Our final tour of the Open House Hobart 2021 weekend was the Anglesea Barracks tour that we didn’t get to do last year because it rained. Last year we spent the entire tour in the military museum, which included a tour of the site via a model that had been constructed in the 1940s.
By the time we arrived, it was starting to look like this might happen again, with a light rainfall, but thankfully our guides decided to press on, with one group starting in the museum and the other walking round the barracks. We were in the second group so we got to walk around.
The site was chosen by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811, with the first buildings on the site dating back to 1814.
Fraternisation between soldiers and convicts was understandable as many shared a common class background and also fought together in military campaigns throughout the Empire. With the establishment of the barracks, contact with the convict population was restricted and the feared threat of moral contamination and behaviour was minimised.
The site on top of Barrack Hill, the name Macquarie gave the site, gave clear and strategic views of the river, the settlement and the new Signal Station at Mount Nelson. Its influence over the town was more than military. The barracks became the social hub of the settlement and it was commonly said that ‘the best view in town could be had from the Officers Mess’ (now the Sergeants’ Mess).
The first building we looked at was the Guard House (1840), which is on your right as you enter the barracks. Merv, our guide pointed out the Spanish influence in the arches of this building.
The Soldiers Barracks (1847-48)
Designed by James Conway Victor (royal engineer). The third major barracks on the site the building was originally named “Anglesey Barracks” after the Earl of Anglesey. Later the name with its current spelling came into common usage for the whole precinct. In 1901 this building was extended to complete its original design necessitating the demolition of the first barracks building, the “Old Soldiers’ Barracks”. The original Soldiers Barracks, built in 1814, is thought to have been designed by Elizabeth Macquarie.
The Field Officers’ Quarters 1814 (now used as the Navy HQ).
Designed by Lt John Watts, aid to Governor Macquarie, or possibly Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie. This is the oldest remaining building at Anglesea Barracks. It provided separate apartments for a field officer and four captains , with their wives, families and servants. It included private kitchens, toilets, kitchen gardens and harness rooms at the rear (now demolished.
We also saw the parade ground, and the area set aside for memorials and tributes to people who died while on military service. Further round, opposite the Navy HQ is a row of buildings from 1827-1842.
The Subalterns/Officers Quarters (1827 – 1842)
The Northern terrace was designed by David Lambe. The Southern and infill terraces were designed by John Lee Archer. This building was constructed in three stages over fifteen years and completed the enclosure of the Parade Ground. The first stage, the lowest of the three terraces, provided a Captain’s quarters and the Officers’ Mess – the social centre of Hobart Town. The later two stages provided accommodation for junior officers. Behind the terrace were kitchens servants’ quarters and a privy. These were demolished many years ago.
After exploring this part of the barracks, we met up with the group from the museum and they started splitting us up into three groups for the second part of the tour. Lil Sis and I were exhausted by this point, and having gone through the museum in fine detail last year, decided to skip this part of the tour, so we thanked Merv and departed.
It was another fabulous weekend, and we thank everyone from Open House Hobart for organising this event and the volunteers who ran things so smoothly at all of the venues. We especially thank the home and building owners who allowed us in to see these places, take photos and ask questions. We’re looking forward to seeing more in 2022.
Our first stop was the Wrest Point Casino, which is a site than contains far more than the 74-metre (or 73 metres or 75 metres?) tower building that is, I believe, still Hobart’s tallest building.
Our tour guide was Graeme Tonks, who has written a book on the history of Wrest Point, which I’ve referred to to make sure I’ve got my facts correct in this post. He said that the tour was going to focus only on the architecture of the site, not any of the social and ethical issues that might come up around the casino, which I think was good to set out up front. The time for that discussion was not now.
Prior to the British arrival, the point was a camping ground for the muwinina people, who lived in the area we now call Hobart, but who did not survive British colonisation.
