Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ebullient Ballarat

Arrival of Geelong mail - Main Street Ballaarat, 1854
In the late 1830s the hills and valleys now blanketed by the lovely city of Ballarat, in the Australian state of Victoria, were the preserve of a few squatters on indigenous land. In 1851, gold was discovered and the rough shelters of the city (and from what I can tell, the rough habits of those dwelling therein) were transformed almost overnight and an  architectural grandeur befitting Ballarat's new status in the Empire sprouted. Most of those buildings, and the imposing hilly streets on which they stand, delight still today.

First impressions are everything. When travel by train was the norm, Ballarat Train Station opened (1862) with classical fanfare, and still holds its own. You may appreciate Streetview's  wider view. Train buffs may appreciate that the station has the largest interlocking mechanical swing gates in Victoria, along with original signal boxes and goods sheds.
 The Moorish-inspired Provincial Hotel was built in 1909, and sits across the street from the station. Just the spot for the commercial traveller or visiting provincial official to rest up and steel himself for the day's business along the hill up Lydiard Street.

For years the hostelry languished, but endured through its "eyesore" period, and has been refurbished as a boutique hotel.

Lydiard Street
Reid Hotel (1886)

The once opulent Reid Hotel (1886) nearby along Lydiard Street looks a bit down on its luck, but it looks like home to the town's less well off folk looking for an affordable bed as Reid's Guest House. The Reid Hotel was one of the gold rush era's "coffee palaces", temperance hotels which served nothing stronger than coffee. But when I think back to Australian coffee...
Bank of New South Wales (1862)

The Lydiard and Central Ballarat walking trail guide lists no less than 60 structures from the gold-rush building boom, most within 4 blocks. Fortunately we broke our journey with a night at the former Bank of New South Wales (1862,)  updated and very comfy. It's the two storey building with rounded window pediments, at the right of this photo. Here's a link should you wish to book. And here's the neighbourhood should you wish to check it out.

Just down the street was the George Hotel which was associated with ours, offering some great meals and diversions. Took them up on all offers. The George Hotel (third generation, 1902) sports a unique three storey cast iron balcony, and a view of the (former) Mining Exchange across Lydiard Street.

The George Hotel v.3
our hotel R from the lacy portico of the Mining Exchange

The Mining Exchange (1887-9) where the buying and selling of mining shares took place, is typically boom-town classical in appearance - the parapet is a thing of wonder, and the modified Palladian windows (one with pediment) are just grand.The bow-fronted balcony masks a wide elliptical entrance and rusticated arches. The balcony with its cast iron was reinstated, copying the original,  in 1986.

I'm not making this up, I found the heritage listing online. Thanks guys.

The wild-west gold mining story is told at a popular historic park  called Sovereign Hill (opened 1970) where costumed animators stage gold-rush activities for the tourists. We preferred to wander the streets of the city, and let the  somewhat excessive architecture of Lydiard and Camp Street relate stories from those heady times. I find this juxtaposition fascinating - Sturt Street with its central treed boulevard was built wide to accommodate  bullock carts (which do not turn on a dime, as you can imagine) arriving and leaving with gold field wealth. Imagine the contrast between ox team drivers bringing the dust and sweat of the outback and the newly spawned refinement of this grand aspiring Victorian city with its status as premier city of Victoria's goldfields.

Magnificent Town Hall (1868) with its peal of eight bells
I've found historical photos at a few sites, but  I feel uncomfortable about sharing them without permission.  Photos of miners in 1887, an etching of the early townsite complete with bullocks reclining in front of the frame shack which was Washington Bowling Saloon, restless crowds in front of the Mining Exchange, an image of a gold shipment departing by horse cart for Melbourne under heavy military guard are all available in the Ballarat Historical Society's catalogue. Here are some Past and Present photos going back to 1920s  Go time travelling there.

The amount of gold extracted in the area from 1851 to the present was 643 tons, about 29 billion dollars worth. That could buy a lot of pedimented porticos. And it did, in the same frenzied times that 'Marvellous Melbourne' of the 1880s was benefiting from mother earth's largess.

Admire the splendour.
L: Craig's Royal Hotel R: National Mutual Insurance Co.
 A particular favourite of mine was the 1905 Renaissance Revival/Venetian Gothic inspired National Mutual Insurance Company building at the corner of Lydiard and Sturt Streets. With its
recessed loggias, trefoil Gothic arches abounding, "cusped stilted segmental arches on the top storey" and "openwork octagonal structure" on the roof, once domed, with corner pinnacles, it's a dazzler. Crazy eclectic commercial building.

The modern shop-fronts and awnings don't do a thing for it. The designation report states that there were originally "three corner mansarded turrets capped by finials." A pretty splendid structure, even for ebullient Ballarat.

Craig's Royal Hotel (1862)

Craig's Royal Hotel billed as the "legendary Australian gold-rush era grand hotel" was impressive. My dear man almost had me talked into a $350 stay in a richly panelled fourposter bedded room, so we could visit the outstanding Minton tiled lobby at our leisure, but an incredibly sniffy concierge so put me off, that my only polite recourse was to decline the Craig's invitation. Here's the hotel's long history
French Renaissance ...
meets Tuscan tower and loggias

Mechanics' Institute est.1859

 Another look at the former National Mutual Insurance Company and Craig's Royal Hotel. If you fancy a wander, here's a Streetview link starting you off at the corner of Sturt and Lydiard Street.
Her Majesty's Theatre (1875 and still a performing arts centre)
 If you find this place as fascinating as I do, you may be interested in the classic (1870) research resource by William Bramwell Withers, available online.

