“Spurling House was the architectural innovation that introduced the iconic North American shingle style home to Melbourne back in 1888.’’
The heritage listed home was built for Phillis Spurling by the Canadian architect John Horbury Hunt, one of the first important North American architects to practise in Australia. Spurling House is his only known work in Victoria.
Spurling House was then included in the Victorian Heritage Register in 1974 for its architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria.
The design is notable for being the first Victorian house to be built in the Shingle style, a North American technique that used organic materials in a way that elevated their natural qualities.
In January, the owner of the historic 131-year-old house lost their battle with the Heritage Council to demolish the property after arguing the 2015 fire had left the property uninhabitable because it is infested with mould.
At the time, Heritage Victoria said the demolition would result in the complete loss of the cultural heritage significance of the place.
Heritage Victoria subsequently issued two repair orders to the house’s owner, which required works to be carried out to prevent the further deterioration of the building.
This prompted the owner to launch an appeal against the repair orders in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Spurling House has since been demolished in compliance with an emergency order issued by the City of Bayside, following the most recent fire.
Heritage Victoria said there were about 2300 places included on the Victorian Heritage Register including Flinders Street Railway Station, Parliament House, the Murtoa Stick Shed and the Brighton Bathing Boxes.
It is an offence under the Heritage Act 2017 to demolish, damage or despoil a place on the Victorian Heritage Register. Anyone convicted faces fines of up to $793,056 and, or five years’ jail.
Moorabbin Crime Investigation Unit detectives are investigating whether both attacks are linked.
A police spokeswoman said a person previously contacted Crime Stoppers regarding this matter with investigators believing there are others who may also have information.
Police are urging these people, or anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online at crimestoppersvic.com.au.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.
“I appreciate some people like it, it might look like it comes out of Hansel and Gretel. The kids across the road at Brighton Grammar refer to it as the witch’s house because it looks like something out of a fairy tale,” Ms Pothitos said.
“But I’ll be perfectly blunt, we did not buy this house because we liked it.”
After saving for eight years – “my husband and I don’t come from money” – the couple last year lodged plans with Bayside Council to demolish the house and build two townhouses. One was to be for them and their children and the other for Ms Pothitos’ elderly parents.
But the application sparked a campaign, backed by the National Trust, to save the idiosyncratic 91-year-old house, which was designed by a woman – journalist Esme Johnston – something “almost unheard of in the 1920s”.
While the Heritage Council found the house did not warrant state protection, Planning Minister Richard Wynne placed an interim heritage order on the property. A panel next month will decide whether it should be permanently protected.
Meanwhile, on June 10, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal refused a permit to demolish the Esme Johnston house and build two townhouses.
“The decision has extinguished our dream and destroyed our lives,” Ms Pothitos said. “And for what? So that people walking past the house can remark that it looks like something out of Hansel and Gretel? It seems ironic that when it comes to heritage at the local level, a house can be more important than the lives of the people who own it.”
The Esme Johnston house illustrates the often fraught debate over how to balance the rights of property owners with the desire to preserve heritage buildings for the common good.
It’s a debate that has been especially polemical in the affluent City of Bayside, where the council has twice abandoned heritage studies over the past 20 years following an outcry from locals.
The last time it blew up was just two years ago. The council had written to 51 Beaumaris and Black Rock residents, telling them their mid-century modern homes would be covered by an interim heritage order until a heritage study was completed.
“All hell broke loose,” says Bayside Mayor Clarke Martin.
Some locals championed the heritage protection, others worried about the impact on property values and their ability to renovate and sell their homes.
Residents on opposing sides hurled abuse at each other in the streets. Once a security guard had to intervene at a council meeting.
“It got pretty toxic,” says Cr Martin. “I’ve been on the council for four years and this has been one of the most divisive issues.”
The heritage study would have identified the best examples of the inter-war and post-war period, with a planning scheme amendment prepared to permanently protect them.
But eventually the council abandoned it and said residents could nominate their own properties for heritage protection if they wished to do so.
Eight post-war buildings in Beaumaris and Black Rock nominated by home owners and 11 council-owned buildings were recommended for protection.
However the National Trust and Beaumaris Modern – a community association which has fought doggedly to preserve mid-century architecture – accuses the council of abrogating its responsibility to ensure the conservation of places of heritage significance.
They point to last month’s demolition of two post-war homes – the award-winning Breedon House, designed by architect Geoffrey Woodfall, in Brighton and a mid-century home in Nautilus Street, Beaumaris, designed by architect Charles Bricknell.