We started the tour near the front gates on Sandy Bay Road, where Graeme gave us a brief history of the site. In 1808 the site was granted to former Norfolk Island convict Thomas Chaffey, as part of a 62-acre parcel of land that extended up to the Mt Nelson track. He built a house on the promontory, which he named Chaffey’s Point.
Graeme mentioned that Chaffey’s Point became the place where people who had been executed were strung up. In part, this acted as a warning for people on any approaching boats of what would happen to them if they broke the law. The hanging place was moved from Hunter Island in Sullivans Cove because the locals found the smell and sight of decaying bodies around the wharf area offensive. I can’t imagine Mr Chaffey and his family would have particularly enjoyed the sight and smell from their home either. At around the same time, the authorities established a whaling station next to the point, so it must have been a barrel of olfactory unpleasantness for the people who lived there.
Thomas’ son, William Chaffey, built the Travellers Rest Inn on Sandy Bay Road in 1836. It’s still there but no longer used as a hotel. It houses the computers that run the gaming facilities in the casino. After his father’s death, William Chaffey sold part of the site, including the promontory, to David Dunkley, who built his own home, St Helena, there. Graeme said that Dunkley was also responsible for the Duke of Wellington Hotel on Macquarie Street, which explains the name “Dunkley” appearing on the side of the building. I’ve often wondered about that.
George Robertson acquired the property in 1898 and rebuilt St Helena. In 1928, Mrs Ina Lucas, who was originally from NSW and had lived in Cressy, deciding to move to Hobart with her alcoholic husband to try and keep him away from the booze (not entirely sure that was ever going to be successful), bought the property and built a new home called Wrest Point. This home was designed by the architect Lauriston Crisp, whose own home ‘Iluka’ (1926) is not very far away on Sandy Bay Road.
The gateposts were from Mrs Lucas’ time, and they are original, with the northern one having been moved further north later on to accommodate a larger gate.
After some digging around, Graeme discovered that the sandstone for these posts had come from Cressy. The clue to this, apart from it being where Mrs Lucas had lived, was that the sandstone hasn’t deteriorated in the way that much of the sandstone sourced from the south of Tasmania has done. Apparently northern sandstone can withstand the salt air better.
Mr Lucas died in 1929, and Mrs Lucas moved to England with their two sons in 1934. She sold the property to Arthur Drysdale in 1936. Drysdale was one of Tasmania’s most successful businessmen, who after running a string of farms, meatworks and butcher shops, would go on to run the Tasmanian lotteries.
Moving into hospitality, Drysdale had the Wrest Point Riviera Hotel built on the site in 1939. It was designed by the team of David Hartley Wilson and Colin Philp, who are responsible for several rather lovely art deco/moderne streamline buildings around Hobart. (Including, I was surprised to learn, the Shamrock Hotel on the corner of Liverpool and Harrington Streets.)
What’s most interesting about this is that, rather than demolish the Lucas house, because it was only new, they built the hotel around the house, so there are elements of Mrs Lucas’s Wrest Point residence within the hotel itself. This includes some external windows (on the right of the above photo), the ladies’ powder room and rest room, and the study, which is untouched (and currently used for storage).
This has to be the best thing I heard all weekend!
Graeme showed us a plan of the house overlaid with the hotel so we could see how it had been done, as well as an early photo of the hotel. From the river, it would have looked absolutely stunning.
He also said there were seahorses on the entrance, which have long since disappeared. I wasn’t sure if these are original from 1939, but I found this photo on the Tasmanian Archives website and I thought they looked a bit too kitschy for 1939. According to Graeme’s book, however, they were part of the original design, in keeping with Drysdale’s P&O design for the hotel, which was intended to capture “the feel of an imposing luxury liner berthed off the sparkling waters of the Derwent River”. A grand building, lavishly fitted out, it provided a standard of hospitality and entertainment previously unknown in Tasmania.
