Monday, January 12, 2015

A note on Australian architecture

Regular readers will know that I write the weekly history column for the Armidale Express. This gives me an excuse to delve into all sorts of things that I might not otherwise find. However, it also creates a problem, Sometimes, I find myself all myself all adrift with just too many topics to make any sense of it all. I am in this position at the moment.

This is Camden Park House near Sydney. Completed in 1835, the house was designed by architect John Verge. Born in Hampshire in 1782, Verge emigrated to NSW in 1828, taking up land first near Dungog (Lyndhurst Vale) and then in the Macleay Valley (Austral Eden).

Verge's primary interests were in agriculture. His active practice as an architect (1831-37) lasted just so long as it took for his agricultural interests to prosper. Thereafter he lived on Austral Eden until his death in 1861.In that brief period, his output was quite prolific, leaving some beautiful regency style buildings.

This is Elizabeth Bay House in Sydney designed and built by Verge (1835-39) for Alexander McLeay. Whereas Camden Park House is still in family hands, Elizabeth Bay House is now a museum.

While the first major colonial architect, the convict Francis Greenway, necessarily focused on official projects, Verge had a private client focus drawing from the wealth that had been created in the new colony since its formation in 1788.

I hadn't realised that Verge had Northern NSW connections. I knew that a John Verge had taken up Austral Eden, but didn't actually connect settler Verge with architect Verge.Mind you, I didn't discover Verge had New England connections through my research in this area. All this came about because of flaneurring, strolling streets to see what I could find. Call it sticky-beaking if you like.

All this led into an investigation of Federation architecture because the houses I was looking at were largely from that period. This is an example of the Gothic stream in Federation architecture, Booloominbah designed by architect John Horbury Hunt. Life's a fragile business, as you can see if you look at Hunt's story.

Arguably one of Australia's greatest architects, the last year's of Hunt's life were difficult. Somehow it seems unfair that he should die not knowing that his contribution to Australia's built environment would be a lasting and recognised legacy.

Unlike Booloominbah, most of the examples I was looking at were not Gothic but Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts or Federation Bungalow style. I'm still not sure that I can always tell the differences between them!    


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