A third modernist home – The Abrahams House on Beach Road, Beaumaris – will also be lost after VCAT this month granted a permit for two townhouses to be built on the site.
“We have probably lost hundreds of significant houses throughout Bayside over the past 20 years – it’s just tragic,” says Beaumaris Modern founder Fiona Austin.
In 1956 the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects wrote in a guide published for the Olympic Games that Beaumaris had the “greatest concentration of interesting houses in the metropolitan area”.
Ms Austin, an interior designer, says mid century modern houses – which are characterised by open plan spaces, floor to ceiling windows, simplicity and integration with nature – now sell for more than if the block of land was sold as a development site.
“That wasn’t the case five years ago, but it is certainly the case now. Agents in Beaumaris have waiting lists for people who want mid century modern homes.”
She believes the division in the community was driven by an anti-heritage group who letter-boxed residents, claiming that people would not be able to renovate their homes or even build a fence, paint their house or replace gutters if there was a heritage overlay.
“There was a lie campaign that frightened elderly people,” Ms Austin says.
However several mid century modern home owners told The Age their voices were being drowned out by “zealots”.
“This has been a really horrible journey on a whole lot of levels,” says one man, who asked not to be named because his wife had been abused on the street.
The man, whose house had been earmarked for heritage protection in 2018, believes it would decrease the value of his property, which was his only asset beyond his super.
He worries he would have to spend more to hire a heritage architect for any renovations. “If I wanted to put solar panels on my roof, I would not be allowed to put them on in a way that would change the external appearance.”
“I want the same rights as my neighbour – it’s not fair if I lose them because someone takes a shine to my house.”
Cr Martin empathises with the concerns. “The argument that property owners should not have to end up paying for the public to enjoy Victorian heritage is a valid one,” he says. “In my opinion it is a dilemma.”
However Cr Martin said Mr Wynne had written to the council warning that its compromise position inviting homeowners to nominate their own properties was “not appropriate to protect places of heritage significance”.
On Tuesday, the council will vote on whether to resume the heritage study abandoned in 2018.
“The minister … has written to council reminding us of our duty under state planning laws to undertake heritage studies,” Cr Martin says. “All 79 councils are requested to do this work.”
However this time Cr Clarke says he will not support an interim heritage overlay while the study is being conducted.
“As properties, objects and artefacts age, their heritage value can change,” Cr Martin says. The Victorian planning minister ultimately has the duty to make decisions on this. Councils are to administer the process.”
Felicity Watson, the executive manager of advocacy at the National Trust, says a heritage study and subsequent planning scheme amendment would provide certainty for home owners and buyers.
She says everyone would be able to have their say at an independent planning panel before a recommendation was made to the minister.
“When looking at the the protection of properties you need to consider the broader community benefit and not just the impacts on the individual homeowner,” Ms Watson says.
“What it comes down to is that we have these laws in place because as a state we have made a decision that it is important to protect the legacy of our past.”
It is second nature to Mr Orchard and to the elite brumby-catching group he rides with, the Benambra Buck Runners.
But it is also “the biggest adrenalin rush you’ll ever get in your life”.
Mr Orchard said catching a brumby on Sunday in the bush near Benambra, 400 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, “feels like when I caught my first one. A big thrill”.
Last week, Mr Orchard, 50, watched with pride as his daughter, Bonnie, 13, caught her first, a colt, which she will keep.
But he’s afraid her heritage will be taken away, with Parks Victoria planning to cull the wild horses that it says are destroying native flora and flora in the High Country.
Last month, the Federal Court gave Parks Victoria the green light to shoot 1200 horses over three years.
Omeo cattleman Phil Maguire – who is not connected with the Benambra Buck Runners – is preparing an appeal after he lost a Supreme Court bid to halt the shooting.
Mr Maguire had argued that Parks Victoria was required to consult the community.
Parks Victoria chief executive Matthew Jackson said his organisation will await the appeal outcome before starting the cull.
Benambra Buck Runners members spent the Queen’s Birthday long weekend filming a documentary, Saving the Brumbies, that they hope will show city people that traditional catching can humanely control and manage the wild horses.
“The people who live in the high country would like a seat at the table and a stronger presence in the management from the ground up, instead of a top-down, bureaucratic approach,” said Sonia Buckley, film director and mother of Buck Runners member Tom Buckley, 24.
Ms Buckley described the current Andrews government plan as “a disaster in the making”.
