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Sunday, 17 December 2017

‘Country and culture will be protected by men with many spears’

On Thursday 7 December I was in Canberra for a talk at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) about a new painting with this title commissioned from artists living in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands. The talk was to be given by AWM head of art Ryan Johnson but he has been acting as assistant director and was otherwise occupied. In his place a woman talked to the 30 or so people assembled in the building’s entrance hall in front of the painting. You can click on any image below to see a magnified view of it.

Nowadays, many of the matriarchs and patriarchs of Anangu culture are translating and telling Australians and international audiences more broadly about their culture, which they want people to know is still alive. “The language and culture is still very much alive,” said the speaker, “through painting on canvas.”

She wanted to talk about the fact that Aboriginal art more traditionally is perhaps not just a language that needs to be decoded. “There’s a lot more than that. There’s a lot about cultural exchange and sharing culture and I hope in some way to convey a bit of that to you today, talking about the painting.”

We were told that APY language and culture has come from a tradition a lot earlier where men would go out and paint onto the landscape using putu, or natural pigments. They would paint designs and symbols onto the landscape, and onto bodies during ceremonies and dancing. This tradition is now being translated into oil painting. “They’re a very vibrant, inspiring bunch and they seem to be very quick to embrace new technology as well.”

We were told that the AWM’s new painting refers to the strong link of the Anangu people to their country and how the idea of defending country is also looking after country, so you’re caring for those sites not just through war but also through your knowledge.

“And so you can see various rock holes and sand lines, and also the tree. So the tree became a very important motif for this painting, this central tree here [pointing at the painting] was painted by one of the senior artists, Peter Mungkuri from Inwantja Arts. And for Anangu, it’s around a dreaming of a protective story of the tree. Trees sort of act as a sentinel within the landscape, Anangu spirits are said to remain there, as well, to defend country – I don’t know, I’m not privy to the complete ins and outs of the story – and also the tree is the source of the spears, so the material that they harvest to make the spears.


“And the spears down here in the left [pointing at the painting] which are painted by Witjiti George, are not hunting spears, they’re a type of spear that were used by warriors. And again [it] refers to that tradition of passing down cultural law around the campfire and protecting community. 

“It’s interesting – I know some of the painting styles of the different artists – and it’s interesting to see how they negotiated aesthetically, melding their two designs together. So up here [pointing to the top of the painting] you’ve got the work – the horizontal, kind of beautiful, creamy pink and white bars – by Ray Ken, who is a very senior artist – and he here is meeting the work of Keith Stevens. So, this black drawing line [at the top right of the painting] is Keith’s work here. The concentric [indecipherable] here represent a community gathering, either for inma [song and dance event or ceremony] or for hunting and they’ve kind of tried to work out, to meld the two styles together.


“Many of the artists’ work – they grew up together, they worked together as stockmen and then later contributed to winning land rights in the APY lands in the 1980s, and now they paint together. 

“And this is particularly true of these two artists down here on your left, so Witjiti George and – they’re both artists that were very pleased to be able to work side by side – and you have his, the two different countries that are connected that they’re painting together – so I’m sorry, these are notes that I’ve gleaned from the arts centre [looking through papers in her hands] – [then finding the name in the notes] so it’s Taylor Cooper, and his black drawing here is meeting Witjiti George’s introduction of the colour green. They’ve been working together since they were teenagers in Nyapari and from Kalatjiti Arts. And so their drawings in both of the paintings are linked. So [in] the other [painting] that [the AWM] also [has] they’re both linked as well. And it was interesting here that the reason Witjiti George decided that he was going to paint the spears was that Alec Baker who is a senior painter with Iwantja Arts, had started painting the little spear trees that you make the spears from. And so he was, ‘Well Alec’s painted those so I’m going to paint in the spears to match that story as well.’ 

“The text through the middle is in Pitjantjatjara and it’s by [Mumu Mike] Williams,” a senior artist from Mimili Maku Arts. “Mike is also making a huge name for himself in contemporary art incorporating a lot of language and text into his work, reappropriating objects like the huge postal bags, sacks, that go out to the communities, and turning them into contemporary artwork. And really his purpose was he wants people to see and to know that Pitjantjatjara language is still very much alive. And so through the middle here he’s titled it, in a way, and it’s that ‘Country and culture will be protected by men with many spears’.”

The decision to source a painting from the APY lands was taken by AWM managers. Here is why:
In 2009, of the 38,000 artworks that we had in the collection here at the Memorial only 10 were by Indigenous Australian artists. Since about 2012 – between 2012 to the present – close to 60 have been added to the collection through a program of active acquisition. And this comes about through purchases, donations, but also through an active targeted commissioning program.  
[In] 2016 we launched a special exhibition, ‘For Country, For Nation’, which was a milestone project for the Memorial and one that went about beginning a conversation of acknowledgement of Indigenous military service more broadly. And it was following the opening of this exhibition that Dr Brendan Nelson, the director of the Memorial, tasked the art team with commissioning a major painting that would talk to Aboriginal defence of country from an Indigenous perspective, and in a way pick up on many of the conversations that had been started in ‘For Country, For Nation’ but in a way that could be permanently in the galleries once the exhibition closed. 
Obviously, it was a very broad brief that we received and many of you might say, ‘Why did we go with APY lands?’ 
The APY lands are in the north of South Australia, probably in an area close to the size of England, there’re about [100,000] square kilometres, but they only have a population of about 2500 people – whereas the UK obviously has 50 million people living there – largely dotted around in smaller communities.  
The people that come [from] there are known as Anangu and they speak Pitjantjatjara generally. And for many the establishment of the missions in the 1930s – 1937 with Ernabella Mission – was the first contact for a lot of people living in that region.”
She said that recently the APY lands have come to prominence within the Australian art world. 
They’ve been very active. Especially through the work of the patriarchs and matriarchs of those communities. The senior men and women, elders of the community, have really made a name for themselves, both nationally and internationally, in holding onto, celebrating and teaching about their culture. One of the main ways that they’ve been doing this is through painting on canvas.  
And as early as 2010, even before the ‘For Country, For Nation’ exhibition we were very much aware of an elder generation of men there wanting to pass on the kulata tjuta, the story about the spears, which is a tradition that’s been going on for generations there of elderly men sitting around campfires, building spears and passing on their cultural knowledge and law, I suppose, to the younger generation.  
And they presented a fantastic, huge installation piece in the Adelaide Biennial of Art several years ago which was an installation of 1000 spears, a cloud of spears. And so this idea of defence of country was something that was coming from that, anyway. They also have started to work collaboratively. Because I guess the one concern we have with this commission was how do you take one voice to represent the many nations of Aboriginal Australia. But here was quite a broad region that was pretty much in the heart of Australia who had already been considering this kind of history within their work.  
So, in December 2016 Ryan [Johnson] approached the elders working through the APY Collective and invited them to see if they would like to make a picture for the collection. And they in return invited Ryan and the team from the Memorial to go and visit Anangu land. It’s an unusual commission in that it’s not simply you “dial a commission”, [or] ring up a gallery and say, ‘We’d like you to make this painting’ and you go and do it. It’s been very much a process of cultural exchange.  
So Ryan travelled to the APY lands with Diana Warnes, a former colleague of mine who was a curator of art here, and Chris Kerehona, who was also a former colleague at the Memorial, he went along as a film-maker to document that visit and that process. They were there for nearly two-and-a-half weeks, I think, and they visited seven different art centres. They met a lot of artists and sat around and talked a lot about – they were taken out to have a better understanding of Anangu culture and history – they went out to several sacred sites with owners, they went to the wave caves that are in the Seven Sisters exhibition. They went to [indecipherable] sites in the area for the Seven Sisters Songlines.  
And it was quite a successful trip and then we invited a group of artists to come back to the Memorial in May this year, so 13 artists came from many different art centres, to come and have a look at the Memorial. I was able to be part of that and it was actually very moving, and it was a beautiful experience to see the men come to the memorial and talk about locating Canberra within the Seven [Sisters] Songline connection, and linking us up with the meeting place.  
It was a chance for us to show them the Memorial and I suppose exchange information about one of our nation’s sacred sites, in a way. They were very moved by the story of one of the First World War Indigenous veterans, William Punch, who was also the sole survivor of a massacre, who went on to join up and serve in the First World War. And it made them happy, a lot more excited and engaged with the project than anyone who had initiated it had really imagined. And particularly in the Hall of Memory. Mumu Mike Williams, who was also a pastor, was there, and he was moved to sing a prayer in Pitjantjatjara.  
The artists then went away and as with all their work there was a lot of discussions about what they might do. And they planned to have a painting camp, so that July following the visit in May, 19 of the senior artists from seven different centres got together and sat down to do the painting. And it was pretty quick, I think it took four days for them to paint two paintings. (We actually ended up being offered two [paintings], because they weren’t sure which one we would like the best.) A lot of discussion goes into working out who’s going to paint where, so a lot of – to put it kind of crudely – a lot of the real estate is already decided prior to the actual painting. And then it takes place in quite a concentrated, almost ceremonial, style where the men sit around and they sing songs while they’re painting and talk about their country and kind of tag in and out each other on the canvas over the period that it’s being made.”
The APY lands painters are active in Australia’s art scene, producing works that demonstrate the vitality of their culture.
This year at Tarnanthi, Keith Stevens, who is one of the elders that worked on this also worked on a project to take younger Anangu men out onto country, onto the sacred sites, and to paint directly onto the landscape as his ancestors would have done, in white natural pigment. And then they produced a beautiful series of photographs of these images in situ so that people could then actually – they wanted people to see the majesty and the beauty of that landscape as well as just what people know from the painting.  
And I also believe they’re now working on a movie as well, where they want to document and record a collaborative film about ceremony within communities. That’s going to involve everybody, women and children, they want to document all the costumes and more from different centres to different centres as another way of translating that culture.

