Whilst spending the 2015 Christmas period in Melbourne I was delighted to squeeze in the opportunity to photograph a residence that was recently acquired by two mid-century lovers of design in my family “J & D”.
Located in the leafy foothills of the Dandenong Ranges at Heathmont, the 3-bedroom house was completed in 1956 during the Post War housing boom by the government war homes services. Bought third-hand in 2015 (and very luckily so as the previous owners subdivided the block and were going to knock it over) the old girl is need of some TLC, but her new owners fell in love with the classic mid-century styling that still shines through, showing off a striking butterfly roof-line and standout exterior turquoise colour scheme that adorns its vertical weatherboard cladding, making the house look somewhat like an iridescent dragonfly perched high upon its allotment.
The new owners loved that they had bought an original mid-century home that still retained many unique features such as: the distinctive vertical ship-lapped pine boards that clad the exterior and line part of the interior; the large floor-to-ceiling plane glass windows that provide pleasing expanses of light in the study and lounge areas; and the quirky but very functional top-hung awning windows well-placed above and below the large windows to cleverly provide controlled ventilation through the house.
The living areas are spacious and have a natural airy feel to them which invites one to lounge around and casually relax. The owners are gradually collecting beautiful modernist design classics to furnish their abode and Danish designed side-boards, drinks cabinets and a Ray Eames lounge chair are notable. The native timber hardwood floors have weathered time well and add a warm honey-coloured glow to the living and dining areas.
The polished corkwood floor in the entrance immediately transports you to a past era, your arrival confirmed by the multicoloured Ray Eames designed “atomic” hat rack on the pine board walls sporting a 1960’s inspired “Mad Man” hat.
The house is arranged as two pavilions (housing bedrooms in one and living, dining & study areas in the other) linked by a utilitarian arm housing kitchen, bathroom, toilet and connecting hallway. “J” thinks that this works very well as “The living area is separated from the bedrooms but still very much visually connected via the glass hallway. We could very happily host kiddies in one end and adults in the other!”
Although having funky looking cupboards featuring in part some novel sideways-sliding doors, the kitchen area is relatively small by today’s modern living standards and J & D have plans to lovingly rework it along with some reordering of the bathroom and perhaps extend the spare room.
The bedrooms also feature favourite mid-century furniture pieces that are proudly displayed beneath windows that have a calming garden outlook.
Madam Butterfly is well placed in Heathmont as it is home to many Post War era residences and a range of mixed architectural styles including 1950s, 1960s, 1970s-1980s and 1980s-1990s buildings that are generally single storey and made up of a mix of weatherboard and brick veneer exteriors. Although a handful of houses can be classed as modernist or international in style (along the designs of Marcel Breuer, Harry Seidler and Frank Lloyd Wright), most are representative of a ” austere post war” style of a simple dwelling design, comprising flat or low slung gable roof forms, built of lightweight timber framed construction without decorative ornamentation. Notable architects active in Heathmont during the 1950s – 1960s include David Caldwell and Patrick & Chancellor.
Following WWII increased car ownership as well as residential lot subdivision became major drivers of growth in Heathmont. In 20 July 1956, The Argus newspaper featured a property guide article that extolled the new “Inner Dandenong Suburbs” with:
“Heathmont the first station beyond Ringwood, is rapidly becoming a show residential suburb,with many good examples of modern domestic architecture. In this attractive area, home sites in picked positions, on made roads, near the station, sell from £700 each.” “Builders are erecting timber homes with two bedrooms to sell from £3,250, and with three bedrooms from £3,600.”
At the time is was noted that besides having attractive house sites with favourable views the establishment of large factories in the neighbouring Bayswater area by Dunlops and British Nylon promised employment opportunities and a secure income to buy a house.
The favourable views of yesteryear are still to had, but with the advent of time they have been rendered ever more sylvan with the growth of established gardens, making the “turquoise dragonfly” feel very home indeed!
