bank so you can reach out and touch it.
Should you wish to do so.
There was once a rooftop cafe up here, complete with deck chairs, which looks like it would have been a fabulous use of the space. We need more rooftop cafes!
The top floor of the building had recently been vacated and was empty, ready for refurbishment.
It was such a wonderful space and very hard not to notice all the lead lighting throughout, which is thought to have been an 1970s addition.
I wasn’t the only person expressing a wish to live here.
On the other side of the Reserve Bank were two apartments at 105 Macquarie Street, “Polly” and “Henry”, which are recent transformations of former office spaces into short stay accommodation.
They were both very different in look and feel, and Polly had super views of the other side of the Reserve Bank.
These spaces were designed by Preston Lane, who had done the Tate House restoration, and one of the things we noticed was how a huge artwork had been incorporated into one of Polly’s walls. Apparently this had inspired Erik at Tate House to do the same thing in his bedroom in Taroona. It looked really cool. And I wasn’t able to get any photos of it, but this post will give you the idea.
We didn’t get much time here as we had an appointment with another Dorney house further out of the city. Onward!
Open House Hobartweekend was held on 13-14 November, with a fascinating range of buildings open for tours and drop-ins.
After our visit to the Esmond Dorney-designed Tate House in Taroona, Lil Sis and I called in to St Pius X Catholic Church, also designed by Dorney, consecrated in 1957.
According to the flyer they handed us when we arrived, the first Mass held in Taroona was at the old public hall in 1949. Before that, residents had to travel to Mass outside the area, which was difficult as not many owned cars and petrol was still rationed.
The parish community made plans to build a church in 1949. They obtained the site from the Trustees of Sisters of Charity in 1955 and set out to raise funds. Eventually they obtained a £4000 loan, managed to raise another £1000, and looked for an architect who would taken the project. Esmond Dorney was the only one prepared to consider it.
It has features that you might associate with Dorney, most notably the curved tubular steel framing. There’s a lot of varnished plywood panels and glass. You might notice that the windows on the bush-facing side are wide and clear to allow in the views of the bush, and on the other side it’s the wood panels that are wider and the frosted glass panels are narrower. It’s an interesting twist on an otherwise symmetrical design.
In the brochure, Parish Priest Father Nichols says, “It could be argued that it doesn’t have the traditional appearance of a church building, however its shape and form provide a very fine “skin” for the assembled church to carry out its worship”.
Fittingly, in 2017 the Australian Institute of Architects awarded its award for Enduring Architecture to Esmond Dorney for his design of this church. It’s listed in the Register of the National Estate and is considered to be the first modernist church in Australia.
I’ve walked past it many times and tried to photograph it from the outside with limited success (the photo at the top!) but this is the first time I’d been inside. It’s certainly a stunning venue and I think our community is very lucky to have it.
I had been anticipating the 2021 Open House Hobart weekend for weeks. As usual, my sister and I had booked in for several tours across Saturday and Sunday, and we had a lot to look forward to.
Our first tour on Saturday was Tate House in Taroona, which was built in 1958, designed by Esmond Dorney for the current owner, Erik’s, uncle, who lived there for many years.
The Open House description of the house says
Tate House sits above the river’s edge with 180 degree views of the estuary, along with the hills and bays of the far shore. The immediate foreground, originally beach and boat sheds, is now slightly masked by later development. The house is a continuation of the form and structural technology of the Dorney Shack (1957) and the Young (Butterfly) House of 1958. With immediate street frontage, this design needed to find a different solution from those two projects to ensure privacy in a developing suburban context. Allied to some solid panels, a slightly deeper setback allows the garden to mask the glazing. The form itself responds directly to the hills on the eastern horizon, offering a relaxed logic to the street view.
In 2019, the current owners commissioned Preston Lane Architects to carefully restore the existing house and update the interiors, maintaining the essence of the original building while also accommodating the changing needs of the clients, allowing them to age in place.
Paddy Dorney spoke of how much planning went into the restoration project and of the passion of Erik, the architects, and the builders, who all worked to maintain the integrity of Esmond’s design while updating it to reflect the occupants’ needs. He noted the care and attention that James, the builder, who was also there for the tour, had put into the project.
The downstairs section wasn’t part of Esmond’s original design and it was deliberately designed to not look like his work.