Again, the title of this new APY lands painting at the AWM  is 'Country and culture will be protected by men with many spears’.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Brutalism ten: Intercontinental Hotel, Sydney

This is the tenth in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. The plan for this building originated after the election of the Wran Labor government in May 1976. From 1971 to 1975 the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation – the union organising a significant cohort of workers employed on Sydney building sites – had prosecuted a series of “green bans” that had halted unfettered development undertaken to the detriment of Sydney’s built heritage under the dodgy Askin Liberal government. I wrote about the green bans in a blogpost earlier this month, and will write about them again. Under Wran, the Land and Environment Court was established, and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act passed in the NSW Parliament. So the Intercontinental Hotel was an early test case for a range of new measures designed to protect built heritage in the state. 

In a minute paper from the deputy city planner to the town clerk dated 9 February 1981:
Mr John Morris, Director of the National Trust, wrote to the Lord Mayor on 29th January, 1981, requesting him to meet with members of the Trust to discuss the proposed hotel.
The minute paper went on to complain that plans for the proposed building had not yet been seen by the council and that it had contacted both the architects and the NSW Department of Environment and Planning in order to secure copies of them.

In a report the city planning department noted that the development application (DA) had been received on 4 March 1981. The “description of premises and present use” section says:
The site is occupied by the “Treasury Buildings”, consisting of part two-storey with basement and part three-storey sandstone colonial buildings with various small structures at the rear, occupying a site approximately 4,000 square metres in area with frontages of 57 metres to Macquarie Street, 68 metres to bridge Street and 66 metres to Phillip Street.

At the top of the frame in the photo above you can see the Treasury Building on the corner of Macquarie and Bridge streets, and the property belonging to the Public Transport Commission below and to the right of it, with cars parked diagonally in it. The two pieces of land were combined to enable the new development to go ahead. (This photo was taken from a vantage point in the AMP Building at Circular Quay, and the recently-completed tower of 50 Bridge Street is visible to the right of the frame.) 


The above photo was taken at the time of the DA assessment process and shows the Treasury Building before the development took place. This photo was taken from the Royal Botanic Gardens to the east across Macquarie Street. In the background you can see 50 Bridge Street in its completed state.


The above image shows the Treasury Building at the corner of Macquarie and Bridge streets, with the recently-completed AMP Building (on Circular Quay) visible in the background. The central core of 50 Bridge Street is also starting to appear at the left in this photo.


The drawinga above, titled “Proposed lease to Intercontinental Hotel”, shows the subject site at the right, on the Bridge Street frontage, as well as other buildings on Phillip Street, Albert Street (toward the Quay) and Macquarie Street.


The above image most clearly shows the site for the proposed hotel, with the word “Yard” visibly written in the drawing fronting Phillip Street.


The above drawing shows where the site is located in relation to landmarks including the Royal Botanic Gardens, where Farm Cove is, and the Opera House, on Bennelong Point.

The city planning department’s report also notes the developer’s intention to spend $45,000,000 to build the new hotel.

From a minute by the town clerk dated 15 June 1981:
The site is covered by [Interim Development Order] No. 37 which the N.S.W. State Government removed from the Planning Control of this Council. Whilst Council’s views have been sought, the application does not require the Council’s approval. 
The proposal has been well canvassed in the major press and as a result of such, the original “L” shaped proposal has been modified to comply with expert and lay views expressed through the media. The Architects for the proposal are also in consultation with the National Trust of N.S.W. which has expressed opposition to the proposal. 
The reality of the matter is that the State Government is known to strongly favour the proposal and this Council should undertake to resolve its views on any aspects it would like considered or incorporated in the development at the meeting of the Planning and Development Committee on Monday, 6th July, 1981.
A telegram from the lord mayor, Douglas William Sutherland, to the town clerk, stamped 18 June 1981, says:
CAUCUS AGREED MONDAY EXPEDITION CONTINENTAL HOTEL APPLICATIONS SUBJECT ADVERTISEMENT HERALD INVITING INSPECTION PROPOSAL IN PLANNING SECTION AND WRITTEN COMMENTS WITHIN 10 DAYS.
From a letter from the National Trust dated 24 June 1981 to the town clerk:
The Trust has considered the amended proposals for this building and on the advice of its Architectural Advisory Panel still considers the basic objections stated in its letter of 30th March 1981 remain. 
The rectangular tower is possible [sic] marginally less offensive than the previous L-shaped tower but any benefit so achieved would appear to be offset by the unfortunate scale of the elevations particularly that of the eastern façade. 
As I mentioned earlier the modifications are considered basically insignificant and the Trust would ask to continue to he considered as an objector to the scheme.
The state government’s influential Height of Buildings Advisory Committee wrote to the town clerk on 3 July 1981 with the news that the minister “has now concurred in the proposed development generally in accordance with the amended plans submitted identified as Scheme B2-SK 30 to 37 (May ’81) and subject to the final working drawings … being submitted to the Height of Buildings Advisory Committee prior to the carrying out of the development”.

A council decision dated 13 July 1981 was in favour of a proposal submitted by Kann, Finch & Partners (N.S.W.) Pty Ltd with the authority of the NSW government for permission to erect a multi-storeyed hotel building incorporating the existing Treasury Buildings. The new building would comprise five levels below Macquarie Street, a ground floor and 31 upper floors containing 549 suites, function areas, health club, staff facilities, loading docks and car parking facilities for 130 cars. Council referred the DA to the Department of Environment and Planning with the advice that, subject to the concurrence of the Height of Buildings Advisory Committee, council favoured the proposal with conditions.

