WORDS BY TOMAS O’MALLEY
When representing Bundaberg as a local architect I am often asked: ‘Does Bundaberg have an architectural style?’. Frankly, this isn’t an easy question to answer.
Other regional cities and towns have strong aesthetics, dictated by the eras in which they were founded or when there were major economic booms that prompted a flood of people and money. Bendigo, Ballarat and Charters Towers expressed their mining wealth through ornate Victorian buildings. Hahndorf in South Australia reflects the German heritage of its early settlers, while Ayr or Napier in New Zealand embraced Art Deco after both were substantially damaged by natural disasters in the 1930s.
Bundaberg, however, doesn’t have a strong single style, but a broad variety of architectural influences ranging from the neoclassical to modernist and everything in between and beyond. Bundaberg’s steady development and relatively restrained architectural expression is a result of its sustained prosperity and growth from agriculture.
Several significant architects contributed to the early development of the city, creating buildings which, to this day, form the cornerstones of the central business district.
FDG Stanley, Queensland colonial architect and designer of the Brisbane General Post Office, is responsible for the Roman-inspired Holy Rosary Church (pictured). The former Queensland National Bank (pictured) on the corner of Quay and Targo Streets, blending classical and Victorian elements, was another Stanley commission; as was the Grand Hotel.
Bundaberg’s iconic post office was designed in the Italianate style by Charles McLay, the architect responsible for Brisbane’s Customs House and McWhirter’s department store. From even further afield, the former Commercial Banking Company’s branch, opposite Buss Park, originated from the Sydney office of George Allen Mansfield, the founder of the New South Wales Institute of Architects.
Local architects Anton Hettrich and his pupil Frederic Herbert Faircloth also played an important role in the early development of Bundaberg’s town centre by stamping their mark on many commercial and public buildings.
The classical revival School of Arts building is perhaps Hettrich’s most well-known contribution to the current CBD streetscape. Faircloth surpassed his mentor in terms of output not only in Bundaberg, but also in Childers where he rebuilt much of the main street following a fire in 1902.
Faircloth’s residential designs followed the standard practice of timber and tin building that defines the iconic Queenslander-style house to this day. One of the best examples is the Old Cran House, which occupies a corner position in the leafy western end of Bourbong Street.
Cran House was built in 1897 for John Cran, founder of the Millaquin Mill. A lowset colonial Queenslander, it features many design elements typical of the style such as wraparound verandas with timber dowel balustrades, roof gables with decorative fretwork, extensive use of timber in weatherboards, VJ linings, flooring and the structure itself. An interesting feature of the facades are the external timber venetian blinds.
James Grose, now a principal of international architecture practice BVN, grew up in Cran House and has spoken about how it, along with prosaic agricultural buildings around Bundaberg, influenced his approach to architecture. Those venetian blinds have found modern reinterpretation in a bank headquarters and high-rise apartment buildings.
While more associated with Maryborough, P.O.E Hawkes was another architect who worked in Bundaberg in the early 20th century. ‘Linden’ (pictured), a home and medical practice for Dr Egmont Schmidt on the corner of Barolin and Woongara streets, is built in the Federation/Queen Anne style with unique design elements including a conical roofed tower, circular porthole windows and arched entryways.
As architecture moved into the art deco era of the 1930s, so did the buildings of Bundaberg. Among the most prominent was the Parkvue Apartments, on the corner of Maryborough and Bourbong streets, designed by Brisbane firm Goodsir and Carlyle. Slowly, the style of the town centre was beginning to move away from colonial neo-classicism toward a new international style.
Modernism represented a major shift in architecture and emerged globally in the 1950s and 1960s. In Bundaberg, modernist buildings were created by both local and out-of-town architects but still reflected the city’s restrained, low-key character.
Herbert Stuart-Nairne undertook many commercial and residential buildings, the most significant of which is the former Bundaberg Broadcasters building on Woongarra Street. With its plate glass façade, angular brickwork, flat-roofed concrete awning and open double height foyer, this exemplified the modernism desire to leave the old behind and embrace the new possibilities of modern building technology.
Also looking to science to make architecture for the modern era was renowned architect Dr Karl Langer. Langer was among the earliest Queensland architects to methodically determine the best designs for climate based on empirical data. Langer’s St John’s Lutheran Church in South Bundaberg showcased this new approach to design. The building prioritised airflow and created a place of worship that followed the formal traditions of church architecture, but in a clean, simple way that largely avoided applied decoration. This not only fitted the modernist mantra of form following function, but also the philosophy of Lutheranism itself.
The latter half of the 20th century saw architects, such as Earl Griffin and Bronwyn Innes, add to the tapestry of styles and forms throughout Bundaberg, from post-modernism to contemporary Queensland vernacular. In 2020 the Mon Repos Turtle Centre (read more on page 56) by Kirk Architects was awarded the highest honour of Building of the Year by the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, adding to the long history of significant architecture in our region.
Houses, public and commercial buildings, bridges and even simple sheds; all form part of the story of how Bundaberg has developed. They show a vibrant, active economy that adapts and changes, with new buildings serving these changes and reflecting the styles of the times.
To me this is what architecture should be, constantly adapting and having purpose – not becoming a museum piece from a bygone era. All the architects who have left their imprint on our city were working within the context of their time, and my hope is that those of us designing today and into the future are able to do the same, while respecting the fundamental spirit of the place we work in.
Rare book records local architectural history
Created from the pen of a draftsman and the pen of a historian, From Two Pens is a rare but significant record of historic buildings across the Bundaberg Region.
Limited to 2000 copies, the book is rare and hard to come by. The only copies Crush Magazine could find belong to the Bundaberg Historical Society Museum and Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery.
The book pictorially records, in detail, the outstanding features of cottages, grand homes and farmhouses across Bundaberg (images left). Fun facts and quirky anecdotes were gathered from people who once lived in the homes to bring the buildings to life and give context to Bundaberg’s broader development. The book makes reference to the furniture factory that was once on the current Civic Centre site, and a house that became one of Bundaberg’s most popular restaurants in the 1980s. It speaks of a home that shares its name with the castle in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
In a sure sign that the people of Bundaberg cherish our Region’s heritage, remarkably, today most of the buildings chronicled in 1984 look much the same as they did when they were first constructed. However, the book’s creators, Trevor Lyons, Neville Rackermann and Colin W Scotney, also lament the demolition of the Old Bundaberg Police Station, and the decision to cut the Reddan Home in three.
Architect Tomas O’Malley designs buildings that reflect Central Queensland’s climate and lifestyle. Special thanks to Chris Spence at the Bundaberg & District Historical Museum, located in the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens on Mt Perry Road. Open 7 days.