Hobart Christmas Party – Message from the National President

Tasmanian Chapter President, Shamus Mulcahy, and National President, Alice Hampson | 2020 Hobart Christmas Party | Photographer: Nina Hamilton

We were fortunate to have the Institute’s National President, Alice Hampson, join our Tasmanian members at the Hobart Christmas Party in December. Here’s what she had to say on the evening:

The good news is that my little trick has worked again, and not only outside Queensland, but even on the lower side of Bass Strait! And it is such a simple trick – tonight’s invitation failed to mention that I would be holding the microphone, so we find ourselves with a capacity crowd.

I join a grand tradition of mass migration of Queenslanders leaving for the southern-most isle. I’m thinking of Godfrey Rivers who painted an iconic image of Victorian-era picnickers under a jacaranda tree that hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery, although Rivers himself is now laid to rest here in St David’s Cathedral (across from my hotel). This is a work so profound in symbolism that each year a mystery member of the public, devoid of heartlessness, scatters an abundance of fresh jacaranda flowers under the picture just as they bloom and turn the town into a deep lilac colour to rival Japan’s cherry blossom season.

Before me, they have shifted with their feet, some great giants of the architectural profession: Bruce Goodsir, Ian Clayton, Helen Norrie, Genevieve Lilley, Barry McNeill, Bud Brannigan and more recently Timothy Hill. Some like myself will stay a day or two, but other such as Elizabeth Watson Brown and Peter Skinner and JoAnne Case stayed a few years, only to return and spread the word to those back north.

Shamus contacted me as the latest millennial plague, COVID-19, descended upon Australia and he was facing the prospect of being caught in Noosa of all places, dreadful wretched place, all sun drenched and golden. He managed to catch the last plane out of Queensland to Tasmania and I now feel close to catching the first flight back in – and, after limiting myself to a scant number of postcodes since March, I couldn’t be happier finally to meet actual live members – and all without mute buttons.

I feel rather an affinity with Tasmania. I first learned to queue because of Tasmania, as the best pavilion in my childhood at the agricultural Royal Queensland Show, affectionately called the EKKA, was the Tasmanian Potato Board, a big green shed essentially, but that chip stand was show-feasting magic with patrons queuing right across the road, past the live pigs exhibit and right on to the animal nursery.  How they allowed an industry that was clearly from interstate – indeed, from a landmass separated from the rest of Australia – into a Queensland agricultural produce show I never knew, but that chip stand was better than either of the other two highly regarded pavilions – the sugar cane pavilion (free fairy-floss) and the pineapple pavilion (with free you-know-what).

My affinity with Tasmania was enhanced by the fact that my father-in-law was – as he called himself – a TASWEGIAN: an Old Boy of the Hutchins School, with parents who grew up in, respectively, Sheffield and Wynyard. My father-in-law claimed to remember seeing the last Tasmanian tiger in captivity at the Hobart Zoo, and to have been taught at the University of Tasmania by Professor Flynn – that is Errol Flynn’s distinguished father. The fact that my father-in-law was not yet born when the last thylacine passed away, and when Professor Flynn gave up his teaching position, should not be allowed to detract from a good tale.

I heard some words on the radio a few days ago, about the misfortunes of BAPH. It related to visiting orchestras and how the places with the most talent don’t get visited by others with the most talent. Reference was to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra visiting the big island but only to perform in Sydney and Melbourne. That, despite the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra being world-renowned. BAPH, if you are as ignorant as I was four days ago, is an acronym for what I’d call the golden opportunity destinations of Australia – Brisbane-Adelaide-Perth-Hobart. It got me thinking about the similarities of those cities – they are the oldest of the nation’s smaller cities.

I thought about what Queensland and Tasmania enjoy as similarities. Both were where the worst convicts were sent from Sydney – Brisbane’s convict treadmill being a foretaste of what convicts could expect at Port Arthur. They are capitals of the two most decentralised states in Australia – the only two states in which more than half of the population live outside the capital – and both are agriculturally based. During Australia’s last depression – the Great Depression which began in 1929 – Queensland and Tasmania were the only states to carry out significant building transformative projects. Here, one such project was the road to the summit of Mount Wellington, then known as “Ogilvie’s Scar”, dubiously honouring the State Premier, Albert George Ogilvie, who sponsored the project. Most importantly, Queensland is where Tasmanians want to be in summer; Tasmania is where Queenslanders want to be in summer.