However, an environmental impact statement (EIS) made by the city council dated 3 July 1981 for the DA – “Intercontinental Hotel with 610 guest rooms in a 32 storey building” – concluded:
The deveopment [sic] of a 32-storey building containing an international hotel is considered to be an overdevelopment of the site. The close location of tall office buildings means that the proposal is not well accommodated within the site. 
The proposal will destroy the historic nature of this area of Macquarie Street and will also contribute to a “wall of buildings” effect on the City’s skyline when viewed from the harbour and the park complex along the eastern side of the City centre. 
Accordingly, it is concluded that the development proposed by D.A. 44-81-[01]75 is UNACCEPTABLE.
The EIS summary says:
The subject of this report is a proposal to construct a 32-storey international hotel on the site of the State Treasury Building. The site is bounded by Macquarie Street, Bridge Street and Phillip Street. 
The lower levels of the hotel make use of the historic Treasury building by incorporating it into the foyers and entry ways of the hotel. The hotel will contain 610 guest rooms and provide car parking for 130 cars. The proposal has a [floor-space-ratio, or FSR] of 9.3:1. The proposal conforms with the current planning policies and controls applicable. 
The N.S.W. Heritage Council, the Royal Institute of Architects and the National Trust have all supplied written objections to the State Government regarding the proposal. The main points of the objections are as follows:-
  • That the hotel is unrelated to the Old Treasury Buildings in form or in scale;
  • The tower block being directly north of the original Colonial Secretary’s building and other historic buildings, will cast shadows over these and most of this part of Bridge Street;
  • The tower is too close to Macquarie Street;
  • And the proposal would destroy a valuable precinct of historic buildings.
There is also in the DA folder a letter dated 15 July 1981 from a member of the public named S.R.B. France addressed to the lord mayor:
I write to protest in the strongest terms at the Sydney City Council’s approval of the construction of an Intercontinental Hotel incorporating the Colonial Treasury Building. 
The great disservice your Council will be doing the City of Sydney if this project is completed will be only to [sic] apparent to future generations of Sydney dwellers and visitors to this city. 
Please reverse the development approval and pay heed to the advice submitted by such bodies as the National Trust and the Heritage council [sic], whose interests are dedicated to seeing the city improved and not defaced.
From a letter from the National Trust to Terry Sheahan, the acting NSW minister for planning and development, dated 23 July 1981:
I refer to the Trust’s letter to the Honorable Eric Bedford, dated 9th February 1981 and to Mr. Bedford’s reply thereto dated 13th March. 
The Trust understands that the matter has been before the Sydney City Council and has now been referred to you to determine pursuant to Section 101 of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act. 
The Trust has in its earlier correspondence both with Mr. Bedford and the Sydney City Council requested that a hearing be conducted. I would be grateful it you could advise the trust as an objector under Section 101 (4) of the Act, as a matter of urgency, if you are prepared to hold such a hearing. If you are not prepared so to do would you please advise the Trust on what basis you have reached this decision. 
If you are not prepared to afford the opportunity of such a hearing I would be grateful if you would indicate how you propose to deal with the application.
On 24 July 1981, the Trust’s solicitors, Allen Allen & Hemsley wrote to Sheahan (copying the town clerk):
We understand that the development application lodged with Sydney City Council by Apsley Park Hotel Company Limited for a proposed hotel has been referred to you for decision, apparently under s.101 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979. 
Our client has written to both the Sydney Council and to you objecting to the development and requesting a public inquiry: a copy of each of the relevant letters from our client is enclosed (dated 24 June, 1981 and 23 July, 1981, respectively). 
We are instructed to request you to commission a public inquiry into this development application. If this matter is determined by you without an inquiry we are instructed to initiate proceedings against you.
The lawyers subpoenaed documents from the city council on 21 August 1981. In a minute paper dated 1 December 1982, the city solicitor forwarded to the town clerk the judgement of Cripps J. of the Land and Environment Court. The minute paper reads, in part:
I forward herewith a copy of the Judgement given by Cripps J. in the Land and Environment Court in the matter of The National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) v. The Minister Administering The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, and Kann Finch & Partners (NSW) Pty. Limited. 
Kann Finch & Partners (NSW) Pty. Limited had submitted a Development Application seeking permission to erect a multi-storey building on the northern and western frontages of land bounded by Macquarie, Bridge & Phillip Streets, Sydney, and to connect this building with the ground, first and second floors of the building known as the “Treasury Buildings” and to use the whole complex as an international hotel. The Development Application was referred by Council to the Department of Environment and Planning in accordance with a direction which had been given pursuant to Section 342V(3) of the Local Government Act, 1919, directing certain classes of Development Applications to be referred to the former Planning and Environment Commission. By virtue of Clause 8 of Schedule 3 to the Miscellaneous Acts (Planning) Repeals and Amendment Act, 1979, such a Direction was deemed to be a reference to the Minister pursuant to Section 101 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979. The National Trust, claiming to be an objector, applied to the Minister to hold a public inquiry in accordance with Section 101(4). The Minister did not accede to this request but proceeded to grant development consent to the proposed development subject to a large number of conditions. The National Trust applied to the Court by way of Class 4 proceedings seeking certain declarations and orders, the general effect of which, if granted, would be to declare the consent granted by the Minister void and of no effect. The substantive grounds on which the National Trust relied were as follows:-
  1. The development application was not in law a development application complying with Section 77 of the EP & A Act because the “owner” had not consented in writing;
  2. That the development application was not an application which ought to have been referred in accordance with the direction issued pursuant to Section 342V(3);
  3. That there was an obligation on the Minister to afford the National Trust the status of an objector within the meaning of Section 101(3) of the EP & A Act and to hold a public enquiry; and 
  4. The consent purported to have been granted by the Minister was invalid because conditions 30 and 31 were beyond his power to impose and were not severable.
In the end, the court found against the National Trust. In respect of item 1, above, Cripps J. said in his judgement:
It is clear … that by December 1979, at the latest, the Premier of New South Wales was aware of the proposed development, knew part of the land was Crown Land and was seeking the cooperation of the Minister for Transport for the development of the site. In December 1979 the Premier wrote a letter to the Minister for Transport containing the following paragraphs: 
“Intercontinental are aware that three of the buildings on the site are classified – the old Treasury Building, the old Health Department building and the Police Station and Traffic Courts complex. Their intention would be to utilise the remaining area for hotel and car-parking purposes (approximately 4,400 square metres). This is the area indicated on the attached diagram. This would involve the demolition of the existing Public Transport Commission Building. 
"The present site is considerably underutilised at the present time particularly considering its prime location. I understand that a proposal for redeveloping the site was considered with the Public Transport Commission in 1974 although it was not proceeded with at that time. 
“Title to most of the land in question was transferred to the Public Transport Commission in 1978. Therefore I would appreciate your views on this land being utilised for these purposes. I appreciate that this proposal would involve the provision of alternative accommodation for the P.T.C. employees presently accommodated on the site.”
As for item 3 above, the judge found that the National Trust could not be classed as an “objector”. I won’t go into the arguments for this and other parts of the judgement; those interested in the finer details of the ruling can refer to the public records for the case in question, which are available online on austlii.edu.au


The drawing above shows how the hotel’s new dormitory tower fits into the old 19th century buildings on the ground and lower floors. The Bridge Street boundary is marked on the right-hand side of the drawing.