I am sure that over the next few years that this home will be lovingly restored to its former mid-century glory, making the decision in choosing the moniker of a turquoise-coloured “Madam Butterfly” or “Iridescent Dragonfly” all the harder to choose.
A STORY OF LUCK & DEDUCTION FROM OUT OF A “LIGHT” BOX
Well after two separate visits to a pop-up shop of “odds and ends” in Paddington, Brisbane, I relented and bought a little “Six-20 Popular” Brownie camera earlier this month, only because the seller dropped the price from $30 to $20 without any prompting.
“A bargain!” I thought, especially as I ended up finding a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan 620 film sitting inside it when I curiously peered inside the entrails of the camera to check it’s condition!!!
You can see it right here!
H’mm what were the chances of this film not being fogged or at the worst being completely exposed?! Well, considering that the film roll was still in place and it held out the promise of being a neat time capsule of images, I decided to send the film off for processing last week.
Whilst waiting for the week to pass by, I researched the camera on the “The Brownie Camera Page” which is the bee’s knees of information on Brownie Box Cameras and found out the following:
- It was made by Kodak in England during 1939 – 1943, (certainly placing it in the ‘vintage’ category)
- It is one of a very large succession of Kodak “Box”-shaped Brownie cameras,
- It is encased in a grained black leatherette covered card body,
- It has two reflecting mirror finders (although I can barely see through them due to built up dust and moth cases) – one used for portrait and the other for landscape compositions,
- It used 620-sized roll film, which gave 8 exposures per roll, each 2 1/4″ x 3 1/4 inches in dimension. Nice one – except that 620 film is no-longer made!
I also managed to find some digitised copies of the manual:
Self-evidently very simple in design and use, it has:
- an exposure lever to take snapshots;
- a “time” lever to keep the shutter open for longer time periods;
- a positive meniscus glass lens;
- two catches that hold the body together; and
- a simple spring-loaded single shutter.
It is not able to focus, has no aperture, only has a single-speed shutter, can not be mounted on a tripod, and has an approximate worth of US$15-$25 (so I did get a bargain!). I also found out that 120 film has the same negative size as the 620 film is still available (in production since 1902!). It can be used in the Brownie if it is respooled onto the 620-sized spool – in a dark room or a light-proof film changing bag.
The Moment of Truth
So last Monday, after collecting the developed negative and CD onto which the images were scanned, I received a nice surprise when I looked at the CD contents on my computer screen to reveal – 6 well-exposed black & white shots!
Here they are:
First up I must confess that the images do not belong to another lost Vivian Maier collection. Although the images are well exposed they are grainy and a bit fuzzy (some out-of-focus and/or movement blur is apparent) and besides that, the Rolleiflex series camera Maier used 120 roll film, not 620.
However, the following details could be made out:
- 2x images of a bridge over water with cars crossing it;
- An out of focus image of a seated woman with wind blowing her dress;
- A mid-century-looking building with letters “RSSAILA” painted on a wall of it, and “PT. Augusta Sub Branch” signage atop the building;
- A street scene with “E.H Jones & Son” sign visible below a balcony with parked cars;
- Street scene with a 2-storey classical building with street signage “YOUNG & GORDO…” with cars parked out in the street on a bright sunny day.
Enlarging the images on the computer screen, enlisting the help of my keen-eyed daughter and performing a bit of Google sleuthing, we were able to fathom that all the photos were taken in Port Augusta, South Australia some time in the 1950’s – 1960’s.
Cold Case Detective Work
Here is the list of evidence we used to reach our conclusion.
1. RSSAILA = “Returned Soldier’s Sailor’s and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia“, Port Augusta Sub Branch Augusta, South Australia.
There is a RSL Port Augusta sub branch building currently standing at 17 Fulham Rd, but it is a modern brick building. The original building is pictured as being located on a corner (an a neighbouring block on the corner of Fulham Rd and the Augusta Princess Highway stands empty). Was this the original site of the RSSAILA or was it located elsewhere in Port Augusta? An inquiry to the RSL has been made to verify this.