She said the horse carcasses would be eaten by wild pigs and dogs, which would breed and “decimate native wildlife”.
Ms Buckley said deer were “doing a lot more damage than the horses” and deer hunting would benefit locals.
Benambra Buck Runners members regularly catch, train and rehome brumbies.
Brumbies are “sure footed and they’re very smart and they can be trained beautifully for children’s ponies or beginner’s horses”, Ms Buckley said.
“That’s a preferred method than shooting them.”
Ms Buckley believes there are about 1700, and not the 5000 brumbies the government says are in the Victorian alps.
She said there hadn’t been a re-count after the summer bushfires.
Craig Orchard, who manages a 1000-head cattle farm near Benambra, wants government to work with locals, who could target horses doing the most damage and put trap yards in the right places for maximum effect.
“If you’ve got people with local knowledge that know what they’re doing, it could be done far more efficiently and just done a lot better and there wouldn’t be such a problem.” he said.
“The site is roughly the same scale as a netball court, with only an 11-metre-wide frontage,” says architect Carlos Lara, an associate with Bates Smart and project architect for the new residential development.
Lara worked with interior designer Mark Healey and architect Kristen Whittle, a former design director for Bates Smart.
“It was specifically built for Huddart Parker & Company, a shipping company linked to the textile and wool industry,” adds Lara, pointing out the textures used to inspire this development (exterior and interior) from open weaves to fine herringbone patterns.
Walking into the ground-floor lobby of Collins House, now a lounge and reception area for residents, is like taking a step back in time.
Ornate Corinthian pillars and a highly decorative plastered ceiling greet visitors upon arrival, together with an open fireplace, encased with bespoke leather panels.
However, given the site, including the lobby, was previously reduced to rubble, these period finishes have been reproduced to the original design.
“We’ve used a similar layout to how the office was originally configured.
But instead of the office benches, we have this fireplace.
Even the columns are adorned with lights, but just interpreted in a more contemporary manner,” says Lara.
One column conceals the flue for the fireplace.
While this transformation of the lobby is commendable, it’s the structure and building process that deserves attention.
With only just over 11 metres in width to work with, Bates Smart has managed to create 259 apartments over 40 levels.
Gaining air rights over the corner bank to the extent of 4.5 metres (just under the width of a narrow Victorian terrace), has allowed the floor plates to expand.
“It’s the fourth slimmest building in the world, given the scale of this site and height of the building,” says Lara, who is keen to also point out its unique method of construction: individual modules built off site (enabling the construction to be completed in 30 months, 10 less than following the traditional method).
Although only the original three-level facade remains, the distinctive Belgian-inspired parapet can be appreciated on the roof terrace on the third floor.
Peeping down Collins Street, with its plane trees, also gives the sense of looking down Madison Avenue in New York.
“Our brief was to create high-end apartments that had that sense of presence and arrival,” says Lara, pointing out the herringbone configuration of glass used for the exterior, together with the herringbone-patterned timber floors in the apartments.
“We also wanted to reflect on the history of the original building and the connection to textiles,” he adds.
Even with the site limitations, Bates Smart was able to include generous amenities, with several communal lounge and dining areas, and an outdoor terrace complete with tables and barbeques.
Accessed from James Lane to the rear, there are also 13 levels for 108 cars to be stacked.
Bates Smart was also mindful of elevating the standard finishes often found in apartment developments, creating a level of lux in the one, two and three-bedroom apartments.
Some apartments are located in the cantilevered section of the tower, where chunky walls conceal the clever construction, with floor plates reduced to a few massive supporting walls rather than being filled with pillars.
“We wanted to respond not only to this site, but also the many fine heritage buildings that surround it,” adds Lara.
A mining blast has destroyed a significant indigenous site dating back 46,000 years in Western Australia’s north, but it is hoped similar devastation will never happen again under proposed legislative changes.
Rio Tinto detonated explosives in an area of the Juukan Gorge on Sunday, destroying two ancient deep-time rock shelters, much to the distress of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.
The mining giant was granted approval for work in 2013, but subsequent archaeological excavation revealed ancient artefacts including grinding stones, a bone sharpened into a tool and 4000-year-old braided hair.
Puutu Kunti Kurrama Land Committee chair John Ashburton said there were fewer than a handful of indigenous sites that were as old, and the importance of the discoveries should not be underestimated.
“Our people are deeply troubled and saddened by the destruction of these rock shelters, and are grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land,” he said.
Mr Ashburton acknowledged Rio Tinto had complied with the law, but said he was concerned the rigid system did not consider new information after ministerial consent had been granted.
