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Heroic Melbourne: Architecture of the 1950’s

By Norman Day. Published by the RMIT Department of Architecture, softback, $50.
Review by Philip Goad

Left: New model by Craig Douglas of Peter and Dione McIntyre’s 1955 Butterfly house

To use some of Melbourne’s more exciting 1950s buildings as the focus for a design studio is a laudable teaching exercise. To then turn this material into a scholarly publication is a more difficult task. Norman Day’s Heroic Melbourne: Architecture of the 1950’s (sic) produced at RMIT is sound in its intention but lacking as a work of scholarship. While the pedant may deplore the spelling and typographical errors (of which there are many), it is the factual inaccuracies of the main text that will stop this 49 page booklet from gaining the authority that it could have achieved.

To claim that Robin Boyd’s Richardson house, Toorak, 1954, was based on a 1964 design by Craig Ellwood is ludicrous and to name Inge King as the designer for the bronze sculpture above the entry arch of the National Gallery of Victoria (it was Norma Redpath) indicates the absence of a knowledgeable proofreader and a superficial appraisal of important material. Incorrect client names and locations for houses further diminish what was achieved by the students themselves: an impressive collection of 15 scale models of significant examples of Melbourne’s cavalier modernism; including, importantly, houses by Neil Clerehan and John Mockridge not published for many years.

Right: Robin Boyd’s ideal interior for a modern house exhibition

In its introduction, this book calls for a deeper analysis of the period. Much research, however, has already been done by Conrad Hamann, Winsome Callister and the current reviewer. This book deserves a reprint but one that is correct in its detail and content. Rigorous documentation of the 15 buildings would have revealed richer material. The many original photographs such as those of the McIntyre house, Kew, certainly give this work greater credibility than its loose text. For who would have thought that we should find Robin Boyd sitting around a blazing “brassiere” (sic, p11) in the 1951 additions to his Camberwell home?

Dr Philip Goad is a lecturer at the University of Melbourne. His doctorate was about Melbourne housing since 1945.

Under a Hot Tin Roof: Art, Passion and Politics at the Tin Sheds 1969-1994

By Therese Kenyon. Published by State Library of NSW Press with the Power Institute of Fine Arts, softback, $25.Review by Brian Zulaikha

Under a Hot Tin Roof is a hotbed of gossip, reminiscences, photographs and quotations; a story of commitment and a revealing history of “art, passion and politics at the Tin Sheds Art Workshop”, Sydney University. It might also be a document recording the emergence of what we have now begun to accept as a contemporary cultural site—though that sounds a little serious, because the book not only records but, in its homegrown design style, attempts to entertain the reader.

From the Sheds’ beginning in 1969, Therese Kenyon reveals a history of extraordinary personalities, spurred on by ideals, who came together to set up a space—among them Donald Brook of the Faculty of Fine Arts, and Marr Grounds of the Faculty of Architecture (who we learn was sought and convinced to come to Australia by then-Dean of Architecture, Peter Johnson). They represented creativity and experimentation; they set a value to aesthetics and art theory and a multitude of visual arts practices; they represented a potent influence on a generation of budding artists and architects.

At a time when freedom of expression and passion in politics was religiously practised among university students, the sheds enabled architecture students to delve into the enigma that was arts practice. It was an incredibly sexy place and anyone who went elsewhere to study certainly missed out.

Brian Zulaikha is a director of Tonkin Zulaikha, Sydney, and a 1967 graduate of Sydney University who [says he] missed out.

Looking After Heritage Places: The Basics of Heritage Planning for Managers, Landowners and Administrators

By Michael Pearson and Sharon Sullivan. Published by Melbourne University Press, hardback, $40.
Review by Sean Johnson

If you want to gain a general understanding of heritage site management, read an up-to-date, if verbose, discussion of Australian conservation issues and learn the current jargon, this is the book. It is also a well-organised reference manual, containing a summary of legislation in each state, useful endnotes, appendices and bibliography. The text is illustrated with clear diagrams and interspersed with relevant examples.

Managers are rightly encouraged throughout to get more involved in the conservation process. Whether many will have the resources to carry out the work ‘in-house’ as suggested, rather than using consultants, is doubtful. Attempts to teach the skills in a short space—such as land surveying in a few pages—are misplaced. A few more words on how to find appropriate professional advice would have been useful.

Sean Johnson is a conservation architect with NSW State Projects’ heritage group.

