The Corkman Hotel and the Problem of Illegal Demolition of Historic Buildings

The pub as viewed from the diagonally opposite corner with blue sky in the background

The Corkman Irish Pub at 160 Leicester St, Carlton in Melbourne as it appears on the hotel’s website

Last week Melbourne residents were appalled at the news that an historic pub in inner-suburban Carlton had been illegally demolished. The Corkman Irish Pub was opened in 1857 as the Carlton Inn and was one of the few surviving buildings of that era. It was demolished a week after a fire damaged it. The Guardian reports that the developer claimed that damage from the fire made the building unsafe but a Melbourne Council building surveyor and other experts had inspected the building and found that the damage had not caused significant structural damage.

Sadly, this is not the first time that a historically valuable building has been illegally demolished in Melbourne. When I heard the news I was immediately reminded of the illegally demolished Toorak church that we passed by each day on the way home from work in the late 1980s. It stood half destroyed for years.

Toorak Wesleyan Church on the corner of Toorak and Williams roads, was illegally demolished in the 1980s.

Toorak Wesleyan Church on the corner of Toorak and Williams roads, was illegally demolished in the 1980s.

The problem is not confined to Victoria. Just this month in Brisbane two historically significant houses were demolished after a demolition application had been refused. Last year the New South Wales Land and Environment Court fined a developer for illegally destroying the facades of a row of shop fronts on Parramatta Road in Sydney. (You can read the full judgement from the New South Wales Land and Environment Court.)  Continue reading

Kangaroo Point, Brisbane

People purchasing tickets through round, grilled windows at the Gabba

We had pre-purchased our tickets for the Brisbane Lions vs Hawthorn game so bypassed the ticket queue but the small ticket windows at the Gabba caught my eye. I wonder what it is like for the ticket sellers working behind these portholes?

Last week I was back in Brisbane. Family from Melbourne and Sydney joined our Brisbane family to watch the Hawthorn vs Brisbane Lions football game at the Gabba. After an enjoyable family weekend, I stayed on for a few days to do some research. That plan was somewhat hijacked when my brand new laptop had a major failure. I had to use a spreadsheet on a tablet while I was working in the archives. It was a slow and fiddly way to work. Tablets are great, but not for working with spreadsheets.

I was going to blog about my stay, but I was about to copy a draft of this post from my computer to my blog when my laptop failed and I couldn’t access the document. These computer problems made me rather grumpy for a couple of days but I decided to stop dwelling on my first world problems and from then on I enjoyed my visit.

I am back in Sydney now and have decided to share with you the posts I was planning to publish last week. In a happy coincidence I have found out it is Queensland Week. Queensland Week celebrates the separation of Queensland from New South Wales on 6th June 1859. So now I have a good pretext for publishing my Queensland posts this week.

During our football weekend we stayed at Kangaroo Point which is walking distance to the Gabba. One of the families I have been researching lived in this area in the late nineteenth century but I knew that this is one of the most heavily developed areas of Brisbane so I was not expecting to find any of the buildings connected with this family.

I like walking the streets trodden in the past by the people I am researching. Even if there have been a lot of changes one can still gain a sense of the topography and how the places they frequented related to each other. Sometimes one can strike it lucky and find a building that has survived a century of urban redevelopment. On a morning walk we found such a place. The schools my family had attended had been demolished, but the church next to these schools has survived. Continue reading

A Quirky Hotel with a History

Portico at front entrance of hotel

A quirky hotel with a history: the Mercure Hotel, Canberra.

It was just another visit to Canberra but this time my mother was accompanying me to see her grand-daughter who lives in Canberra. All I wanted was a simple twin share room but one of the hotels I often use was booked out and the other I also sometimes stay at did not have twin share. They offered to put up a foldaway bed if I paid an additional sum of money – but I didn’t want to pay extra for the privilege of sleeping in a potentially uncomfortable bed so I found a hotel I had never tried before.

I secured a great rate but given that this was a branded hotel I was expecting a bland experience. The mention of ‘old world charm’ did not enthuse me. The last time I stayed in ‘old world charm’ I was in a room with a window covered in ‘old world’ grime, antiquated plumbing and a rattly old air conditioner. But I didn’t pay much for the room so was not going to grumble if it was like this. You get what you pay for.

Bed with two pillows, lamps either side and hotel towels and toiletries placed on it.

Daylight flooding onto the queen-sized bed – not the down at heel room I was expecting.