Graeme took us through the old hotel and pointed out where modifications had been made over the years. For instance, the reception area, which had been in the main entry hall, is now within the ground floor of the tower building, and some of the older accommodation is now used as offices. A lot of the older rooms had shared bathrooms so couldn’t be used for accommodation any more.
There’s also a couple of public phone booths built into one of the walls, where guests could take calls.
We went into the Derwent Room, which used to have space where a full band would play, and a dance floor. This made the hotel a massively popular entertainment venue for the Hobart community and was the place to go for American servicemen posted here during World War Two.
As we walked into the tower building from the Riviera, Graeme showed us a photo of the architect’s model, which, sadly, no longer exists.
The tower was designed by Sir Roy Grounds and completed in 1973, but not without its share of controversy. The issue of a gambling licence to the Federal Group, which bought the hotel in the 1950s, was the subject of much community concern and it ended up going to a state referendum. From what I can find out, Federal Group proposed that a casino would be a great way to attract more tourists to Tasmania, as there were no legal casinos anywhere else in the country. The “yes” vote narrowly won and the casino became a reality in 1973.
Graeme pointed out the lift from the ground floor to the first level, which was installed so the Queen didn’t have to walk up the stairs. It’s exquisitely fitted out in blackwood, and is the slowest lift in the history of the world. (So I’m told. I was too impatient to wait for it and find this out.)
Our last stop was the Birdcage Bar, a cocktail bar that was installed a couple of years after the building had been completed. It’s best known for its frescos, painted by the surrealist artist Charles Billich. Most of the women are real people and many of them were dancers from the cabaret show. One of the women had a zebra stripe cape, and Graeme said that this, along with several other boxes of show paraphernalia was discovered in the attic of a Sandy Bay house by new owners, after several previous owners hadn’t even noticed them. This stuff is all now back with Wrest Point.
Graeme told the story of one of the women, Honey Hogan, who later married former Premier Jim Bacon. Honey had been one of the original croupiers at the casino. Graeme said that because the casino was so new, they couldn’t use “experience” as a criterion for hiring croupiers because there was no one in Tasmania or even Australia who would have qualified, so other factors came into play, none of which, I imagine, would get through anti-discrimination legislation now!
One of the other painted women isn’t real, and her backside lines up with the head of the person who might happen to be playing the piano. Graeme explained that this was because of a disagreement between Billich and one of the pianists, and this picture was his response.
Over time, these images were deemed to be dated, and there were plans to paint over them, but what ended up happening was false walls were built over them and they were forgotten. It was only much later that someone remembered they were still there, and they were able to remove the flat walls and invite Billich back to restore his work.
The tour was fascinating and went for much longer than the allocated 50 minutes. Graeme said he was planning a return tour early in 2022 for anyone who was interested (me me me!) that would be longer and would cover a lot of the spaces we didn’t get to see today, like the spiral staircase leading to the high rollers’ room, and its amazing mural.
The casino is currently being redeveloped for its 50th anniversary, and this includes moving the original casino room to a space with windows. This is apparently unheard of for casinos: gaming rooms traditionally don’t have windows. Or clocks.
At the date of posting this, I’d just been on the longer tour with Graeme, so stay tuned for a follow up post of some of the other features (and lots of photos) of this property , which, love it or hate it, has played a massive part in Tasmania’s social and economic history. Thanks to Open House for organising the tour, to Wrest Point for making it possible, and to Graeme for taking the time to share his knowledge and insights of this Tasmanian icon.
Additional information and clarification of dates came from Our Tasmania: Sandy Bay, from Graeme Tonks & Mark Dibben’s book Wrest Point: The Life, The Times and the People of Tasmania’s Hotel, and from the follow-up tour of Wrest Point with Graeme in February 2022.
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.
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.
These are the photos from the third week of my 50 in 50 challenge, where I use only my 50 mm lens for 50 days and post a photo a day. I’ve been a bit behind in posting because I had all the Open House Hobart photos to post as well, so there will be a couple of catch-up posts now.
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.