2. Young & Gordon store, 7 – 11 Commercial Road, Port Augusta
The inscription: “Bignell & Young Importers Establish’d 1867[ii]” is still visible on the central pediment of the building which is of Italianate architectural style, with the façade decorated with Corinthian columns. Full plate glass windows were used on the frontage of both the upper and ground floors – hence the use of blinds to keep out the sun (they are drawn down in the image below).
Parked out the front of this building are two FJ Holden sedans[i] which were produced in Australia from 1953 to 1957 dating this image to the late ’50’s to mid ’60’s.
As you can see from the two views outside the store today, that the building is still in good condition, although the upper storey looks vacant (look carefully and you’ll see that the blinds are open and tattered).
Fully grown gum trees stand at the front of the pale-pink painted building (now occupied by “Target”), but the white painted water hydrant is still stands on the street (behind the second white car in the above image).
The single storey building also used to be Young & Gordon’s store in days past, but not any longer.
Young & Gordon Ltd Store Port Augusta – note no urns/vases along the parapet.
[Source SA Memory – State Library of South Australia: Image BRG 209/37/8)
Young and Gordon was an influential business and well-known department store located in Port Augusta. Considered to be the biggest department store outside of Adelaide its origins began when storekeeper Francis Bignell took over the Port Augusta drapery business of Tassie & Co. in 1867, and later entered a partnership with Thomas Young (1844-1913) as “Bignell & Young”, merchants and forwarding agents, also actively trading in drapery, groceries and hardware through northern South Australia. The partnership was dissolved in 1881 when Bignell retired.
Young then entered into a new partnership with Robert Gordon, trading as “Young and Gordon”. They sold drapery, millinery, dressmaking, tailoring, clothing, footware, grocery, produce, ironmongery, glassware, earthernware, wine and spirits[vii].
A typical Young & Gordon Advertising banner c.1909 [Source:Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta[iv]]
The business became Young & Gordon Ltd., in 1920. Descendants of Thomas Young managed the business in succession: O.J. Young (1884-1956) then Peter Young (d.1987).
View c.1909 of the Young & Gordon building (with urns atop the parapet) [Source: Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta[iii]] The horse-drawn carts outnumbered the cars then.
A coloured lithograph showing a view along Commercial Road with the premises of Young & Gordon on the right.c.1897.
[Source: ‘Port Augusta and Quorn Dispatch’[v].]
View of the “Young & Gordon (late Bignell & Young) store” c1885State Library of South Australia Pictorial Collection Image No. B 7907.[vi]
The firm continued to grow despite economic hard times including drought and depression. The firm and store existed for well over a century before selling in 1980 to Demasius Limited[viii].
Mr Thomas Young one of the founders (c.1909)[Image source [Source: ‘Port Augusta and Quorn Dispatch[ix]]
3. 20 Commercial Road Building, Port Augusta
Taken on a bright sunny day, close to midday with cars parked in the street and a few people moving along it.
View to the southeast along 20 Commercial Road with prominent “EH Jones & Sons” sign (who were manufacturers of shoes and handbags, c 1950’s). Note the dark-coloured drainpipe and drainpipe header (top left). A fence sign ending in “..HISKY” suggests the word “Whisky” and the photo was taken at some elevation above the road surface.
Almost the same view today (but from street level), showing the same two-storey building with painted masonry walls with green iron latticework on the balcony. Amazingly the drainpipe and drainpipe header (top centre left) are still present but are now painted cream. The once straight and linear road kerbs have been reshaped to make speed-reducing curves and parking bays in the distance.
Built mid/late 1800’s this commercial premises has passed through a number of owners, and now houses Ozzies and Wendy’s food businesses [x]
4. Commercial Road Vista (various buildings & views)
A mixed combo view looking to the southeast along Commercial Street! I created this using a bit of photoshop ingenuity to join the two B&W images.
