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Canberra and the National Heritage List

Canberra has earned consistent international acclaim as a planned city. The Griffin Plan was described as ‘one of the treasures not only of Australia but of the entire urban world’ in 1992 by Professor John Reps. Marion Mahony Griffin’s twelve design drawings are included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program, equivalent to the World Heritage Register.

Since the early 1990s there have been many who have advocated Canberra’s nomination for World Heritage status including many distinguished heritage and Canberra planning advocates. It has also been strongly argued that Heritage Listing and values need not impede Canberra’s development, but on the contrary enhance it.

So it is of great concern that in May 2022, on the eve of the Election caretaker period when it could and should have been left to the new Government, then federal Environment and Heritage Minister Sussan Ley, rejected the nomination of Canberra to the National Heritage List, despite endorsement by the Australian Heritage Council.

For Canberra, one of few cities of international planning stature globally this is extraordinarily disappointing. The Griffins envisioned ‘a city not like any other city in the world,

The designs reflect the Griffins’ understanding that the built environment should interact with the surrounding natural environment. Griffin envisaged urban density, people movement and public transport in a city of horizontal forms, of about 5 storeys, which preserve a sympathetic scale relationship with the natural landscape, its mountains and the vistas of them.

The broad support for the national heritage listing of Canberra hasn’t been reflected in government decisions since the start of the ACT self-government in 1989.

Back in 2007, specialist research, professional initiatives and public seminars, and a Legislative Assembly Committee report, produced a strong nomination of Canberra and the ACT as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, but unfortunately this was subsequently dropped by the ACT Government.

Local organisations seeking city-wide listing have faced continual opposition. The ACT Government and Chief Ministers have persistently opposed National Heritage Listing of Canberra.  The new Greens Heritage Minister Rebecca Vassarotti publicly expressed reservations about a listing just prior to Minister Lee’s announcement in April 2022.  The ACT Legislative Assembly in March 2020 rejected by a vote of 24 (Labor and Liberals) to 2 (The Greens) a motion to work with the Commonwealth for National Heritage Listing.

The Griffin Society is hopeful that a future government might rectify this and recognise the advantages that heritage listing would bring to Canberra as regards  status, symbolism, standards, aspirations, tourism, and especially to the conservation and realisation of the Griffins’ original Plan.

In 2012, the Griffin Society’s Canberra Chapter held a Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture titled Celebrating the Griffins’ contribution to Canberra as a modern planned capital city, given by the president of the ICOMOS Twentieth Century International Scientific Committee, heritage consultant Sheridan Burke, who described Canberra as “a showcase of cutting-edge twentieth-century town planning ideas” and undoubtedly deserving of National Heritage listing. She went on to explain that “Canberra is now an extraordinary cultural landscape of Twentieth Century Heritage significance” and extrapolated the city’s worthiness for not just national but World Heritage listing.

To ensure the amenity and beauty of Canberra is retained for future generations, it should not be eroded away by poor decision-making. Untrammelled unsympathetic development should not be permitted nor encouraged. The national government, the National Capital Authority and the ACT government need to respect and care for this unique inheritance of the Australian people and Canberra residents and allow only sympathetic development to maintain the Griffins’ vision and maximise Canberra’s potential.

Canberra – the Griffin vision in the 21st century

Canberra City News: ACT heritage minister fails to defend heritage, 15 June 2022

Detail from Federal Capital Competition City and Environs plan.  Delineator: Marion Mahony Griffin, 1912. Drawing in ink, watercolour, gouache and gold oil paint on linen. From the Collection of National Archives of Australia: A710,38

Canberra's foundation stone laid on 21 June 1920

This impressive casket and mallet were designed by Walter Burley Griffin for presentation to HRH the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of Canberra on 21 June 1920. Although Griffin’s role as Federal Capital Director was terminated on 31 December 1920, the casket and mallet serve as a reminder of his association with the development of Canberra, a record of his achievements as a designer and as an indication of his knowledge and regard for Australian flora, an interest he shared with his wife Marion.

Both the mallet and casket are made entirely of Australian timbers. The mallet is of blackwood carved with a design of Banksia integrifolia and the casket of ‘pink myrtle beech’ (now Nothofagus cunninghamii) with the base and lid of blackbean. The six panels on the sides of the casket represent the states and each is veneered with 21 thin strips of different timbers indigenous to each state. These are in turn decorated with gold, seven-pointed star studs – seven on each state panel. The central panel to the front of the casket is carved with the Australian coat of arms.