A stray detail of the deal was that the developer paid $1 million toward the city council’s Public Housing Trust Fund. From a letter dated 9 July 1981 sent by Management Contractors (U.K. and Overseas) Ltd to the town clerk:
I confirm on behalf of Apsley Park Hotel Company Limited that such a project is unusually labour intensive and that in addition to the exceptional employment opportunities created by construction, fitting-out and furnishing there will be the requirement for over 500 permanent hotel staff on completion.  
We appreciate the need for additional housing within the City in order to accommodate the workforce for projects such as ours (as evidenced by your Council’s Public Housing Trust Fund) and for the provision of open space and the related costs to be borne by Council. 
Acting on behalf of Aspley we are agreeable to remitting $1 million to the Council upon the opening of the hotel following the issue of the 317A certificate of completion of the building. 
Labour relations are considered to be of paramount importance therefore we valued the suggestions of Alderman Reeves in this regard and look forward to meeting the leaders in this field as the result of your initiative.
I’m not sure if there have ever been 500 employees staffing the hotel at any one time, but the intention of the city council is important to note these days, when the cost of living close to CBD workplaces purportedly exercises the best minds in the state government.


The above photo taken recently on Bridge Street outside the Museum of Sydney shows the hotel in the centre of the site rising up above the 19th century façade on the street frontage. Rising up on the left-hand side in the frame is 50 Bridge Street, which is owned by AMP, and which will soon be demolished to make way for a new building.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dastyari was crushed by the machine

This is the abridged version of the ugly, slow-motion train-wreck that ended up being the downfall of a promising young Australian politician. It began in September when the 34-year-old senator stepped down from the Australian Labor Party’s shadow ministry after accusations he had received a payment of $1670.82 from Top Education Institute principal Minshen Zhu. It also emerged that he had contradicted party policy on the South China Sea. In an ABC story:
The senator has conceded that he did the wrong thing, but the [conservative] Coalition [Government] has suggested he allowed the payments to influence his comments on China, and has demanded he step down. 
[Federal ALP leader Bill] Shorten today dismissed the insinuations, saying that he had "explained to Senator Dastyari our policy on the South China Sea and he has expressed his unreserved support for our policy". 
He told reporters in Melbourne that Senator Dastyari had been severely counselled after his "imprudent decision".
From a 5 April story on News.com.au:
THE controversy in the South China Sea is heating up, with a new report from the US warning China has almost completed construction of three mysterious man-made islands. 
The strategic bases will give China the ability to deploy combat aircraft and other military assets with terrifying efficiency across the disputed region.
But what is it with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)? From 2014:
China, in 2009, submitted to the UN its “nine-dash line” claim that covers the entire South China Sea, including parts of the Philippines’ western seaboard from the provinces of Ilocos Norte up to Palawan. 
China’s claim, however, has been repeatedly called invalid and not in accordance with UNCLOS, which the Philippines ratified in 1986 and China in 1996.
From an October 2015 paper by the PLA’s Colonel Xiaoqin Shi, then in the Defence and Strategic Studies Course at the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College in Canberra:
China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea is not a subject that UNCLOS should be adjudicating because China’s claim is based on historic rights which are defined under a regime independent of UNCLOS.
So China doesn’t want to play any more by rules that fostered its growth and prosperity.

Later in 2017, following his first official dressing-down, Senator Dastyari’s public profile was reformed after he became manager of Opposition business in the Australian Senate and ALP spokesman for consumer affairs.

Then, in late November it emerged that Dastyari had again contradicted ALP policy by saying at a public event that Australia should stay out of the South China Sea. In an ABC story on 29 November:
A newly released recording of Labor senator Sam Dastyari addressing a gathering of Chinese media in Sydney has revealed he offered a detailed defence of China's policy in the South China Sea, in defiance of official ALP policy.
On the same day it was reported that Dastyari had warned wealthy Chinese businessman and political donor Huang Xiangmo that his phone was bugged. As reported by the SMH, Dastyari had visited Huang at his Mosman home and told him to leave his phone inside and to talk outside without it. Again, Shorten stepped in and disciplined Dastyari, and he was relieved of his frontbench duties.

Lastly, it emerged on 11 December that Dastyari had told ALP MP Tanya Plibersek not to meet a Hong Kong democracy activist. Yesterday, to crown it all, Dastyari appeared on national TV saying he would not rejoin the Senate in the new year.

Meanwhile, on 4 December, the Liberal party announced new foreign influence policies, in legislation slated for debate in Parliament. From an ABC story:
Foreign political donations [would] be banned and those trying to influence Australian politics on behalf of other nations [would] be forced to declare who they are working for, under new laws. 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the [planned] legislation amid growing concerns within the intelligence community about the influence of Chinese Government agents and political donations.
The move stems ultimately from a major joint ABC-Sydney Morning Herald investigation in September into Chinese Communist Party influence in Australian politics, and follows the 19th National Congress of the CPC. From Wikipedia:
The The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, between 18 and 24 October 2017. 2,280 delegates represented the party's estimated 89 million members. Preparations for the 19th National Congress began in 2016 and ended with a plenary session of the Central Committee a few days prior to the Congress. In 2016, local and provincial party organizations began electing delegates to the congress as well as receiving and amending party documents. 
During the congress, a new guiding ideology, labelled Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, was written into the party's constitution. It marked the first time since Mao Zedong Thought that a living party leader has enshrined into the party constitution an ideology named after himself. The Congress also emphasized strengthening socialism with Chinese characteristics, party-building, and socialist rule of law, and setting concrete timelines for achieving development goals, such as building a moderately prosperous society and achieving "socialist modernization." It was also noted for rallying China to play a more substantial role internationally.
So at its latest party congress China decided – against both the wishes of the entire international community and the wishes of its own people – that it will double-down on centralised party control and eschew democracy at all costs. The kleptocracy – which is a real word that means rule by thieves – is secure in its control of the country and wants to continue to enjoy the material benefits of the dominant world political settlement, based on democracy led by the United States of America. They are benefiting from global finance and trade systems and want to deny the Chinese people the right to choose their own leaders.

And the Chinese leadership is in the ascendancy, according to Australian researcher Hugh White, whose new Quarterly Essay, ‘Without America’, says that China has already won the battle for influence between the two countries in Asia.

In such an environment, it was always going to happen that Dastyari would get trashed. His close ties with the Chinese community in Australia meant he was intimately associated with an unreliable and notoriously secretive political player that closely guards its policy formation machinery and is in conflict with Australia’s major traditional ally. This was in the end a poison that touched everything he involved himself in. I personally liked him but in the end I had to say, “Bon voyage.” Dastyari danced with Death.


Above: The pundits hit the tubes immediately after Sam Dastyari's press conference, which happened yesterday at 10.30am.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Some curry on Oxford Street

This is the first flaneur collage that I’ve done in several months. The first of such posts was posted on 29 March and the last – one with lots of pictures – was posted on 25 July. I decided to restart the series now because when I stopped writing them two people remonstrated with me. So: back by popular request.

I headed up Harris Street and next to John Street Square outside the doctor’s clinic a woman was standing talking on her mobile phone. In the pram that she was holding with her other hand a baby was going, “Aaaargh aaaaargh aaaaaargh.” At the building site where they are putting up townhouses three women traffic controllers were standing around a workman who was looking at his mobile phone.

There were several young men playing basketball on the council-run basketball court on Harris Street, their voices mixing with the sounds of their shoes on the ground and the sound of the ball bouncing. The woman who had been talking on the phone and her baby went past me on the pavement, his mother holding her mobile in the hand that was not pushing the pram.

On Union Street I saw a child’s bracelet placed on the building parapet because someone had dropped it and someone else had put it in a safe spot in case the owner came back for it. The bracelet was made of pink, yellow, white and red beads. “Hey, we can go in the Star and walk out that way,” said a schoolgirl to her friend as they stopped at the lights on Edward Street. They were both wearing identical sports uniforms. They headed northeast down Edward Street when the signal changed. A middle-aged woman hurrying across Union Street fell over and made a sound as she landed awkwardly on the pavement. I asked her if she was ok. “Ok, ok,” she said as she stood and held her right palm against her cheekbone. A man on his phone came up to the woman and put his hand on her back. He pointed to the bicycle path and said something. “She tripped on the curb,” I said to him.