And incidentally, the city was originally (and sometimes today to honour its origins) named Ballaraat. The name is a (curt) nod to the Aboriginal people who were there to witness European ingress in 1837. The name is derived from the words 'Balla' and 'Arat', meaning 'resting place.'

Monday, April 16, 2018

All the Buildings in Melbourne...well, not quite

Before we left for our Australia and New Zealand travels, I spent time over two delightful books received as gifts from friends who'd been in Australia previously. If I hadn't already enthusiastically committed to the junket, All the Buildings in Melbourne (and the companion Sydney volume) would have done it for me. I wrote about the clever architectural drawings of James Gulliver Hancock here.

We landed in sultry Melbourne after an intense five nights on Phillip Island amidst the international classic motorcycle fraternity, in which my dear one is deeply embedded. So the tree-lined streets, parks, gardens and riverside cafes were an oasis. I loved the witty contemporary towers of the CBD and the righteous colonial past indiscriminately. Add generous helpings of sun, river and parks. The 5 nights we spent there created a bond with the city which we hope to deepen on another visit one day.

Mmmmmarvellous Melbourne

It's not just me. Not just us. Melbourne, for the seventh year in a row, was named most liveable city in the world in 2017. See here.

We loved the tree-lined downtown streets, the trolleys, the fabled hook turns (well, given we were pedestrians, and our balcony overlooked both a park and a busy right-turn over a trolley tracks intersection which provided loads of entertainment, they were good,) the topography, the parks and botanical gardens, the historic precincts, the river-side walks and cafes. The immense free public spaces of Federation Square. Did I mention the coffee?

love this style standoff, neither corner backing down

But even the most jaded visitor would have been swayed by our two guides, the day we joined a free three-hour walking tour of the CBD. Their local knowledge, their enthusiasm, their friendliness and easy patter - and their Melbourne boosting - made being herded around the streets with two dozen 30-something tourists, a delight. Here are some walking tour guides should you be motivated into some arm chair travelling yourself.

from Victorian pomp... laneway street art

the Yarra, which once had a waterfall
We followed the admonition of the old city website to "look up past the awnings" (for sadly, many of the jazzy store-fronts were unsympathetic, if downright inimical, to the c19 facades rising above them. Invariably, parked cars added nothing good.)

Melbourne became known as Marvellous Melbourne during the booming days of the gold rush in Ballarat and places north. By the 1880s Melbourne was larger than most European capital cities, with turrets, towers, domes and spires rivalling the best of them. Within a decade the whole thing crashed, banks and stockbrokers lost their nerve, many suffered great hardship.
Melbourne Town Hall 1867
Majorca Building - Moorish glazed terracotta
State Library est. 1854

Princess' Theatre (1886)
Here's a neat little website offered by Museum Victoria, which places the short-lived gold boom into the city's history. Limited to a few  short years, the elation waned, but the over-the top structures built by boosterish Victorians stand to tell us their stories.

Precincts full of stone structures with their Colonial confidence, spreading lawns and gracious shade trees. Heaven.

There's a bookful of them - the National Trust Guide Walking Melbourne. This is a sample entry on the Princess Theatre. I'm dying to get my hands on this book somehow.

City Court (1911)  intimidating with Romanesque gloom
The Old Magistrate's Court (built after Federation, in 1911, and now part of RMIT) keeps the Colonial spirit alive, conjuring ancient British legal tradition with its sternly forbidding Romanesque style. Bush ranger Ned Kelly was sentenced to death here, after a fabled career Robin Hooding around Victoria.

Royal Exhibition Building - 1880 - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Royal Exhibition Building was built in 1880 in the era of Great Exhibitions (think Crystal Palace, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.) Melbourne's palace to progress has the distinction of being the oldest survivor of the Great Exhibition Era still operating as an exhibition hall. (When it's not been standing in as an examination hall for generations of nervous students.) It stands in the wonderful Carleton Gardens.

Parliament House (1855/1929) - long story 

Here's a useful Melbourne city planning website. Okay I can't think of anyone besides me who might use it, but don't want to lose track of it, so I'll store it here.

Block Arcade(1891-93)  - shopping for splendour

The Block Arcade means different thing to different people. Billed as "the place to shop and be seen" it is also "one of the finest examples of a nineteenth century shopping arcade on the planet." (link) If chocolatiers, an historic tea-room or high end shops don't appeal, stay for the marble mosaic floors, stone carving, and glass domes. Jaw-dropping beautiful.

If you should wish to enter the fray into which this laneway leads, here's a portal thanks to Streetview. In my on the fly photo you'll see a nod to Melbourne's noted street art, one of the ubiquitous invitations to coffee, and a peek at Moorish 1929 Forum Theatre (formerly The State Theatre) facing off with Federation Square across Flinders Street. Melbourne in one.

I've discovered a lot of great sites while researching this post. Raaer99 is a prolific photographer of Melbourne (and nearby Ballarat) buildings. Here's his Flickr photostream.

And should you not agree with my selection of favourites, here's Culturetrip's 'most impressive' list for reference.

And who knows, maybe I'll go back one day to discover a new list of favourites?