Beauty Profaned 1
by Quentin Cockburn
In the Victorian country town of Castlemaine (pop 7,500) there is a little path that winds up the hill from Urquhart Street to the ridge-line on which the Burke and Wills Memorial stands. It offers panoramic views of the town below. The little path makes its ascent between crumbling rock, weeds, the overgrown terraces of stone, where once was garden. Now it’s a residue of ancient gnarled fruit trees, wild roses and, in summer the humming of insects and butterflies. Castlemaine is like this. It’s all about the inconsequential things. The leftovers, the cracks and the stonework remind you that other people have lived, and each in their own way have left a message in stone, in crumbling walls and long rusted sheets of corrugated iron or in fruit and ornamental trees.
Castlemaine is more than a town; it is a living entity, in which by general acceptance everyone understands a sort of unified principle of being. And in built form it’s a sort of shared intuition without the didactic eye of the Heritage Architect. From the Burke and Wills Memorial you see the town stretched below. It’s a Victorian town, there are no large buildings, just a mosaic of individual shapes, almost Cubist. And between the filigree of trees, and roadways, the railway line embraces all in a curve of stone and steel; worn stone, and burnished steel.
In Castlemaine this acceptance of time and of memory of the intrinsic are universally understood. The new buildings are small-ish, compartmentalised and follow the landform. There’s a sympathetic association between the hills and the structures built upon them. It’s akin to the delightful pastiche of colour and texture captured in time bequeathed to us by Sali Herman of the Rocks, and the lost traces of Sydney. Its the pattern of sun faded pickets bequeathed to us by Percy Lindsay that captures the song of Creswick as an archetypal goldfields town. Topography does that, and in the Australian sense it captures something of the soul of a place, a gold mining town in which the improvised, the accidental and the humanistic are deeply tied to personal stories and local materials.
Half way up the hillside, a little house stood perched on the edge of rock. We always admired it as, like others, it had very small windows and was a composite of brick, granite and timber. It wore its age proudly. These days it would be inconceivable to have a house on a hill with little windows. One side of the house would be all window. But that’s why we liked it, because it sat just like that and all around it the gnarled fruit trees and stone wall, cascading across the rubble and weed, spoke of the love that generations had devoted to the task of gardening, harvesting, and sharing within a community. On our walks we’d always smile at the family who lived there, the front door, porch and garden consumed by bicycles, bits of wheel, evidence of many children and clothing. They were our kind of people. They knew how to live
One day the little house was demolished. The next day a security fence was erected across the entire site. The next day an excavator arrived and began gouging. After several months, the slope had been rendered flat. Over the next few months a building arose. It consumed the entire block. It was a box. An agressive angular box. It was the clad, some part of it in black, others in brilliant white. We nick named it Darth Vader. We felt sorry for the people adjacent who had restored their little victorian cottage. Darth Vader was uncompromising. He had to have his way. Local talk had it that two architects had bought the old house site. They were designing a ‘Signature Building’. The building would proclaim their integrity as new architects in an old town. The building, the agressive slab, is really large. You could probably see it from the moon. We wondered, all that space for two people? They wore black, drove matching black cars, and had inserted a double garage on one side, so that the blackness could be immersed in uber blackness. We never see the architects, they’re important designers and that’s part of their integrity I suppose. The house just sits there and at night between the steel and timber slits a inner glow may be detected. Star trek’s sinister apotheosis, “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it”