In Darling Harbour two small boys wearing identical green shirts went into the Ferris-wheel enclosure with their parents. A woman’s voice was singing a slow song from the speakers mounted on the marine bollards. As I walked past the motorway support the sound of a truck decelerating against its gears was audible.

“Free Jock,” said some graffiti on a motorway support where a line of traffic was backed up at the lights. A broken piece of turned wood was in the gutter at the end of the pedestrian overpass I had used to arrive at Bathurst Street. Further up, at the corner of Castlereagh Street, a young man said into his mobile phone, “So if, yeah, if ...”

At Whitlam Square an early-model white van turned east into Oxford Street from College Street. A late-model white hatchback turned north from Oxford Street into College Street. “Two three oh three five three six three,” said a man wearing shorts and a T-shirt on Oxford Street, speaking into his mobile phone which he held horizontally at his mouth. I ate a plate of curry - beef vindaloo, chicken Madras and matter mushrooms - and left the restaurant. A morbidly-obese man in a white shirt and black trousers entered a Thai restaurant. Inside at a table next to the door sat two young men in hi-vis shirts.

A man with “Hoops USA” printed on his T-shirt had full-sleeve tattoos on both arms; he was walking up the street talking with his male companion. On Liverpool Street next to Hyde Park a state-transit bus with ‘Kubota: Buiding Sydney” printed on its side was waiting at the lights. As I went past it the engines roared and it set off east. Outside the Downing Centre a homeless Indian man with his hands full of bookmarks plaited out of different-coloured stuff – they were too short to be wrist bands – was sitting on the steps. I asked him how much they were and he said, “$34.“ I said, “It’s too much” and walked on.

Further down Liverpool Street a portable street sign had illuminated letters serially spelling out a message: “HARBR ST CLOSED” … “BATHURST TO WESTN DIST” … “5-11 TO 14-12 10PM-5AM”. The traffic light turned green just as I arrived at Sussex Street and I walked across with the crowd. There were mounds of fragrant new earth in the construction site under the trees alongside the slope at the end of the pedestrian bridge across Harbour Street. A truck with “everything for your garden” lettered on the back came up from Harbour Street into the pedestrian zone.

Further up near the motorway overpasses a young man walking along separated from two young women, heading south, saying, “I’ll see you later.” There were seagulls fighting over food going, “Aaaargh aaaargh aaaaargh.”

Two men were walking down Union Square and one said, “Is that Kate?” As I walked on I heard him calling, “Kate! Kate!” Two young women walking up the hill turned to look back, but kept on walking. Then I looked again and the women had stopped and turned back down the hill, smiling.

A young woman in a black dress on Harris Street said into her phone, “So I don’t know if I should just go to ...” but I didn’t hear the rest of what she said. A man on Harris Street said to his younger male companion who had “Bundanoon Sandstone” stencilled on the back of his hi-vis shirt, “And are you guys involved in the development?” “No just the extraction.” They went under the flagged cord into the building site where there were big blocks of sandstone and earthmoving equipment.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

'The departure of the Australian contingent for the Sudan'

Down in the lower-ground floor of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) behind the current exhibition that has been set up to illustrate the lives of the Special Forces there's another gallery where you can see exhibits dating from the earliest years of Australia's "official" military experience. There is no acknowledgement for example of the frontier wars fought by the colonists against the Aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.

This oil painting by Arthur Collingridge (1853-1907) was made in 1885 and shows a scene at Circular Quay on the holiday that had been declared to celebrate the occasion of NSW sending a contingent to help suppress the Mahdi rebellion in the Sudan. The contingent comprised an infantry battalion of 522 men and 24 officers, and an artillery battery of 212 men. You can see the Mort's wool stores flanking the dock at the left where expensive apartment buildings are situated now. I have blown up some sections of the painting to better show the detail of this work, which documents the first time Australian forces were sent to fight in an imperial war. The plaque next to the painting says:
The dispatch of a small New South Wales military contingent [on 3] March 1885 was an important moment for Australia. For the first time, one of its colonies had raised a force of soldiers for active service with the British Army. Sydneysiders gathered to watch the soldiers march through the streets and embark from Circular Quay.
You can see in the picture below the transport in the background is listing to one side because all the passengers on the deck are crowding to that side. The detail available in this rather small painting, which the AWM bought in 1968, is remarkable. The hot European-style clothes people wore even in the summer months must have been very uncomfortable.

The AWM's page that talks about the Sudan campaign is here. The contingent arrived in Suakin, Sudan's Red Sea port, on 29 March 1885, so it took just over three weeks to get to north Africa by ship. They started their return trip to Sydney on 17 May and arrived in Sydney on 19 June. "They were expecting to land at Port Jackson and were surprised to disembark at the quarantine station on North Head near Manly as a precaution against disease."

Collingridge was a founding member of the Royal Art Society of NSW in 1880 and was a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1900-1907. He was born in Oxfordshire, worked on the London Graphic and the Illustrated London News, and came to Australia possibly earlier than 1879. His brother Charles was chaplain to the NSW contingent.



Above: An officer's wife kisses her husband goodbye while their child weeps, holding his father's hand.


Above: Three substantial burghers of Sydney stand in a group talking among themselves.


Above: A woman and an older man (probably the father and sister of a soldier) stand talking with an officer on the dock. The men are shaking hands.


Above: Soldiers in their red coats stand on the deck of one of the troop transports, waving at people on the dock. 


Above: A woman standing on the dock uses a handkerchief to wave at a soldier on the transport.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Gorman House Arts Centre, Braddon

Yesterday morning when checking out of the hotel I got directions to Lonsdale Street where the clerk told me I could get a coffee. I drove south on crowded Northbourne Avenue and turned left into Girrahween Street, Braddon. I found a parking spot on Lonsdale Street and paid the fee. In the café with nothing to do I sat and looked at the Wikipedia entry for Braddon. 

The suburb has changed a lot in recent years. They had a party on Lonsdale Street after the result of the same-sex marriage survey was announced last month by the Bureau of Statistics. The demographics show why. There are a lot of young professionals who rent in the area. Most of the car yards that used to characterise Braddon have been developed into high-rise apartment buildings with shops on the street frontages. But some of the history remains. I found the Gorman House Arts Centre featured on the Wikipedia page and because I had time to spare I asked the woman at the counter if it was far to walk. She found the building online and printed me out a map, so I set off on foot, heading south.

The Gorman House Arts Centre is on a major road – Ainslie Avenue – and there is a construction site on the corner of Cooyong Street where presumably they’re building more residential units. Gorman House takes up an entire city block.



The building was put on the ACT’s Heritage Places Register in 2005. The listing document says that the complex was built by the Federal Capital Advisory Committee in 1924 and was originally called Hostel No. 3. The building is the work of architect J.S. Murdoch “in a Garden-City setting, on a major axis of the Griffin Plan for Canberra”.
It reflects an interesting combination of traditional Georgian and Inter-War Mediterranean sentiment, with the Prairie-Style. The key elements of this combination are the horizontality of the group of buildings, the interconnected pavilions in a symmetrical layout, formation of landscaped areas between the pavilions, the use of terracotta roof tiles (since replaced), red brick details, six-pane double hung windows, and rough caste walls. The Brunswick green and cream colour scheme revives Georgian fashions. 
The garden setting of Gorman House is reflective of the 1920s style of low hedges and planting against buildings. Later plantings and maintenance have continued this simple style. The plantings provide contrast with the horizontal character of the buildings. The original Crataegus crus-galli [cockspur hawthorn, a North American native] provide an impressive focus for each of the courtyards. 
It has technical interest, which expresses the economic difficulties of its time of construction as well as the use of locally produced materials that have contributed to an identifiable local architectural fashion.
The website for Gorman House shows that the complex of buildings is now connected with the Ainslie School – a building constructed in 1927 – which are both run as arts centres.