In the foreground 20 Commercial Road is on the left and the 2-storey Young & Gordon building is on the right. In the centre of the image, on the right-hand side of the street, are a few buildings and shop fronts that are still recognisable today.
In the middle distance on the right a couple of 2-storey white-painted buildings with shop fronts on the ground floor still exist at 31 & 33 Commercial Rd.
The next photo is taken of buildings slightly to the right and adjacent of the pale blue building above.
A c.1909 view of shops located between the pale blue shop (previous picture) and the double storey Young & Gordon Building showing W.Symons General Drapery & Importer Shop now the Port Augusta Newsagency at 19 Commercial Rd . [Image Source: Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta [xi]]
Further down the street a 2-storey building with a return verandah and balcony can be made out. It is the Flinders Hotel at 39 Commercial Road (on the corner with Chapel St).
Flinders Hotel, now surrounded by gum trees
This pub building was known as s Mackay’s when it was opened in June 1878[xii]. The name of the hotel changed in 1879 to the Flinders Family Hotel and later to the Hotel Flinders.
A 1909 view of an unpainted version of “The Flinders” Hotel showing its stone structure [Image Source: Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta [xiii]]
In 1909 the proprietress was a Mrs Mullen and “The Flinders” as it was then known, was a hotel furnished with several pianos, two billiard tables and lit with acetylene gas lamps. No wonder it was “A Favourite with Travellers”!
A Verandah With a View
So where was the elevated vantage point that our unknown photographer used to capture the view of Commercial Street? In the approximate location where the photo was taken currently sits the contemporary single storey pub, the “Tassie Tavern”.
It was built in 2009 on the site of the former Exchange Hotel (at 12 Commercial Street), which previusly was a 2-storey stone building with return verandah running along El Alamein Rd (formerly Tassie Street) and wrapping around the corner into Commercial Street, the place for a photographer to be, out of the heat of the midday sun!
A verandah with a view. A corner view of the Exchange Hotel from El Alamein Rd with Commercial Rd on the right. (Photo taken 18/08/1998 by Jon Graham).
Originally the pub was known as Payne’s Tavern then in 1879 as Taylor’s Hotel, and renamed Exchange in 1914. The original location of the hotel can be seen in the left hand image below and probably best explains the “(W)..HISKY” sign on the fence photographed in the the B&W view of the Building of 20 Commercial St.
Two aerial views of Commercial Street (centre) and El Alamein Rd (at bottom)
Left Image May 2007 ; Right image October 2009
Red dot – Exchange Hotel (left) now Tassie Tavern (right)
Orange dot – Ozzies & Wendy’s building at 20 Commercial Rd
Pink Dot – Young & Gordon Building (now a Target store) at 13 Commercial Rd
Blue dot – Pt. Augusta Newsagency (formerly W. Symons store) at 17 Commercial Rd
Pale Blue dot – pale blue shop front at 27 Commercial Rd
Green dot – Two 2-storey buildings at 31 & 33 Commercial Rd
Yellow-orange dot – Flinders Hotel at 39 Commercial Rd
5. “Old” Great Western Bridge
Built in 1926 of timber with steel beams and the deck surfaced with asphalt, the “Old” Great Western Bridge opened on 6 July 1927[xiv] replacing a punt and ferry service[xv]. It served as a vehicular crossing that linked the east and west sides of the Spencer Gulf until it was replaced by a newer concrete bridge in the 1970’s.
It now functions as a pedestrian bridge for access and recreational use. During its time it was important in carrying both water pipe and electricity lines to Port Augusta from Whyalla.
Compare our photographer’s views of the bridge (in these two images) with the postcard below. You can just see a jetty on the left, cars on the bridge and the low tide which is well out.
Oblique aerial view to the north of the New Great Western Bridge and the older timber bridge to the north indicating the likely position of where the B&W images above were taken (close to where the jetty meets the eastern shore).
Note the Jetty to the south which appears in the postcard and on the very left edge of the composited box brownie image below is marked in both with red circle. The blue and purple dots correspond with those shown in the composite of the original black and white images below to give a sense of orientation.