It is good to have low expectations because then you have the pleasure of expectations being exceeded. As I walked into our room at the Mercure Hotel in Canberra my cynicism vanished. We had two queen sized beds with one bed right next to a window. The daylight flooded onto the bed unimpeded by those daytime curtains used by so many hotels to protect privacy.  I went to the window and laughed. The room was great value but the view reflected the price. It was so bad it was funny. I had no concerns about my privacy – I don’t think anyone would gaze on that view! But I could actually open the window and breathe in the fresh Canberra air. Our room was far superior to all those hermetically sealed hotel rooms with artificial air, bland drapes and soulless prints hung on beige walls. Not only that, but the bathroom was properly renovated, the beds comfortable and the room was spacious.

A view so bad it's funny, but still not in contention for worst hotel view as the window was clean and the air was fresh.

A view so bad it’s funny, but still not in contention for worst hotel view as the window was clean and the air was fresh.

Continue reading

Chinese Settlers in Atherton, Queensland

Old Chinese Temple

The Hou Wang Temple on the outskirts of Atherton, Qld.

Through a gap in our back fence we could see the lone building in the middle of a paddock. Surrounded by grass it stood solidly and silently. The building received few visitors but we knew it was significant and deserving of care.

The building was a Chinese Temple and was all that remained of a vibrant Chinese settlement in the town of Atherton in Far North Queensland. When we were living there at the end of the century the sound of voices were rarely heard around the Temple.

The grass had grown long. Continue reading

The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s capital

colour map of the proposed city of Canberra.

Preliminary plan of Canberra by Walter Burley Griffin, 1914. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

The capital city of Australia is a twentieth century creation.  It emerged from a paddock in rural New South Wales one hundred years ago.  On 12th March 1913 Lady Denman, the wife of Australia’s Governor-General, stood on the newly laid foundation stones and announced the name of the city to be – Canberra.

The city had already been born by the time the crowd gathered in the empty paddock to hear its chosen name.  The ideas for the built structures had flowed from the minds of American architect Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in Chicago over fifteen thousand kilometres away.  In turn their design was indebted to the ancient landscape on which it was to be built and the indigenous people who nurtured that environment and from whose language the name of the city was derived.

This year is the centenary of the founding of Canberra.  It is also the year when one of our daughters moved to Canberra so we will be visiting it more often than we usually do.  Last month we fitted in a visit to the National Library where I saw their exhibition, ‘The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s Capital’. Continue reading

Book Review: Flood Country by Emily O’Gorman

Author, Emily O'Gorman holding her book, Flood Country

Author, Emily O’Gorman at the Sydney launch of her book, Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin (Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing, 2012).

I would never have read this book if it wasn’t for twitter.

Last year I came across the twitter stream of the University of Wollongong’s, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (@AUSCCER) and those of researchers who work at the Centre.  I have enjoyed these tweets about geography and the environment . One day I noticed their tweets about the Sydney launch of a book written by one of the researchers at the Centre, Flood Country: an Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin.  Happily I was free at that time and could attend.

People remain connected to and dependent on the natural environment despite all our inventions designed to make us more comfortable.  However, our technology and structures have lulled us into thinking that we are immune from the vagaries of our environment.  We get a nasty shock when this veil is ripped from us in a fire, drought or flood and we are forced to confront a difficult reality.

It is no accident that I decided to read Flood Country this month.  I was going to read another book but the flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald prompted me to change my plans.

My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s.  This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.

My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s. This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.

In Flood Country author, Emily O’Gorman uses the case studies of four floods to examine the relationship between the European settlers and the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin.  She covers a broad sweep of European settlement starting with the flood in Gundagai in 1852, then moving on to the flooding of Bourke in 1890, Mildura in 1956 and the flooding in south-western Queensland in 1990.  In between the accounts of these floods are chapters that tease out particular issues of the period such as the differing approaches to regulation of water for the pastoral and mining industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the rise of the engineered solution to water management in the twentieth century. Continue reading

Thistle Thoughts

ute full of thistles

Our family’s harvest of thistles. Photo by Alan Perkins.

Today I was inspired while weeding.  This was not the dainty weeding that one does in a household garden bed.  No, one afternoon on my Christmas holidays I spent the afternoon with the rest of our family pulling thistles out of an infested paddock on my brother’s farm.  When I wasn’t pulling thistles I was chief thistle spotter and bag puller.  As you can see from the photo we filled one ute tray with thistles and there’s still more to be done.

Top half of a flowering thistle plant.

A photo of a thistle is better than the real thing – no prickles! Photo by Alan Perkins

So I suppose you are thinking that given we were weeding on such a large scale that my inspiration must be similarly large, maybe even momentous.  You may be right.  In fact my inspiration was so compelling that I have passed on a game of scrabble to share my inspiration with you.

It all started with a simple question.  Why, oh why, did Tasmania’s early settlers feel so compelled to transport such a dastardly prickly plant thousands of kilometres from its home in Scotland and plant it in the antipodes? Continue reading