To get back to the car, this time I walked up Doonkuna Street which has wide grass verges and enormous, spreading oak trees. There are two massive oak trees also outside the War Memorial, which was my ultimate destination for the morning.





Thursday, 7 December 2017

Finally we vote for marriage equality

On 17 April 2013 New Zealand's Parliament voted to allow people of the same sex to marry. When the law was passed people in the public gallery stood up and spontaneously sang a waiata, a traditional Maori song of celebration, 'Pokarekare Ana', which is said to date from the time of WWI. It is a love song. Today, in Parliament, as soon as the clerk proclaimed the new law passed, people in the public gallery stood up and sang the chorus from 'I Am Australian', a song of The Seekers:

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We'll share a dream and sing with one voice
"I am, you are, we are Australian"

The words reflect what the prime minister had said just before the law was passed in the day's final division (which saw a mere four members voting 'No'). But the selection of this song is certainly striking because the places that responded strongly 'No' in the postal survey that led up to today's vote were places where the concentration of new migrants is the highest, notably in western Sydney, as I outlined in a blogpost last month.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Tanner the dog in Pitt Street Mall

In July I wrote twice about meeting Tanner and his owner on my walks around the place and yesterday when I was in the CBD I saw the two of them again. Tanner was making a splash and getting a lot of attention, and his owner was trying to get him to sit down so that passersby could take photos of him. He's such an enormous, shaggy animal!

I was in town to go and meet with my lawyer because I had to get a copy of my driver's licence certified. I need this document to do a GIPA application to request information from the state government. It's because of the series of blogposts about brutalist architecture that I'm writing. I'm trying to find the development application (DA) and building application (BA) files for the Sirius Building in The Rocks; the city council does not hold them as it was not the consent authority. The authority that used to own the property - the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority - has been wound up and so I have to go to Property NSW to find where the file now resides.

After the meeting with my lawyer - which took about 30 minutes because we had a bit of a chat about stuff, including my researches into the NSW BLF (which I wrote about on the blog yesterday) - I went to an event I was covering as a journalist. It was at Barangaroo at the offices there of accounting firm PwC and it was the launch of a study conducted into Asia-Pacific real estate trends by PwC and the Urban Land Institute. This US-based body contacted me through LinkedIn to cover another event that I went to back in November, and so this was the second commission for me from them.

When I crossed George Street it was very windy and the dust blew down the street from what had been the construction site for the light rail. The section of road outside the QVB has now been finished so you can go there and see what the whole of George Street will look like after 2019, when the light rail to Kensington will be completed. They have paved the entire roadway with flagstones so it looks as though traffic will be restricted, but I haven't heard anything about car access yet from official sources.

This afternoon I will be driving to Canberra to attend a talk at the Australian War Memorial about a new Aboriginal painting that was commissioned from Indigenous artists living in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in remote South Australia.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Book review: Green Bans Red Union, Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann (2017)

Subtitled ‘The saving of a city’, this book started out as a doctoral thesis and was first published in 1998. When Meredith Burgmann was elected to the NSW Parliament to represent the ALP in the lower house she had things on her plate that prevented her from turning it into a book and so her sister – political scientist and labour historian Verity Burgmann – agreed to work on the book. This is their second edition. The book chronicles the changing fortunes of the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (NSW BLF) during one of the city’s construction booms – from the mid-1960s until 1975 – at which point in time the NSW BLF was finally deregistered in the face of stubborn government, media and industry opposition to its tactics. The story substantively starts in 1968 when Jack Mundey was elected secretary of the NSW BLF.

The first of the “green bans” ranged the BLF against developer AV Jennings over a piece of pristine bushland in Hunter’s Hill called Kelly’s Bush, when the BLF for some years had been publicly visible as a champion of progressive social causes. Local residents approached the BLF in mid-1971 and talked with them with a view to asking for their help to stop the development from going ahead. These were middle-class housewives who lived in relative comfort but the union took on their cause and refused to work on the job and the developer capitulated and agreed to abandon its plans to build 25 homes on the land in question.
It was not simply that the NSWBLF pledged itself not to provide labour for the destruction of Kelly’s Bush; its industrial power and its preparedness to use that power deterred the developer from even attempting to find other labour for that purpose. When Jennings reacted initially to the union ban by declaring it would build on Kelly’s Bush using non-union labour, builders labourers on a Jennings office project in North Sydney sent a telegram to Jennings’ head office: ‘If you attempt to build on Kelly’s Bush, even if there is the loss of one tree, this half-completed building will remain so forever, as a monument to Kelly’s Bush’. The union executive assured Jennings that any attempt to violate Kelly’s Bush would indeed result in the withdrawal of BLF members from all Jennings building sites. This ‘firm action’ had ‘a sobering influence’ on AV Jennings. The Battlers [for Kelly’s Bush, the residents’ action group] could see that the union’s decision ‘frightened the previously tough developers’, who ‘were accustomed to buying what they wanted’. Premier Askin, who had sweet-talked the Battlers, now condemned the unionists, who had kept their promises.
From the point of view of posterity, now, 40 years after the facts recounted, the stakes were even higher in fights against the state government in The Rocks – which was to be redeveloped with high-rise offices and hotels by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority – and Glebe – which the Department of Main Roads wanted to split in two for the easement for the planned Northwestern Expressway.

In Woolloomooloo also, the BLF supported local residents. Here, developer Sid Londish wanted to raze part of the suburb – which had not yet been gentrified – and build high-rise apartments. There was also the plan for the Eastern Suburbs Expressway to Bondi Junction which would have led to significant parts of the eastern approaches to the city being flattened. And in Victoria Street, Potts Point, there was the sinister developer Frank Theeman who wanted to build apartments where 19th century Victorian houses stood. There was also a state government plan to build a sports centre at Moore Park including a swimming pool on part of Centennial Park, and a plan to build a carpark under part of the Botanical Gardens near the Opera House.

These are a few of the more noteworthy matters the BLF adopted as causes for its militant union action, and we should be thankful to them that none of these projects went ahead. As well as supporting the goals of residents in these areas, the BLF also took the unprecedented step of relying on National Trust listings to decide which projects would go ahead, and which would not.

The book’s subtitle is indeed accurate. Large parts of Sydney’s valuable natural environment and heritage were threatened by profit-hungry developers aided and abetted by corrupt state premier, Robert Askin, who would use the police to remove tenants from properties or to harass union members on building sites. The press was largely ranged against the NSW BLF, including the Sydney Morning Herald. Naturally, the Australian and the Daily Telegraph – organs of arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch – were also vocal against them. (The DT was owned by Frank Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press until 1972, when it was bought by News Limited. Sir Frank’s son Kerry was also against the NSW BLF, which is germane as the Packers ran Channel Nine.)

Askin lost power in 1975 and the new government of Neville Wran quickly moved to prevent developers from knocking down heritage buildings. From the book:
With the Askin Government at last defeated at the polls, the Wran Labor Government from 1976 embarked upon significant legislation to protect heritage more adequately. In its first year it announced the preparation of laws under which developers would risk six months gaol plus $10,000 fines for demolishing historical buildings, and if a developer did damage an historical site the government would have the power to ban all development on that site for ten years.
The New South Wales Heritage Act was passed through Parliament in 1978. In 1979, the Wran government also enacted the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Land and Environment Court Act.