A view of the Old Western Bridge from the northwest shore looking back toward Port Augusta with cars travelling over the the “New” Great Western concrete bridge visible in the background.
6. Mystery woman
So we are left with an anonymous woman who looks to be relaxed with her eyes closed and enjoying the gusts of wind billowing her dress. She sits partly shaded on a wooden bench in front of a brick structure (park hut or enclosure) and in the background, vehicles can be seen with an intervening piece of dry flat ground with patchy grass cover.
I don’t know where this image was taken. Possibly somewhere along the banks of the Spencer Gulf, perhaps in a park on a sunny Sunday enjoying a weekend break. Was she a local, was she visiting?
I think I’ll take leave of her here in her relaxed, right-of-centre pose. Why bother her with questions of “Who?”, “What?” and “Where?” now?
I mean, would she be able to answer:
- Why did 60 or so years intervene before this roll of film was developed?
- Why were only 6-images taken and not the full roll of 8 exposures? [Was the photographer unhappy with a set of prints received while shooting this roll and simply gave up?]
- How did a camera ostensibly originating from Port Augusta come to rest in a pop-up shop in Paddington Brisbane?
- Who owned the camera?
- What happened to the owner of the camera?
[ii] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey. PA4: Fosseys (Former Bignell and Young Store) pg 17. Port Augusta City Council 2009. http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.
[v] Commercial Road, Port Augusts. Rider & Mercer lithographers, 1892 State Library of South Australia Pictorial Collection Image No. B 9293/28 http://www.catalog.slsa.sa.gov.au/record=b2113883~S1 accessed 17th August 2015.
[vi] Young & Gordon premises at Port Augusta. c.1885. State Library of South Australia Pictorial Collection Image No. B 7907. http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/mpcimg/08000/B7907.htm accessed 17th August 2015.
[vii] Young & Gordon premises at Port Augusta. c.1885. State Library of South Australia Image No. B 7907, Catalogue entry http://www.catalog.slsa.sa.gov.au/record=b2038616~S1
[viii] Port Augusta Then and Now. Photographs of Young and Gordon’s store. On SA Memory South Australia: past and present, for the future. State Library of South Australia http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?c=5856 accessed 17th August 2015.
[x] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey. PA5: Shops (Ozzies & Wendys) pg 21. Port Augusta City Council 2009. http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.
[xii] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey. PA8: Hotel Flinders pg 27. Port Augusta City Council 2009. http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.
[xiv] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey. PA2: ‘Old’ Great Western Bridge pg 11. Port Augusta City Council 2009. http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.
[xvii] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey. PA3: Jetty pg 14. Port Augusta City Council 2009. http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.
Some old Queenslander-style houses in Brisbane are pretty amazing showcases of self expression.
I like this one for its audacious splash of canary yellow colour. Punctuated with a bit of turquoise and the odd spot of rusty metal hues it is bordered by a dark lime green band. Perhaps it is a satire on traditionalist colour schemata? The traditional vase of faux plastic roses are a nice nostalgic touch, a nod to the past.
All the corrugated iron sheets and timbers get the same treatment here; no favouritism in the setting of this stage!
However a peek through the corrugated curtain leads one’s eye behind the scenes to spot the odd errant outlier in the colour regime.
An exercise in mixed media cleverly using a juxtaposition of cubic and linear elements delivers a punch-line where horizontality meets verticality & rectilinear timber meets curvilinear iron!
A “Mark” & “Jamie” have left their secret mark by the back gate. Does this signpost a rear entry where you can meet a couple of “scratchy” vaudevillian artists who lie in wait behind the barbed wire for a potentially “captive” audience?
The Barbican Art Gallery in London is currently showcasing a landmark exhibition of eighteen outstanding photographers covering the time period from the 1930s to the present day who have influenced the way we view 20th and 21st century architecture on a global stage.