Part of the redesign was to include an internal staircase, so that people didn’t have to go outside to get upstairs. It’s a beautiful addition, sympathetic to the design but not trying to replicate it.
I walk past this house often and never knew the downstairs area was there because you can’t see it from the street. I’d thought the house looked so small and wondered how it was possible to live in it.
Learning about the flow-on design from the shack and the way downstairs was incorporated later, it all made sense.
I’d also been watching the renovations from the outside and, even though my first impression when seeing the house stripped back was to be horrified, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would do anything to a Dorney house that hadn’t been well considered and in keeping with its origins.
It’s beautiful work and the house looks wonderful. It’s a simple but very clever design with lovely attention to detail. It seems to just fit the space perfectly as well as take advantage of the wonderful river views.
One of the things I want to do this year (and every year) is improve my photography, which is kind of like asking myself to measure a piece of string. It is, as I’m sure is the case with any craft, a skill that you can keep on learning about forever and still never feel like you know everything.
That’s the beauty of it.
So saying that I want to improve is not so much setting a goal as taking an endless voyage of continuous learning.
One of the things I can do to learn, aside from actually going out and making photographs, is to take some courses in areas that I want to do better in. I’ve signed up to many of them, and always seem to start and never finish them. I find it difficult to stay motivated when the whole course is delivered online and there’s little, if any, interaction with the instructor, and no assignments to hand in. Some of them have online groups you can post your work in but there is still very little accountability and no one chases you up if you don’t. However, I suppose this is the difference between a short online course for a few hundred dollars and, say, a uni degree or diploma for several thousand dollars, which I seemed to have no lack of motivation to finish.
Anyway, my lack of follow-through aside, one of the courses I have been working through (slowly) is called The Compelling Frame by the Canadian photographer David duChemin. David describes the course as being “designed to help you better understand visual design and composition, specifically how we use those to create more captivating, more powerful, photographs”.
I’ve been working though the lessons (there are 19) this year, and have just completed lesson 9. (Did I mention I was working very slowly?)
This lesson is about contrast, and one of the exercises is to go out and make photographs of ten contrasts. This could be obvious things like colour contrast, dark/light or size, or more “conceptual” such as new/old and natural/man made.
The brief didn’t say they had to be great photographs or even photographs that were trying to say something, so I tried to let that additional pressure go and just look for contrast. I took my 24mm lens, which I haven’t used for ages. I was talking about it with a friend the other day and thinking how once upon a time, before I got my 50 mm lens, this had been my favourite lens and how it might be fun to take it out for a while. So I did.
Here are some of the images I came back with. I did some quick edits on them and cropped most of them to 8×10 to try something different. I don’t think there’s anything earth shatteringly brilliant here but what I found interesting was the more I looked for contrast, the more I found it everywhere.
I also found that in some of the images, there was more than one type of contrast, which I mostly didn’t notice until I got back home and started looking at them.
When I got the idea for the 50 in 50 project, I thought it would be interesting to challenge myself to take a photo every day with the same lens, and to restrict myself to using only that lens for a whole month to see what new perspectives I could get by limiting my choices. I had initially thought I’d use my 24mm prime lens because, well, because I love it and I could see myself using just that lens forever and never using anything else.
But loving that lens so much, I didn’t think that it would be a huge challenge to not use it. The 50mm, on the other hand, well, that was something different. I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d bought it and I’d rarely used it. I think I’d heard it was a good lens for portraits but, as portraits aren’t a genre I’m very interested in at all, I’m not sure what I thought getting a portrait lens would achieve.
Nonetheless, I had it and it was sitting there in my lens bag unused. Everytime I went to use it, everything would be SO CLOSE and I’d hastily swap it for my 10-22 where I was a lot more comfortable.
I’d set myself the goal of completing a 30-day project with one lens in 2020 as part of my 20 in 2020 list that I write about on my other blog. I realised at the end of October that time was running out if I wanted to get this done. I was on a short break in the middle of a very frantic time at work when I decided, in that way you make crazy decisions when you’re relaxed and on holidays, that I was going to start the project the very next day with the 50mm lens and it was going to be a 50-day project, not a 30-day one. Because 50/50/50 was just so much tidier than 30/50/30.