This is a superbly-written book that is by turns engaging and gripping. It does have the peculiarity that it relies a little heavily on acronyms – which I also found in China Mieville’s October (reviewed on this blog in October); it seems that those whose views rest on the left in politics have an affection for abbreviations. You are unwilling to turn to the list of abbreviations when reading the Kindle version because the navigation between pages is so poor on the Kindle, but you need to look up “BTG” (which stands for Building Trades Group, a part of the trade union movement that the NSW BLF belonged to).


Above: An illustration from the book shows Jack Mundey being arrested during ‘The Battle for the Rocks’, October 1973.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The opening of Trades Hall, Sydney

From Herman Morton’s 1956 book, The Architecture of Victorian Sydney:
On 26th January 1888 the Right Honourable Charles Robert, Baron Carrington, G.C.M.G., Governor of New South Wales, in full panoply and with a retinue of all the governors of all the Australian colonies, rode in state to the north gates of Centennial Park to declare open the great space which the foresight and energy of Sir Henry Parkes had reserved for the people. 
The park was opened with a simple ceremony and the governors, and Lady Carrington, planted memorial trees. A newspaper reporter who was present thought it all very splendid, or again he may have been seeking entrée to Government House, for he eulogized, “The day bright, beautiful as it dawned, was not more radiant than her ladyship.” 
Two days later the Governor was at the corner of Goulburn and Dixon streets to set the memorial stone of the Trades Hall. This building was intended for meetings held by working men, and it was also “to be an institution where lectures could be given and instruction in literature could be obtained”. 
John Smedley, who won the competition for the design of the building, presented the ceremonial trowel and mallet to His Excellency on the great day. No less than twenty-eight industrial organizations, with a total of nine thousand men accompanied by thirty brass bands, marched past in procession and cheered the opening of their new headquarters. Smedley’s building comprises only the corner section and most of the frontage to Goulburn Street. Though the Trades Hall has been enlarged three times, Smedley’s design has been closely followed for the additions.
The Wikipedia entry for the Trades Hall notes that a lack of funds meant that the construction of the building was delayed, despite the foundation stone being laid in 1888. The building finally opened in 1895. In his book, Morton with a characteristic flourish describes 1888 as “the high summer of Sydney’s Victorian Age, an era when past struggles were forgotten and future difficulties not even glimpsed through the golden haze of the present”.
Sydney had become the metropolis of a rich land and, as the centenary of the founding of the colony approached, the citizens prepared both to celebrate that important event and to express their pride in a century of achievement. To enhance the holiday spirit all sorts of ceremonies were planned. 
Those who were building exerted every effort to finish the works in the centenary year so that the magic numerals 1888 could be carved over ornate doorways or be lovingly moulded in cement high on the parapet to boast the fact to the world. 
Sydney was proud of its physical being: the past decade had given it the great public and private buildings that had turned it into a true city; a good substantial city in whose 2546 acres of commercial district there was scarcely one building of mere wood. The city and suburbs boasted two cathedrals and 133 churches. Each municipality had, or was building, its town hall. In Castlereagh Street the Theatre Royal attracted audiences smaller than those of Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street only because the latter was the larger theatre. 
The parson of the Pitt Street Congregational Church complained that the devil was pressing him close, for the Criterion Theatre abutted one side of his church and the Gaiety leant against the rear, but the citizens loved the excitement and glamour of it all. After the theatre there were Quong Tart’s elegant refreshment-rooms where supper could be taken amidst gilt woodwork, ferns, and palms, with golden carp swimming in fountains.
Trades Hall has been conserved and adapted for contemporary use by a professional architectural firm. The Museum of Sydney has published a good webpage on the building.




Sunday, 3 December 2017

Design of the Pyrmont public school

In his 1956 book, The Architecture of Victorian Sydney, architect Herman ‘Mick’ Morton tells the story of how so many schools came to be built in NSW in the last decades of the 19th century.
Sir Henry Parkes brought down his Education Act in 1880, to counteract the condition whereby twenty-six per cent of children of school age were illiterate. Nowadays, of course, conditions have changed and nearly everyone can interpret the cryptic print of the sporting pages of the newspapers. Though there had been many schools before this time, now their number was to be increased so that each centre of population in New South Wales was to have its State school. To the horror of little boys, attendance was compulsory.
And later:
The Education Act of 1880 naturally stimulated the building of schools in Sydney. [William] E. Kemp was appointed architect to the Department of Public Instruction, and by 1883 he had completed, amongst others, schools in Young Street, South Croydon, and in Bourke Street, Surry Hills, between Mort and Ridge streets.
Morton writes that “more important in the flow of Australian architectural evolution is his public school at Pyrmont. [His Sydney Technical College, Technological Museum], and Croydon public school were conceived by a mind imbued with all the love of fussy detail which the Victorian held was the true measure of architectural richness.”
Walls, as they are in those two buildings, were considered attractive if they were built of at least three different materials, with square-headed windows in some parts, large and small arches in others, with panels, strong courses and carved capitals to the piers, and elaborate wooden divisions in the windows. All the smaller bits were intended to be essentially interesting in themselves. 
But by the nineties architects were becoming restless in this myopic view. They began to feel that form, the whole mass of the building, should be more important than the parts. Architecture is an art which manipulates form and space – for useful purposes – and if the bulk of the building is not designed with skilful proportions to present a harmonious whole, then no amount of clever decoration will ever make it successful architecture. 
Something of this spirit must have moved Kemp when designing the Pyrmont school, for here decoration has been reduced drastically, and the result is much nearer to being architecture than his larger buildings.
The building was completed in 1891. Morton was born in 1903 in Woollahra and studied architecture at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1930. He died in 1983.


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Brutalism nine: Hyde Park Square

This is the ninth blogpost in a series about brutalist buildings in Sydney. This post deals wtih the two buildings at 201 and 227 Elizabeth Street, one being the former T&G Building and the other being the former Aetna Life Building. They are located opposite Hyde Park.

Unusually for a development application (DA), the city council’s file contains a separately-bound report, which has been carefully typed out, and that details the new project.
This report briefly describes the proposed redevelopment of the whole of the block bound by Elizabeth, Castlereagh, Bathurst and Park Streets, Sydney for our clients the Australasian Temperance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited and the Producers and Citizens Life Insurance Company Limited.
The report was prepared by Alexander Kann, Finch & Partners of 32-36 Martin Place with consulting architects Peddle Thorpe & Walker, who had their offices in the new AMP Building at Circular Quay. While Alexander Kann, Finch & Partners worked as the main point of contact for the city council and other authorities involved in the discussions leading up to the construction, the report also notes that the architects for the P&C Tower (which would be renamed during the planning process the Aetna Life Building after a company name change; US-based Aetna had bought a majority interest in P&C in 1968) were Roy Grounds & Company Ltd and Cheesman Doley Brabham & Neighbour, as joint architects.

The site was at 201-227 Elizabeth Street, 190-226 Castlereagh Street, 120-130 Bathurst Street, 37-53 Park Street, which would involve the demolition of nine buildings owned by T&G as well as eight buildings, at the Bathurst Street end of the block, owned by P&C. The report was enthusiastic about the prospects for building something meaningful in the city.
The site improvements generally are proposed to be completely demolished to permit reconstruction and a feature of the design will be to integrate the two sites so that although they remain under two separate ownerships, an ideal environment will be created for the various functions to be incorporated in the scheme. 
A major factor in considering the design of the proposed T. & G. Building and the proposed P. & C. Building arises out of the mutual desire of all concerned to achieve a solution which will provide not only the ideal environment from the Societies’ point of view, but also the ideal environment from the civic point of view.