It investigates why architects, such as Charles and Ray Eames and Le Corbusier, used the power of the photographic image to promote their vision of Modernist architecture. Images range from skyscrapers in New York, decaying colonial structures in the Congo, glamorous post-war suburban homes of California, to the modern towers of Venezuela.
Featuring over 250 works by:
photographers: Berenice Abbott / Iwan Baan / Bernd and Hilla Becher / Hélène Binet / Walker Evans / Luigi Ghirri / Andreas Gursky / Lucien Hervé / Nadav Kander / Luisa Lambri / Simon Norfolk / Bas Princen / Ed Ruscha / Stephen Shore / Julius Shulman / Thomas Struth / Hiroshi Sugimoto / Guy Tillim;
architects: Le Corbusier / Frank Lloyd Wright / Minoru Yamasaki / Luis Barragán / Aldo Rossi / Pierre Koenig / Charles and Ray Eames / Daniel Libeskind.
This exhibition highlights the power of photography to reveal hidden truths in our society. The exhibition runs until 11 January 2015.
While you are there you may as well take advantage of the Architecture Tour of the Barbican Centre a unique brutalist architectural endeavour.
We live in a world that is increasingly being clothed in concrete (or other man-made “garments”… like asphalt, steel, terracotta tiles, cut timber and corrugated iron).
In his book ‘Architecture of Density‘ photographer Michael Wolf displays a masterful visual record of some of the cityscapes we are creating and is perhaps a timely nudge to those who think that urban development is “boundless”.
His photographic style of follows that of Bernd and Hilla Becher (who are renowned for creating a typology of industrial buildings and structures in a grid-like fashion). Wolf’s visual documentary approach of Hong Kong is formal, and unsettling. He frames his images face-on so that the sky and ground are removed, and you are confronted with a flat, uncompromising, concrete-dominated, brutalist, and seemingly unpopulated view of only a microcosm of a much larger “mega city”.
His images evoke dystopian scenes from ‘Metropolis‘, Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist epic science-fiction film. After viewing Wolf’s graphically stark images, one is left feeling somewhat claustrophobically trapped by the weight of the structures pictured. A rising clamour of wanting to be “let out” is furthered by the endless repetition of patterns washing over each page of the book without a view of a clear field or open space in sight – almost like being caught in a hall of mirrors by endlessly repeating images with no obvious avenue of escape discernable.
The patterning or splashes of colour sometimes break up the monotony of dull painted concrete, but even in themselves appear to be a contrivance exhorting occupants to lead bright happy lives in the “communal hives” they inhabit. The absence of human figures in this work may leave the viewer feeling a little emotionally detached from these relatively cold and implacable subjects, but the odd signs of occupation are present, as evidenced in the form of man-made scaffolding, washing hung out of windows to dry, or open and half-closed windows inviting us to look in from afar.
The relentless repeating patterns of windows, balconies and towers is similar in effect to that used by Andreas Gursky in his supermarket shop shelf image ’99 Cent’ where product packaging is the recurring pattern unit used to create seemingly endless rows of shelving.
Wolf’s images are not dissimilar to works by other photographic artists who have portrayed the built environment clashing with and supplanting the natural environment. Many popular works were generated through the 1960-1970’s “Topographics Movement” which included the likes of: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Frank Gohlke, Stephen Shore, Nicholas Nixon and Henry Wessel. Most of them featured in the seminal 1975 exhibition “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” which showed images of the changing landscape and abuse of the earth in a stylistic way that highlighted anonymity in a characterless or deadpan way of documenting the landscape. Their work influenced many photographers in how they photographed landscapes and although today’s photographers shoot in a visually more contemporary style (e.g. Edward Burtynski & Robert Polidori), there is still an underlying or unspoken premise of a need of human connection with the natural environment amongst the ever-increasing urban sprawl of outer cities areas or within in the confines of continuous urban re-development or renewal within city centres.