Following his visit to Australia the Prince of Wales returned to London with the casket and mallet. Many years later it was discovered in a cupboard at St James’s Palace and was presented to the Australian government in 1949. They are now held in the Parliament House Art Collection.

Text: Summarised from “Walter Burley Griffin’s ‘Other’ Canberra Legacy” by Anne Watson published in Australiana November 1997, Vol 19 No.4 pages 99–102,112 (see full article here).     18 June 2022

Image: Walter Burley Griffin (1871–1937), mallet and coat of arms maker N. Redding, casket manufacturer H. Goldman Manufacturing Co. Mallet and casket used by Prince of Wales when laying foundation stone on Capital Hill in 1920, circa 1920, Gifts Collection, Parliament House Art Collection, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra, ACT

Sculpture for Marion Mahony Griffin, architect, environmentalist and visionary

The Walter Burley Griffin Society is pleased to announce that tax deductible donations can now be made towards the sculpture to honour Marion Mahony Griffin (1871 – 2021).
Following the success of our first round of fund raising and our open house event on 2 May 2021 we are now launching our second round of fund raising to achieve the financial target for the sculpture.

For round one we offered rewards but now for round two we can offer tax deductibility.

To make a tax deductible donation go to
https://australianculturalfund.org.au/
then click on “Visual Arts & Craft” or Architecture & Design
then scroll down to
“A sculpture for Marion Mahony Griffin, architect, environmentalist and visionary”

To mark the 150th anniversary of Marion’s birth and the centenary of the creation of Castlecrag, the Society commissioned Sandra Pitkin, sculptor/installation artist to produce a contemporary dynamic on-site sculpture to honour Marion, her visionary approach to art, design and architecture and her ambition to forge a better world through cultural, social and environmental advocacy.

Some information about the artist:
Sandra Pitkin graduated with a BVA (hons) in sculpture and installation at Sydney College of the Arts. She exhibited widely with major works selected for Sculpture by the Sea with two awards for the Site Specificity and recently received an Australia Council for the Arts award for New and Innovative Work She has fulfilled numerous commissions and her work has been selected for many outdoor exhibitions including: The Woollahra Art Prize, North Sydney Art Prize, Swell Sculpture Festival, Harbour Sculpture 2017, Willoughby Sculpture Prize, Sculpture at Macquarie University Gallery.

Sandra’s work is inspired by her interest in nature, science and the reciprocal connections between humanity and the living world.  The sculpture’s design embraces and is representative of the prismatic geometry of Marion’s masterful design work and the organic fluid lines of her beautiful illustrations.

Willoughby City Council is planning a new community pocket park at the Castlecrag shopping village. The Society wants to raise enough funds to make the contemporary sculpture designed by Sandra Pitkin a reality and have it located in the park that we hope will be called Marion’s Park.

The sculpture will have an exciting presence and make an important contribution to the park’s place making, and will redress the current imbalance of having two sculptures in Castlecrag to honour Walter Burley Griffin and none to honour Marion.

The sculpture, will create a greater awareness and appreciation of Marion Mahony Griffin, her vision and commitment to art, design, architecture, the community, the environment and the Australian landscape.

Donations can be made anytime from now until early July 2021 and donors will receive a tax-deductible receipt from the Australian Cultural Fund (ACF) which was established by the Australian Government in 2003 as a fundraising platform to encourage donations to the arts.

Please donate now 

https://australianculturalfund.org.au/

Concept elements of the sculpture, and Sandra Pitkin at work on a previous sculpture

Griffin Open Houses at Castlecrag – Sunday 2 May 2021

Celebrate the centenary of the Griffins’ Castlecrag and immerse yourself in its unique heritage. This is a rare opportunity to see the interiors, special design features and gardens of some of the Griffin designed houses built in the 1920s and early 30s in their “ideal suburb” that they created at Castlecrag.

There are tickets to visit 4 houses or 2 houses. Covid safe rules will apply. Tickets are essential and strictly limited. Book at www.trybooking.com/BOQLQ

All profits from the open house day will go towards funding an exciting contemporary sculpture to honour Marion Mahony Griffin (1871–1961) in her sesquicentenary, by a prominent artist that the Walter Burley Griffin Society is commissioning. The sculpture will take pride of place in a new community park, being created by Willoughby City Council at Castlecrag village, which is planned to be opened in late 2021.

