The Bank Arcade was our first tour of the second day of Open House Hobart.
What can I tell you about that? This was an absolute eye opener of a tour, which was conducted by the building owner, John Short. John is clearly passionate about the building and in getting to the bottom of its history (literally), so much so he has just written a book about it.
The Open House program describes it as a “curious building”, which was built in 1805, 1812, 1835, 1860 and 1958. It is a building on top of a building on top of a building on top of a building on top of Hobart’s oldest stone building and was the site of Hobart’s first shop.
During the tour, John shared some very early pictures of the site and described the process he had used to discover who had built it and when, which sounded very much like the way in which a crime would be solved. Motive, opportunity and money.
I don’t remember a lot of it because it had so much going on and there were so many additions and alterations over the years since it was first built. It was an absolutely fascinating story and I can imagine how much work John must have put in to researching the building’s history for the book. His story of his research was just as interesting as the history of the building and his devotion to the work was just wonderful.
I think my favourite part of the story was the time the owner decided to remodel part of the building to create four shops at street level, to replace the large showroom it had been. The builders pulled out some bricks, which is probably never a good idea at the best of times, but especially not with a building that was really a collection of buildings smashed together, put up some supports and went to the football for the afternoon. The result: the vibration of a passing tram bringing down the 1860s facade. Who would have thought?
I had absolutely no idea this building had such a complicated past and am so thankful to John for taking the time to tell its story. Yet another building I will never look at the same way again.
Our final tour was supposed to be Anglesea Barracksbut it was raining and they didn’t want to do the tour in the wet, so we spent an hour in the military museum, which included a tour of the site via a model that had been constructed in the 1940s.
The museum is located in the former military goal, which was also once home to the Hobart Reform School for girls. In a story almost parallel to the Bank Arcade story, Steve, our guide, told us that one of the buildings had always been accepted as having been built in the 1840s but the way it was designed, in particular the size of the windows, suggested that it was actually much earlier than that and it was, most likely one of the earliest buildings on the site, dating back to 1814. The official records, however date it at the later date, so that’s what it is officially.
And that was it for the weekend!
A huge thanks to the staff at Open House Hobart for organising the weekend and to the people who gave up their weekends to conduct the tours. And enormous thanks to the volunteers at all the buildings, who had to read out the Covid checklist and make sure everyone used hand sanitiser on every tour. They did a great job and the event wouldn’t have been possible without them. So thank you so much to them too.
When we last saw Robyn, our entertaining and informative guide of the “What Style is That?” walking tour that was part of our Open House Hobart experience, we were in the car park of the Treasury building in Franklin Square, looking at the Reserve Bank building across the road. You can read about how we got there in part 3.
Lil Sis and I visited the Treasury complex last year as part of Open House. It wasn’t open this year so we were glad to have been able to look through it then. Today’s visit looked at the outside of the buildings and the many different features and eras of the structures that make up the complex.
Robyn told the story we heard last year about the four columns out the front of the main entrance, which were originally going to be eight because John Franklin was obsessed with columns, but this was never done because of public outcry about the cost of eight columns. (Also, you have to ask yourself, where would the all fit?) Robyn mentioned that the Jane Franklin building in Lenah Valley had similar columns and that there had been suggestions that perhaps this is where the missing Treasury columns had ended up. She also said that she was 100 per cent confident that they weren’t, and you’ll have to ask her yourself how she knows this.
Across the road from Treasury in Murray Street is the former Hobart Savings Bank, which is notoriously known as the red awnings building.
This bank was founded by the Quakers as a bank that former convicts and other people who had been rejected by the big banks could access. Robyn said that in a big financial crash in the 1890s, this was the only bank that was unscathed because all of the others had made huge risky investments and lost most of their depositors’ funds. This benefited the people who had been scorned by society as they now had all the money and could go out and buy property and start to set their families up.
We were lucky enough to have a brief tour of this building after the walking tour. It’s now a private residence and is quite amazing inside but I can’t show you any photos as the owner has requested that we don’t publish any photos from the inside.
As we walked down Murray Street, Robyn showed as another example of how front walls are designed for the upper class, with their perfect sandstone blocks but when it comes to the sides, anything goes because that’s what the less well-regarded members of society see as they go around to the side entrance.