Perhaps this why the world is seeing the upsurgence of roof top and vertical gardens in cities, in the imaginative revitalisation of old cityscapes including Vo Trong Nghia’s House for trees project in Bangkok, or community driven greening of abandoned industrial-scapes in Detroit?
Perhaps a re-imagining of how more finite or less expansive populations might live on this planet, having a much improved sustainable ecological footprint, may well be the seeds of transformation that both humanity and the environment really need?
Imagine walking along the well-kept concrete perimeter path to the Great Court lawn centered at the distinctive sandstone University of Queensland, when quite unexpectedly it is is crossed by a trail of bark chips strewn across it. My curiosity piqued, I stop and slowly turn around to look at what I had walked over. Other people continue walking and do not appear to be taking any notice of this abstract smear of bark underfoot, as it is cold and at the end of a long university day and people are walking with determined strides to get home.
It took me a few moments to visually collate and decode what I was viewing: bark chips and leaf litter strewn in a line across the path next to the Parnell Building, a small pile of bark debris pushed up against a path abutment, a clean garden bed with exposed black soil, and… a large mounded heap of bark and leaf detritus lying in a garden bed within the confines of the Great Court. And then it clicked as to what this unusual sight represented! Of course, it was the “work site” of an Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami)!
Brush turkey mound (left), “bark highway” crossing pedestrian thoroughfare (centre), and raked garden bed (right)
Belonging to the megapode (or “big foot”) family of birds they are known as Scrub Turkey, Brush-turkey and Wild Turkey (and sometimes misnamed “Bush-turkey”). The male industriously rakes together loose vegetative detritus (leaves, bark) and soil to build mounds of 1- 2m in diameter and up to 1m high so that eggs from a number of females can be laid and incubated in them.
So how does the Brush turkey go about the practice of mound building? Is he an engineer, designer, builder, or landscape architect? Does he use subcontractors? Does he have the qualifications and authorisations/permits to construct a ‘mounded structure’ within a university precinct, does it meet current building codes and standards? As a structure what architectural theory of built space did our brush turkey follow? Was he biased by a quasi-tectonic outlook (I think the loose, unstructured and chaotic pile of bark debris wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny), were the inlaid eggs the foundation of a nascent stereotomic building approach; (if no mortar or egg-based footings were in place I don’t think they would suffice)?
So keeping things real in the realm of ‘Turkey-tecture’ and putting architectural conundrums and construction codes aside, what impressed me as I traced the trail of bark and leafy debris from the mound to its origins was the energy and sheer determination exhibited by the single male brush turkey who had raked bark detritus from its university garden bed source… over 50m distance away! No small job for a small bird with big feet! Not only did it rake bark detritus over lawns, but through the alumni court shelter between the Parnell and Goddard buildings:
It also scraped back every skerrick of leaf and bark detritus across garden beds and constructed a rampart up to the level of the Great Court:
Back at home base all that the resident Brush turkey had to do was to conduct vigilant maintenance of the mound incubator by either adding or subtracting (making it a quantity surveyor too) local litter and debris (including the odd scrap of blue plastic bag) to maintain the requisite temperature of the mound nursery to maximise egg-hatching success.
However, just like the urbanisation that is happening in Brisbane and beyond, “Turkey-tecturisation” is also making its presence felt further afield on campus with a broad swathe of bark detritus being swept across the path between the Steele (Geology Dept.) Building and the Commonwealth Bank where another nesting mound is being constructed.
I wonder if the spread of Turkey-tecture will be limited after a human slips and falls on the bark trails, or if the freshly-hatched chicks stage a sit-in on one of the lecture theatres? Perhaps then some sort of building ordinance will come into effect restricting mound-building to Turkey-tecture zones that are segregated from human pedestrian traffic… or perhaps a compromise could be reached where pedestrian cross-overs or ramps, or Brush turkey underpasses could be constructed, allowing free segregated passage for both forms of bipedal transport (the soled and the clawed)? That would make for a for more interesting walk around campus wouldn’t it?