Don’t look back in anger

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What you looking at?

Dodgy Perth promises this is the last time we will ever deal with this controversial issue. Especially since we are going to put it bed for once and all time.

Take a look above at the Australian coat of arms on Perth’s GPO, freshly installed when this photo was taken, with the kangaroo looking the wrong way. As is well known, the sculptor didn’t get paid so the roo is looking in an accusing fashion towards the treasury building.

Wait, did we say this was Perth GPO? Our mistake.

This is actually a picture of the coat of arms installed on the new parliament building in Canberra in 1926. So, evidently this sculptor didn’t get paid either. What is it about sculptors not getting paid in the 1920s?

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Oi, look at me when I’m talking to you!

But sculptors haven’t been getting paid for a long time before the 1920s. Oh yes. This is the old Sydney GPO, which predates the Commonwealth, and the roo is looking in an accusing way towards… well, towards something presumably.

Every time this story gets a mention on local radio, someone rings up and claims their father (or grandfather, or uncle) made the GPO coat of arms, and the legend is completely true.

Well, we’re sorry to say folks, that this is just how some fancy shield things were done in the past. Just is. Nothing more interesting than that.

In praise of Forrest Chase

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Before Forrest Chase, the ugly Boans building dominated the streetscape

Today we tell a familiar Perth story. How a potentially great space became a disaster. We’re not talking about the delightful Forrest Chase, complete with detailed precast lattice work. Good lord, no. We mean the vile Padbury and Boans buildings which were there before it.

After the General Post Office was finished in 1923, it was assumed that the Federal Government would turn Forrest Place into a park for local residents. This would link the Railway Station to Murray Street for the benefit of all. A petition went to Parliament, requesting that Forrest Place be reserved only for public purposes.

Instead, the Feds, determined to claw back as much money as they could after the GPO project, gave a fifty year lease to William Padbury to build a shopping centre opposite. Naturally, there was outrage that the “people’s heritage” was to be converted to “brick and stone” simply for the purpose of making a quick buck.

That’s right. To build Padbury’s involved a loss of our heritage. William Padbury was already a rich man, it was pointed out. Could he not work for the public interest and build his hideous shops somewhere else?

Padbury did not see it that way and commenced construction.

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This is what William Padbury promised to build.

In a story headed ‘Beauty and the Beast, or How Not to Build a City’, it was noted that Padbury’s would make Forrest Place too narrow. In any case, there were already too many “tawdry structures”, such as the Central Hotel next to the GPO. Padbury’s would just be one more.

But there was a way of saving the situation. One problem with Forrest Place was Boan’s unsightly wall. If Padbury’s had to go ahead, a five-storey building could work in this space, and justify the loss of public space.

However, William Padbury, like any good capitalist, was not going to spend more money than necessary. Since the Feds were in control of the land, not the City of Perth, a cheap two-storey building was erected. Padbury vaguely promised to put up another three storeys in the future, but no one really believed him.

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The disaster some predicted

Any two-storey building must be in proportion to its street frontage. Padbury’s, at several hundred feet, was far too wide to have any aesthetic balance. In any case, Boan’s dominated above the low parapets, ruining both Forrest Place and any pretence to architecture Padbury’s might have claimed.

Forrest Place was a tragedy because the Feds simply wanted money. Padbury simply wanted money. And Boan’s was a hideous piece of architecture to begin.

Now tell us you still hate Forrest Chase.