So the walls are uneven with odd shaped bits of stone shoved in to fit whatever space there was. I never knew this and had never paid any attention before. But now I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it.
We ended our tour at Parliament House, which I rightly identified as Georgian. (There, see, I learned something.) It was built in 1835 as the customs house. I mentioned that I understood that it wasn’t big enough for its purpose as Parliament House. Robyn said that this was indeed the case, and that the original plans had larger wings on either side, which had been crossed off (in red pen, no less) the design, leaving us with a building that isn’t fit for purpose. Perhaps one day I will elaborate on my plans for fixing this but I don’t think Hobart is ready for that yet.
It was a fabulous tour and I am so grateful to Open House Hobart and to Robyn for giving us this opportunity. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t know about our older buildings and I am interested to find out more. I’m still not going to convert to the cult of sandstone and I can’t tell my Corinthian column from my Doric or my Tuscan ones (sorry, Robyn, my brain just isn’t equipped for this). But I will certainly look at some of these places in a different light as I walk past, especially ones with inappropriate porches! (You can go on Robyn’s tour next year and ask her about those.)
I had to split this post into two because it’s way too long!
After our Open House Hobart tour of Blue Magnolia, Lil Sis and I made our way briskly to the waterfront, where we were due to meet Robyn Everist, our guide for the “What Style is That?” walking tour. I’d never met Robyn before but I went on one of the walking tours that run out of the company she used to own, Hobart Walking Tours, a few years ago. Robyn now spends her time researching the history of Hobart’s architecture, a subject very close to my heart, so I was looking forward to this tour immensely.
I know bugger all about architectural styles, unless it’s modernism (and even then I’m never really sure), and even less about the features of buildings. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll probably know I’m not a huge fan of fancy, ornate bits stuck on buildings (there is a reason I’m called straightlinesgirl and it has nothing to do with my technical drawing skills, or lack thereof). If you point out a Colonial Classical Federation Georgian Revival building to me, I’ll probably nod politely and start photographing the 60s glass curtain wall across the road. Sorry not sorry.
However, I am here to learn, and I was very interested to find out more about the buildings that I normally dismiss as colonial sandstone relics that would look better with a bit of concrete and steel over the front.
I was not disappointed. Robyn is a fantastic guide; very well informed and extremely entertaining about a subject that could be as dull as River Yarra water. I mean who really cares about whether a column is Tuscan, Ionic or Doric? It’s a column, right? What even is the point of them? It holds up a building. Or a porch. Or nothing at all.
We only had hour for the tour, which, as with any great guide, extended to at least 90 minutes. Robyn explained so many features of the buildings we looked at that my head was spinning by the end. Actually, my head was spinning by the time we got to Dutch Anglo something at City Hall. I don’t think I’m an aural learner. I need to read stuff to take it in after I’ve heard it and, fortuitously Robyn had that covered with a summary we could download from her website.
We started out at the IXL buildings at 25 Hunter Street, where I learned what a pediment is. This is a word I forgot as soon as Robyn said it and I couldn’t for the life of me remember it for this post. I knew it started with P and that if you put im- in front of it, it meant something else. But could I think of the word? Absolutely not. I ended up having to go and look it up in my trusty* Rice’s Language of Buildings.
Robyn explained that this building was in the Colonial Georgian style, which covers the period 1788 to 1840 in Australia. She describes the style as being like a Volvo: Boxy but good. As far as sandstone goes, it’s not a bad style. It’s symmetrical, and very plain, with none of that fancy nonsense that some of the later sandstone buildings have. My straight-lines brain approves.
We then made our way to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which is a fascinating complex of buildings. The 1902 building on Davey Street, I hadn’t realised was built for Australia’s Federation in 1901 and the deal was that if the building was constructed before 1901 the Tasmanian Government would have to pay for it; after that it would be a Federation building and the Commonwealth would pay. Well played, Tasmania, by the looks of it. Robyn explained how this building and others in Hobart, because they were built by people with very British outlooks on life, were designed in very British styles that had exactly zero reference to life in Australia. I wondered if that was a reason why I don’t feel any particular attachment to any of those older buildings.