“We are now working with Rio Tinto to safeguard the remaining rock shelters.”
Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said the company took cultural heritage and its partnerships with Aboriginal groups seriously.
“We have had a longstanding relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people for over two decades, and have been working together on the Juukan area since 2003, which includes having secured the necessary approvals for mining activity.”
The Australian Archaeological Association said the fact Rio Tinto did not revisit the decision after the cultural significance was identified was “inconsistent with modern standards of heritage management”.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said he was unaware of the blast or concerns beforehand.
Mr Wyatt said the state government hoped to pass its new Aboriginal cultural heritage bill this year, although COVID-19 had delayed the consultation process.
“It will provide for agreements between traditional owners and proponents to include a process to consider new information that may come to light, and allow the parties to be able to amend the agreements by mutual consent,” he said.
“The legislation will also provide options for appeal.”
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Simon Hawkins welcomed a replacement to the 40-year-old Act, saying it was unfortunate Aboriginal heritage was not currently treated equally to colonial heritage.
“If an act can deliver an economic outcome, then development activity appears to override any other interests every time.”
“Regrettably it means the pier will have to be demolished and completely rebuilt,” Development Victoria’s Geoff Ward told Channel Seven on Friday.
But Heritage Victoria executive director Steven Avery said a permit from Heritage Victoria was required for any change to a registered heritage place, including for demolition.
“Victoria Dock including Central Pier is of State significance and included on the Victorian Heritage Register,” Mr Avery said.
The Heritage Act 2017 requires Mr Avery to consider the cultural heritage significance and public submissions when deciding whether to grant a permit to demolish or change the pier.
The National Trust (Victoria) said it recognised Victoria Dock and Central Pier as a place of both state and national significance.
“While Docklands has witnessed great change in recent decades, our remaining maritime heritage tells the story of Melbourne’s role as one of the world’s major ports, and should be celebrated,” chief executive officer Simon Ambrose said.
We encourage Development Victoria to commit to the long-term restoration and maintenance of Central Pier.
National Trust (Victoria) CEO Simon Ambrose
“We encourage Development Victoria to commit to the long-term restoration and maintenance of Central Pier.”
Development Victoria chief executive Angela Skandarajah said the agency was working with Heritage Victoria to understand how the pier’s heritage components could be retained as part of a replacement structure.
Development Victoria has come under fire over its handling of Central Pier – which has been closed since it was dramatically evacuated in August – with businesses accusing it of “misleading and deceptive conduct” in legal action before the Federal Court.
They also accuse Development Victoria of deliberately timing Friday’s announcement of the closure of the pier – three days before the decision was due – when the state was preoccupied by raging bushfires.
Ms Skandarajah said once a decision had been made “we wanted to provide this advice to the tenant as soon as possible”.
Development Victoria said engineers had been inspecting the pier every two months since November 2018.
“It was during these inspections the accelerated deterioration of the pier was revealed and the advice given by our engineers that the pier was no longer safe for occupation. As soon as Development Victoria received this information the pier was closed.”
Nick Ellul, the general manager of Austage Venues, which provided audio-visual equipment and services for events held at Shed 14, said the evacuation had been ordered after guests had been served entree during a gala dinner on August 28.
How could things have been so mismanaged? I feel like I am living an episode of Utopia.
Austage Venues general manager Nick Ellul
“If they had been inspecting every two months why did the gala dinner have to be evacuated in the middle of the night?” Mr Ellul said. “How could things have been so mismanaged to have got to that? I feel like I am living an episode of Utopia.”
Mr Ellul said tenants were refused entry to the pier for the first month after the evacuation, which meant he was forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire audio-visual equipment for functions at other venues.
He said they had still only been able to retrieve half of the assets, with Development Victoria yet to come up with a plan for how to remove the heavier equipment.
Mr Ellul said he would be forced to retrench his 30 employees, some of whom had worked for him for 10 years and were like family.
He said Development Victoria had been “completely callous”, informing tenants of the decision to permanently close the pier last week at the same time it was released in the media.
“Our business we have built for 10 years has been completely devastated because people were incompetent with the maintenance of the pier,” Mr Ellul said.
Opposition priority precincts spokesman David Davis said the government’s handling of the pier had been a disaster.
“It’s just terrible incompetence that has caused enormous damage to these businesses and cost hundreds of jobs,” Mr Davis said.
“I accept there are problems but why weren’t they picked up earlier and dealt with?”