Architectural keys to past

Mid-Victorian finery: Mallam House was built in 1870 for Henry Guy Mallam, one of Armidale’s pioneer chemists and druggists.
Mid-Victorian finery: Mallam House was built in 1870 for Henry Guy Mallam, one of Armidale’s pioneer chemists and druggists.

The past lies all around us in the form of the built landscape. We see it, but then we don’t because it is so familiar to us.

Each period since European occupation of the land has been marked by different architectural styles, by different building forms that vary depending on the time built, on purpose and on available materials, on economics and available technology, on fashion and sometimes fad.

There are similarities in the built landscape across the broader New England. The old bank buildings or post offices, for example, are instantly recognisable, sometimes surviving as symbols of a more optimistic time. However, there are also differences that reflect differences in physical, human and economic geography. The architecture of the north coast is not the same as the Tablelands, that of Newcastle is different again.

The built landscape is constantly reinvented through a process of destruction and reconstruction, of expansion and sometimes contraction. Sometimes elements survive as memorials to past hopes and expectations.

In 1970-71 when Robert Bryant designed stage 3 of the Old Boiler House at the University of New England, he did so as part of a broader plan for a northern residential complex. That complex was never built, swept away in the changes taking place in the university sector.

When New England gained autonomy in 1954, there were nine Australian universities. In 1970, that increased to 14. Then an explosion occurred: there were 19 universities in 1980, 25 in 1990, 39 in 2000. UNE’s focus shifted from expansion to survival in the face of fierce competition, leaving the Old Boiler House behind as a sign of things past.

There are different ways of classifying the architecture surrounding us.

We can classify it by period and style. Mallam House, for example, is Armidale’s best surviving example of a mid-Victorian fashionable house.

It was built in 1870 for Henry Guy Mallam, one of Armidale’s pioneer chemists and druggists, to service the high end rental market. Its first tenant was Bishop Timothy O’Mahony, Armidale’s first Catholic Bishop of Armidale.

A very different example of Armidale’s Victorian architecture can be found on the western side of Beardy Street. Designed by architect John Sulman for the Australian Joint Stock Bank and completed in 1889, the building was intended to be functional while acting as a physical assertion of authority and respectability.

With this as introduction, over the next few weeks I will take you on a tour of New England architecture from the very ancient to the most modern.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au