The Malcontenta/The Marx Sisters

Two novels by Barry Maitland, Dean of the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Architecture. The Malcontenta published by Hamish Hamilton, hardback, $35. The Marx Sisters published in paperback by Penguin, $13.
Review by Peter Corrigan

Professor Barry Maitland is one of the few people in this country who has written anything worth reading on urban design. When he told me he had written two detective novels. I was intrigued at the possible destinations offered by this fascinating fork in his private, imaginative life.

With regards to detective, I have three rules of thumb. The first is the Title Test: The Marx Sisters and The Malcontenta get a good pass, both offering the right tantalising amount of sly invention and drollery.

Next comes the Pathology Test. In both books descriptions of grisly detail are assured, dripping with the required versimiltude, thus guaranteeing to unsettle the squeamish stomach. This particular aspect of research always impresses.

Sergeant Kolla drives the narrative of both yarns. Possessed of an intelligence hewn from her solid working class foundations, she shapes the elliptical Inspector Brock, a middle class bachelor, into the mould of the father she never had. The good inspector is also the owner of a genuine Schwitters collage.

The puzzles embedded in both books embrace and enshroud an array of quirky suspects, secrets and disappearances, uncomfortable emotions, dishonourable relatives, unorthodox sexual practices, vicious behaviour, deeply evil deeds cheek-to-jowl with petty grievances and enveloped by a convincing disquiet. Always there is poise. The plots twist, turn and tantalise, persistently pressuring the reader’s attention. The endings are elusive until they arrive at the state of illumination. The settings, as you would expect, are solidly architecturally informed, urban maps.

Garry Disher is my local favourite and I wondered absentmindedly, in no need of an answer, how Kolla and Brock might fare against the crafty, local “aggburg” specialist, Wyatt.

Crime fiction without the nutritious ingredients of interesting ideas and moral dilemmas ends up becoming ultimately unsatisfying or distasteful snacks, or both. There’s much here to stick to the ribs, including the author’s well-crafted observation that amidst our vast array of undefined and slovenly freedoms, things badly begun end badly. Worth chewing over.

Peter Corrigan is a principal of Edmond and Corrigan, Melbourne.

Railways, Relics and Romance: The Eveleigh Railway Workshops

Photographed by David Moore. Published by Caroline Simpson/Dialogue Marketing, hardback, $385 signed and numbered edition, $70, standard edition.
Review by Anthony Browell

David Moore’s photographs, and the accompanying essays by Gael Newton and Robert Milliken, illustrate an era spanning nearly a hundred years of heavy, yes heavy, industrial engineering. Nearly 20,000 men spent most of their working lives at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in Sydney’s Redfern; heating, thumping, shaping and crafting steel into huge, beautiful, steam locomotives and carriages. They serviced up to 70 locos at a time and built more than 200, which ran on track costing nearly £20,000 per mile, at a time (1870s) when the railways were uniting Australia. It was an age of unprecedented expenditure and prodigious output, of singular vision and tradesmen’s pride.

This book is all about the Glory Days at Eveleigh, the title of Robert Milliken’s excellent essay on “being inside that wonderful world where huge machines were built”. This wonderful world, now a silent and redundant industrial monument, is considered by the National Trust to be one of the finest examples of early industrial building in New South Wales.

Right: David Moore’s photograph of the 3801 steam engine at Sydney’s Eveleigh Rail Workshops.

David’s photography, commissioned in 1995 by Caroline Simpson, resulted in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW that year. Having padded around old foundries and factories with David over the years, sniffing out forgotten and discarded industrial goodies, I can appreciate his enthusiasm for the project. The photographs convey his admiration for the tradesmen’s skills, be they in the massive cast-iron construction of the Locomotive Workshops, the wrought-iron billet-trolleys or the anvil tools and forge stamps which the blacksmiths sculpted themselves. The black-and-white images are carefully crafted and informative; they show the larger picture, whereas the (all-too) few colour close-ups remind us of the joys of unexpected discovery and interpretation, the small picture. The captions and quotes on the otherwise blank left-hand pages talk about the strife, the mateship, the teaching of trades, how marvellous it all was. There was room here for some archive photography to echo these sentiments, and maybe brighten up a less-than-stimulating layout.

In his photographs, David has only been able to show us the bones of the place, not the soul: the people left long ago. But with this book, he has created a fascinating and valuable recording of what is left of a veritable industrial fairyland.

Anthony Browell is a Sydney photographer whose latest architectural book is Sydney Opera House, from Phaidon’s Architecture in Detail series.



Published online: 1 May 1996


Architecture Australia, May 1996

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