Queensland and Tasmania are also, I would argue, the two states which enjoy the most distinctive architecture. Where Tasmania specialises in tightly insulated cocooning structures hugging the terrain with scant overhangs, the Queenslander is more of prop: up high on stilts, shot with perforations throughout the skin, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Both states exhibit enormous invention in their architecture, have a profound sense of place, and there is a contented quietness and remoteness to the work as well as a frugality and fragility. Both share a fine tradition of tin and timber, and although you have astounding timber research you also have a refined research sensibility with stone and brick dating back almost 200 years.

Interestingly, Queensland also features from the early years of your Tasmanian Institute of Architects (TIA). Founded in 1903, it started with just 13 members split into three semi-isolated groups: North, South and the North-West Coast. In its first year it produced a set of regulations and by-laws for its own working and a scale of professional charges (a fee guide). Within the next year the TIA had written to Queensland Institute of Architects (QIA).

The QIA was established in 1888 and we were well used to rascals. The reason for the letter was to inquire about one T.M. Haenke, who was causing havoc amongst Launceston architects. Haenke was one of two Toowoomba architect brothers who – as it turned out – had been expelled (that is, chucked out) from the QIA for being five years in arrears of subscriptions. Without any Institute membership the TIA could then do nothing and Haenke was free to offer his architectural services publicly for a negligible three per cent and to advertise architect’s free plans to people who engaged his building company. So clearly bad company visits your island (project thieves essentially) and such bad folk were a huge incentive for the TIA to unite with the other state institutes to form the RAIA in 1930.

But the item that is of most significance came out of Tasmania being Australia’s treasure chest of pre-1850 colonial architecture, and that, thanks to your Institute and its foresight, some quarter of a century before anyone else and well before the National Trust was dreamed of. This was, for the TIA to concern itself with preservation of building fabric – through the foresight of your third president, Bernard Walker – a group of six were charged with three tasks – to collect information on historic buildings, compile a record of measured drawings and advise the public or clients on repair and preservation – this is quite an extraordinary accomplishment!

Tonight was marketed to me as a ‘beer and bull…something-or-other’ event – how could I resist that invitation. When Shamus thought I was wavering he said, ‘but with awards being giving out, there’s another job for you.’

And so I would like to show you a banknote I prepared in Shamus’ honour, part of my personal limited edition of teasingly called Proposed Architect Series Banknotes – I referred to the legacy of this in my 2020 National Architects Awards address.

Although this banknote for your retiring Tasmanian Chapter President is a vintage five dollar, along with this I’d like to re-enact Jorn Utzon’s good deed, by presenting him with a Chain of Office, since I’ve been told there is no such bling on the isle for El Presidento. Utzon was shocked to hear there was no magnificent Chain for the RAIA’s National President, so he designed, made and gifted this sumptuous silver chain I wear today.

My office has one minion – that’s me – so I called on m3architecture’s minion, Dr Michael Lavery, also Queensland State President, to play with the ‘good’ scissors to craft this full-scale paper replica of the Queensland Chapter Presidential Chain of Office – now Tassie’s interim Chain of Office.

So please Shamus, come forward and accept this as the embodiment of the Utzon gesture. Don’t mock a paper replica – it’s all I’ve had to wear since my inauguration till I flew to Canberra a fortnight ago to collect this treasure. And so, for Shamus – I have had made this full-scale paper replica of the Queensland Presidential Chain of Office! Out of wearability experience, Shamus, I have brought a spare in this envelop for any messiness this evening.

The Tasmanian members would like to thank Alice for making the trip down south – everyone enjoyed the opportunity to meet in person!

All the photos from the evening, taken by Nina Hamilton, can be found on the Tasmanian Chapter’s Facebook page.