As we walked, Robyn observed how there are buildings where the architects have tossed the rule books out the window when they designed them. For example, the style was for buildings to reflect the people who used them. So the ground floors would be highly decorated with grand entrances to be used by the upper classes; the middle floors, accessed by middle classes, were less ornate and the top floors, which were where the servant class had to go, were plain and unadorned, with the entrances for those people round the back. All designed, she said, so that people knew their place. So when thinking about the building, it helps to know what its purpose was as that will explain a lot of the design features.
One story that I particularly loved, among the many, was the story of the CML building on the corner of Macquarie and Elizabeth Street. CML wanted all its buildings to look the same, as you do, and its buildings were made of granite, which no one in Tasmania could afford. So they developed this solution where they would get some crushed up pink stone material from Brisbane, mix it up with concrete, make it onto tilers to stick to the building, which would be made much more cheaply from Besser blocks and no one would know the difference. The ultimate in keeping up appearances.
One building I have always liked is the Reserve Bank building a bit further up Macquarie Street. It was built in the 1970s by the Government, and at the time there was no money around to construct a building that would look like the elaborate buildings of other financial institutions that stood on this street. Think Treasury for starters (we’ll get there in the next post). So, said, Robyn, the people of Hobart would not have appreciated big bucks going towards a replica Treasury building on the site and accepted the need for a cheap, quick building instead. Steel and concrete. Bang, done.
I do love these buildings, at least from the outside. The less said about the money-saving open plan designs inside the better.
However, I have, for a long time, wondered how a building like this has been tolerated in a streetscape of ornate sandstone when other brutalist structures standing close to sandstone landscapes were detested and deemed not to fit and ultimately demolished. Why is this one okay? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they hate it and it doesn’t fit and should be demolished. I did also read somewhere that it wasn’t actually concrete, it had a sandstone finish but I can’t remember where I found that.
A magnificent feature of this building is the “Antarctic Tableau” sculpture by Stephen Walker. I wasn’t aware that Stephen had had a keen interest in Antarctica and had actually travelled there as part of the Antarctic Division’s art program.
We continued our tour along Macquarie Street with the Treasury complex, which will be in the next post.
* “Trusty” in that I bought this book 18 months ago and until today, hadn’t actually looked at anything in it that pre-dated 1930.
My second tour of the 2020 Open House Hobart weekend was Blue Magnolia on Molle Street.
This is a hidden away little 1840s cottage that is an absolutely tiny space (and, therefore, almost impossible to photograph, especially with a 50mm lens, which is the lens I have restricted myself to using for 50 days, having not considered that this weekend was coming up when I decided to do it). Nevertheless, it has been photographed very beautifully (not by me, obviously).
We were lucky enough to have one of the architects responsible for the redesign, Rosa, to show us through and answer our questions.
She said the building had been two row houses, which as far as we could tell were an upstairs room and a downstairs room each, with massively thick stone walls between them.
Kitchen? Nope. Bathroom? Nope. Basically, it sounded like living there would be like camping in a stone cottage. Now the two houses were one and there actually was a kitchen and a bathroom.
Rosa explained that there had been some 1970s additions to the house, which had been removed and replaced with the new extensions in 2017.
It really is cool how much they have managed to fit into such a tight space behind the existing houses on the street. The bathroom is fabulous, with the clear roof and views of the city.
The extensions have lots of beautiful timberwork and there are doorways punched through the stone walls. The whole space fits together really nicely and it doesn’t feel as small as it is.
Clearly, a space like this has insufficient space for bookcases, so I could never live there. But it would be a lovely retreat space for a few days.
I wasn’t sure if this year’s Open House Hobart was going to go ahead as normal because of the covid pandemic, but the organisers did a great job in putting together a program that included a mix of in-person tours, virtual tours and livestreamed presentations. We had to book everything we wanted to do this year, which mean no more rocking up to buildings that were on the way to other buildings, and making sure we left enough time between things not to be late for the tours.
After being read the covid statement and being asked to confirm that we didn’t have any symptoms, the first of many such checks over the weekend, we were able to go into the court to go through the security. The tour was run by the Court Administrator (whose name I have forgotten) with the building’s architect, Andrew Shurman and the Chief Magistrate, Catherine Geason. I believe this was the first year the court has been open in the Open House Program so it was exciting to be able to tour the building with the architect.