The above drawing in the DA file shows the locations of the two proposed buildings on the city block.

The report notes that the DA was the second to have been submitted for approval, after the first had expired. The new DA “incorporates both ownerships in order to achieve maximum benefit with a common plan of development and the ideal from a community viewpoint with the integrated layout at and below ground level”. The motion to approve the DA was carried by council on 5 April 1971.

The DA proposes excavating the whole site to provide three basement levels, the two lowest of which would be for car parking, with 250 spaces under the T&G Buildings and 64 spaces under the P&C Building. The original plan specified the driveways being parallel to Castlereagh Street, and the footpaths brought inside the site boundary “to avoid their crossing both in and outgoing traffic routes”. This part of the design ended up taking a long time to finalise, partly because of the difficulty brought to bear on the plans by public utilities, such as water mains, which had to be significantly altered in order to accommodate the new driveways. The architects also didn’t want to position the ramps on opposite sides of the open space between the two buildings as it would provide “a ‘moat’ effect and visual separation of the Plaza and public areas from the footways and the public at large”. The solution the architects ended up with, in consultation with the city planner, J.J. Doran, the important Heights of Buildings Committee of the state government, and the Police Traffic Branch, places both ramps in Castlereagh Street.

The architects also secured a higher floor space ratio of 12:1 by providing for pedestrian movement, light and ventilation. To qualify for the greater FSR, a 15-foot plaza was incorporated in the design around the perimeter of the site at footway level.

The architect’s report also notes that:
All vehicles providing service to the buildings would be encouraged to enter the basement areas to be dealt with at goods loading areas (with goods hoists) to avoid, and if possible eliminate, the necessity for any kerbside parking.
The shopping arcade on the first basement level would connect with Museum Station via a tunnel under Elizabeth Street. A second tunnel, connecting the site with the other side of Park Street, to the north, was also discussed, (although it never eventuated).
This through route for pedestrian traffic provides a substantial contribution to civic amenity and public safety and we commend the proposal to the [State Planning] Authority for their approval.
Another tunnel, under Castlereagh Street, to end up at the colonnaded area of the Park Regis, was also discussed but never eventuated. The city planner and the city engineer consulted with the controller of parks to decide on the final design of the tunnel entrance in Hyde Park. It appears that an entrance to the tunnel was planned to be built “immediately east of the Bathurst Street Obelisk”, but this plan seems to have fallen through. The Department of Railways had further agreed to demolish the Goulburn Street entrance to Museum Station.

The controller of parks sent a note to the town clerk on 27 July 1973:
The Minute and comments by the City Planner on the Hyde Park Square Pedestrian Underpass have been noted. 
It is reported that funds are not available in this Department’s current Revenue Estimates and no provision has been made for expenditure in the draft estimates for 1974, as this type of work would be normally charged to capital.
The report is enthusiastic about the shopping arcade:
Above the car parking decks a shopping mall is indicated, and the whole of the space at this level is devoted to retail facilities and public movement. 
The shopping or retail areas are designed to provide a “balanced” facility to the community with a good cross section of retail facilities, which, it is hoped, will cater for the lack of service shopping created by the growth of the many large buildings in the city. The extensive open spaces will themselves be landscaped and planted, they will be provided with fountains and seating, all with the intention of giving to the general public a pleasant atmosphere in which to shop or stroll and with shelter from the hot sun or winds. The Plaza at ground level is integrated with the shopping levels below and provides a maximum of open space between the two buildings.
The T&G Building would be designed in two parts. One section of the building, comprising the lower six floors, would house the offices of dentists currently using space in the existing buildings, and also dentists “from other buildings being demolished in the city”.
The Dental Section of the building is completely self-contained and is provided with lifts solely for the use of its tenants and their patients. These lifts serve the shopping level (in addition to the escalators) as well as the car parking floors, but do not proceed above the sixth (6th) level. 
The remaining 32 occupied floors have been planned with two rises of lifts, all as shown on the plans and with plant areas provided at the appropriate levels to cater for lift machinery and air conditioning equipment.
T&G made plans to enable the dentists operating in the existing building on the site to continue their practices undisturbed while the “low rise section” of the new building was completed. They were then moved into the new building while it was still under construction, so that the old building could be demolished.

The total cost of the entire development was estimated at $25 million. Dillingham Constructions Pty Ltd was contracted to prepare the site but Ford Excavations Pty Ltd, of 28 Stanley Street, Peakhurst, also worked on the site. A noise complaint emerged:
On the 29th February, 1972, Mrs. Jeanette Simpson, Unit 321 Park Regis rang to complain of work being carried out at this site up to 11.00 p.m. the previous night. 
Upon investigation I was informed by Mr. Mills of Mills and Broadhead Pty. Ltd., who are demolishing the premises, that not any demolition work was carried out the previous night but that this company did remove demolished material from the site[. W]hen Mr. Mills was advised that not any work could be carried out beyond the approved hours with Council’s consent he stated that he would immediately instruct his workmen to this effect. 
On the 1st march, 1972, Mrs. Simpson again rang to complain of jack hammers operating at 6.00 a.m. that morning. Mr. Mills was again interviewed and he was very upset to know that his instructions had been disregarded. He stated that when he arrived on the site at 6.50 a.m. that morning he found that two new Australians had commenced work without his authority and in consequence he felt that he was not responsible for the noise. He further stated that he immediately stopped the compressor and sacked the two workmen involved. 
There have been no further complaints of noise emanating from this site and Mrs. Simpson has confirmed that she has no further reason for complaint. 
In view of Mr. Mills obvious attempt to carry out work within the specified hours further action was not taken.
Thomas Anderson & Partners, consulting engineers, made mechanical drawings for the T&G Building. Concrete Constructions (N.S.W.) Limited was also employed. In a letter to council from the company, a request was made to extend the permissible working hours for the site:
We have been contracted for construct for Producers Properties a new building on the corners of Bathurst, Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets, Sydney. 
We understand that your approval for construction of the works included a restriction of working hours applied to buildings approved after June 30th, 1969. 
We appeal to your Council for dispensation of these limitations. The nature of the work involves some complex load bearing precast concrete units and we envisage that we may need to transport and off load these outside of normal working hours. 
As you are probably aware the building is 27 floors and the volume of this work will span over the time needed to complete its structure. The structure itself is concrete and with this comes the problem of deliveries and planning, particularly pours. 
On this basis we ask Council to consider an extension of the working hours from 6.30 A.M. to 8.30 P.M.
It appears that permission was granted, but in a letter to the town clerk dated 22 January 1974, a project administrator for the company again asked for permission to extend the hours available to deliver materials to the site, this time on Sundays.
Further to your communication dated 17th August, 1973, Ref: 827/71:SFB, acknowledging receipt of our letter dated 14th August requesting an extension of working hours from 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, we also would require employing our men on some Sundays between the hours of 7.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. 
Having already commenced precast erection on site, your decision on these matters is urgently required and your early consideration of this would be greatly appreciated.

Above: The former Aetna Life Building on Bathurst Street. The former T&G Building is visible behind it.


Above: The former T&G Building as seen from Hyde Park near the War Memorial.


Above: The two buildings seen from Elizabeth Street, looking north.


Above: The entrance to the former T&G Building on Elizabeth Street.


Above: Looking down into the shopping plaza on the first basement level.


Above: The exit from the underground parking garage on Castlereagh Street, looking north.


Above: The period wall decorations in the tunnel underneath 227 Elizabeth Street. You can also enter the lower-ground floor of the building at 231 Elizabeth Street from further down in the tunnel, using escalators.


Above: The tunnel leading under Elizabeth Street to Museum Station. There is an entrance on Elizabeth Street next to Hyde Park to the tunnel and the station.