The challenge was set and the rules were made. I locked all my other lenses away in my camera bag and began. The main rule was that I needed to make at least one photo every day and post it. I didn’t actually have to edit or post it the day I took the photo, as long as I’d actually captured a photo every day. I was a little bit flexible with the challenge and I did allow myself to continue to use my phone for thing I’d normally have used my phone for anyway like casual daily photos and Hobart Street Corners.
So what did I learn?
Not allowing myself to crop the images, other than what was needed to straighten them, meant that I had to be a lot more careful in my framing in-camera. In some photos that were very tight, I found it difficult to make the adjustments I needed to compensate for the viewfinder showing me a slightly different view than what appeared in the image. More than once, an image that I thought I’d framed perfectly ended up with something I thought I had excluded sneaking in on the right hand side, or the image wasn’t framed exactly the way I had thought it was.
It was also difficult to step back as far as I needed to get what I wanted into the frame, so in a lot of photos I ended up getting closer and including less in the image than I had intended. This is why there are a lot of photos from the challenge of the tops of buildings or details, because the 50mm perspective just didn’t allow everything to be included. There are limits to how far you can step back sometimes, because there are things like brick walls or roads with heavy traffic that stop you. Getting run over in the pursuit of my art is not really the way I want to end my life!
Doing this challenge forced me to look at things in a different way to how I would have if I was using the 10-22 lens and trying to get everything in. It helped me to isolate details that I found interesting and to really think about what was interesting about a scene. It often felt like it was a lot more of a personal way to make photos, to find the element that spoke to me within what was usually quite a cluttered space, and to focus on that and to show it from my perspective.
I’d go out with one idea in mind and then, after being in the space for a while and taking the photos I thought I’d wanted, I’d look around some more and see something completely different. I’d then go and explore the things that had caught my eye and end up with a totally different image to what I’d imagined. Light playing on a surface, a creeping shadow, a small feature that I’d never have noticed if I’d been looking at the big picture. Something on the ground. Something sitting on a fence. I’d capture these things as I saw them, and I’m glad I did because, more often than not, I’d come back the next day and they’d be gone.
Of course, not everything worked out as I’d wanted it to, and some days I ended up just taking a photo of something, anything, just to complete the challenge for that day. These were not some of my best moments.
I found I really enjoyed getting up close to a feature and making it the focal point of the image, with a very shallow depth of field to blur the background.
Some of these types of photos worked well; others not so much. I had a couple of days where I’d get a photo I really liked only to find I hadn’t quite nailed the focus, whereas similar shots with less pleasing composition were tack sharp. What to do there?! My choice was to go with composition over sharpness and to remind myself it’s okay to take more than one photo of exactly the same thing if I think it’s going to be a good one. Maybe one day I’ll remember this.
16 December was the last day of the challenge and I’d already picked out my subject a couple of days earlier on my morning walk, when there was great light. I’d taken a few test shots and thought I could make it work on the last day. All I needed was the same light and the same lack of traffic on the highway. Sadly, the light didn’t come and I woke up feeling very unwell. Not unwell enough to not go for a walk but not exactly raring to go either. So I didn’t get the photo I wanted to round the project off. I took a couple of photos while I was out but nothing really worked and all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Which I did.
It was a disappointing end to what had been a fantastic project that, for the most part, I enjoyed doing. Overall, I’m pleased with the photos I made for the project, and there are a couple that are up there with my favourite images of the year.
I’m not in any great rush to stop using the lens and, now I know some of its possibilities, I’m keen to use it more often.
It’s been a great experience for me. I would say if you feel like your photography is getting stuck or same-y or you want to mix it up a bit, set yourself a challenge like this where you restrict yourself to one element. Go out for a couple of weeks, a month, however long feels right to you, and make photographs every day within that restriction. Maybe you could restrict the lens, or the aperture you use (or even both!). You could restrict yourself to making a photo at a particular time of day or within a particular location. One challenge I have always been interested in is the “one block” challenge, where you can only make photographs of things that are within one block of your town for whatever period you choose. Maybe a back and white challenge is more your thing (I did that for a year in 2018), or you photograph only yellow things every day for a month. Or birds. Or cups of coffee. Or sandstone (nah, just kidding, don’t do that). Anything where you limit your options, I think, will help you to focus on one thing and to get more creative as you can’t get distracted by the many other variables that could distract you.
Now I have to plan myself a new challenge for 2021.
Have you thought about undertaking a photo challenge like this? Or done one? Let me know in the comments.