Johnson house 2013. Photographer Eric Sierins.

Outdoor Historic Photo Exhibition guided tours – 2 to 9 May 2021

Join us for a guided tour through some of the walkways and reserves of this unique suburb designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Displayed along the route will be historic photos from the 1920s to 1960s. Supported by a Willoughby City Council grant. The photo exhibition, displayed on various nature strips, is free.

For the guided tours of the exhibition, tickets are essential at www.trybooking.com/BOYTJ

Creswick and Wilson houses c.1930. Photographer Hermann Junge

MMG Lecture 2021 – 14 February 2021 at 11.00am

Museum of Sydney, Bridge Street, Sydney

To celebrate Marion Mahony’s sesquicentenary and the centenary of the Griffins’ Castlecrag, guest speaker Dr Anne Watson will give a talk titled
‘What made Marion’s Hair Stand on End?’ An exploration of Marion Mahony Griffin’s pioneering role as an environmentalist and urban planning advocate in Australia through her art, architecture and writing.

Tickets $30 and include FREE entry to the museum and Paradise on Earth exhibition. Tickets for members $20 and students $5. Bookings essential as seats at half capacity for covid social distancing. Book online at:
https://www.trybooking.com/BNFTF

Speaker Dr Anne Watson is curator of Paradise on Earth (Museum of Sydney, November 2020-April 2021) celebrating the sesquicentenary of Marion Mahony Griffin’s birth. Dr Watson has had a long association with the Griffins including as curator/editor of the 1998 Powerhouse Museum exhibition/catalogue Beyond Architecture: Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin in America, Australia and India, editor of Visionaries in Suburbia: Griffin Houses in the Sydney Landscape (2015). She has also written and lectured extensively on the history of the Sydney Opera House including as author of The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House (2017) based on her 2014 PhD thesis.

Griffin Open Houses at Castlecrag Sunday 2 May 2021

Celebrate the centenary of the Griffins’ Castlecrag and immerse yourself in its unique heritage. This is a rare opportunity to see the interiors, special design features and gardens of some of the Griffin designed houses built in the 1920s and early 30s in their “ideal suburb” that they created at Castlecrag.

There will be tickets to visit 4 houses or 2 houses. Tickets are strictly limited and will go on sale in March. Covid safe rules will apply.

All profits from the open house day will go towards funding an exciting contemporary sculpture to honour Marion Mahony Griffin (1871–1961) in her sesquicentenary, by a prominent artist that the Walter Burley Griffin Society is commissioning. The sculpture will take pride of place in a new community park being created by Willoughby City Council at Castlecrag village which is planned to be opened in late 2021.

Author

The Society is indebted to Anne Watson, editor of Beyond Architecture: Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin in America, Australia and India.  Sydney, Powerhouse Publishing, 1998, and to research by Peter Navaretti, Dr Jeff Turnbull and Robert F McKillop.

Further reading

The Society is indebted to Anne Watson, editor of Beyond Architecture: Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin in America, Australia and India.  Sydney, Powerhouse Publishing, 1998, and to research by Peter Navaretti, Dr Jeff Turnbull and Robert F McKillop.

Open House Melbourne 2020 virtual tours of two Griffin buildings

Open House Melbourne 2020 is featuring a virtual tour and Q&A of the famous Capitol Theatre on Saturday 25 July 2020 at 11am. Register for this free event at: https://www.openhousemelbourne.org/melbourne/buildings/the-capitol-rmit-university/

Enjoy the theatre’s magnificent interior and its spectacular illuminated crystalline ceiling. Renowned Australian architect Robin Boyd described The Capitol as “the best cinema that was ever built or is ever likely to be built”.

Open House Melbourne 2020 is also promising to provide a virtual tour of Griffin’s Salter House, Toorak. The house was built in the mid 1920s, and is built of knitlock, the segmental concrete building system designed by Walter Burley Griffin and engineer David Jenkins, that was patented in 1917. More information about the house and possible tour at https://www.openhousemelbourne.org/building/the-former-salter-house/

22/7/2020

The Capitol Theatre’s expansive ceiling of prismatic plaster elements conceals thousands of coloured lights that could be dimmed and mixed to create a spectacular effect. Recent restoration work has updated the lighting that animates the amazing crystalline interior. Photographer John Gollings.
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