It spans a site on Campbell and Liverpool Streets that includes the former Blundstone Boot Factory, which was built in 1909 on Campbell Street. Over the years from the 1940s the state government acquired the buildings surrounding the factory and incorporated them into the Magistrates Court. In 1971, the government acquired other buildings on Campbell Street, which were mostly demolished, except the the cafe on the corner of Liverpool Street, and the remaining factory buildings, other than the main building which is heritage listed, were demolished in the 1990s.
The new section in Liverpool Street that was completed in 1995. This section connects to the Hobart Reception Prison in the building next door.
The brief for the 1990s building was that it needed to have the most advanced facilities available, including the capacity for people to give remote video evidence, which is now a protected witness room that people can give their evidence in sensitive matters from rather than have to go into the court room. It has a separate entrance so people using the room don’t have to go through the main entrance.
Another feature of the complex is the incorporation of artworks throughout the design, including some beautiful timber and copper works and the magnificent vertical sculpture that sits alongside the staircase in the main entry.
Andrew told us that the entrance and the waiting area on the first floor were designed to provide views out onto the street and allow natural light into the spaces to try and make it less uncomfortable for people coming into the court. Another feature is the tiled floor that represents the Hobart rivulet, as well as the carpet, which was especially designed for the court. None of the government standard red circles for this place (though I do love that carpet).
We were able to go into some of the court rooms as well as some of the areas that aren’t open to the public like the magistrates’ chambers, the staff amenities room, which is actually the original factory floor from the Blundstone factory, and the Administrator’s office, which has the original hoist from the factory tucked away in the corner.
Andrew explained that they had wanted to retain as much of the factory as they could when they fitted it out as a court house, so there are lots of exposed wooden ceiling beams, joists, and timber framework in the Campbell Street part of the building too.
I asked what determines whether a matter goes to the Magistrates Court or the Supreme Court. For offences where there is a value attached, if it’s above $20,000 it will go to the Supreme Court, and certain serious crimes, like murder also go there. For some matters, the person can choose which court they wish the matter to be heard in.
The court actually sits on a Saturday so as we were leaving out the side door, there were people coming in for hearings through the main door, which was interesting.
On the way out, we stopped outside to take some photos from the street.
Of particular interest was the “crown” on the Liverpool street side, which represents the headpiece wreath of the statues of the blindfolded Lady of Justice in Greek Mythology. I had walked past this feature many times without even making that connection. It sits atop a large window that is the conference room we’d just been.
Finally, on the way to our next tour, we walked along Campbell Street to have a look at the Blundstone factory side of the complex.
I’ve now been doing my 50 in 50 challenge for just over a week. This is a challenge where I use my 50mm prime lens for 50 days and take at least one photo every day.
So far, it’s been an interesting experience and I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m pleased with most of the photos I’ve made, though there are a couple that probably are best never to speak of again.
I’ve noticed a few things as I use this lens, which I’m not all that familiar with.
First, and most obviously, is that, as it’s a prime lens, I don’t have the luxury of being able to zoom to compose a photo like I can with my other lenses. If I want less in the frame, I have to move closer to the subject and if I want a wider view, I need to move away. That’s all fine until I take one step too far back and bump into a wall and can’t get any wider. This also means that sometimes the shots don’t capture everything I want and I have to reconsider how to best compose them.
Composition is especially important because of my “no cropping” rule, which means I have to get no more than I want in the frame. The only exception to no cropping is to straighten something that I didn’t quite get straight when I was shooting. Which sometimes creates problems . . . .
Doing this challenge has made me think about what I want in the image when I’m actually shooting it as opposed to going wide and playing around with it in post-processing.
I’m also finding I’m paying a lot more attention to my settings, in particular aperture, rather than leaving it on f/8 as I normally do with my wider photos. This lens goes all the way to f/1.8, which is very challenging to shoot at and not something I’m at all familiar with. It will be interesting to explore this further over the next 40 or so days.
I’ll be updating the blog every week or so and posting my photos every day (or thereabouts) on my Instagram with the hashtag #50in50.