The Barrack Arch revealed in all its glory
The Barracks Arch revealed in all its wonderful glory

You probably like Barracks Arch. You may even have seen pictures of the old barracks and mourned their almost total demolition. Well Dodgy Perth is here to cheer you up by showing that not everything old is always great.

We’ll start by noting that their erection was a complete cock-up, from start to finish. Like all government projects, it was totally mismanaged. Work started in 1862, but took many, many years to finish. This was typical of state projects at the time, and was the same for the Town Hall and Government House.

It also ruined the builder, William Halliday. He had put in the lowest tender, but the architect, Richard Roach Jewell, and the clerk of work, James Manning, were concerned he had underquoted. Halliday told them not to worry, he had made no errors. But he had. Somehow he was out on the number of bricks by several million. Although he completed the contract, the mistake forced his company into bankruptcy.

During the building process, one worker died after falling into a deep well being dug. And the local residents complained that the powder store was erected far too close to their homes for comfort.

Anyway, the Barracks were finally finished, and so we come to the heritage part of the story. When Parliament was built, the old building stood in the way of a decent view from the approach along the Terrace.

The Barracks had not aged well. and in 1902 a civil engineer really dissed them:

The main approach to the site is at present masked by that grim-looking structure known as the Barracks, and this will ultimately have to be dismantled to display the full front view of the new Parliament Building.

However, for one reason or another the grim structure stayed where it was. So a generation later, when more additions were made to Parliament, the subject came up again. Alfred Wright, president of the Institute of Architects, had this to say in 1933:

The Barracks has no pretensions to architectural merit. Although their venerable appearance imbues them with a certain appeal, they would have to disappear when the completion of Parliament House was proceeded with.

Wright was no ultra-modernist, he was in love with the Town Hall, the Museum, and St George’s Cathedral. Hardly, then, someone who hated heritage. Just an architect prepared to give his honest opinion on an aging building with little merit.

In the end of course, the arch stayed while the rest was demolished. This kind of half-arsed conservation has no place at all. Either admit the whole building had to go, or defend the entire structure. Leaving small bits (see the awful St George’s Hall façade) is tokenism without offering anything for the community.

So, should we finish the job?