'History not to be demolished': Fight to save suburb's character

2X Haydens Road by Mockridge Stahle and Mitchell, is still standing and retains much of the mid century aesthetic
2X Haydens Road by Mockridge Stahle and Mitchell, is still standing and retains much of the mid century aesthetic

It wasn't exactly a scene of anger-charged citizens wielding pikes and intent on physically defending their patch - but the hundreds who turned out for the relaunch of a period housing preservation group in Beaumaris last week have the same objective.

Wearied of watching the destruction of some of the Modernist architectural gems ??? that from the 1950s turned Beaumaris into a laboratory of architectural experimentation and one of the greatest concentrations of unique, mid-century homes in Australia ??? the Beaumaris Modern group launched its official website and told the crowd that with so little heritage protection, it is going to be up to collective action to save what's left.

Speaking to the group ??? and to his surprise, appointed its official patron on the spot ??? comedian and passionate defender of Modernist architecture Tim Ross said community action "is the best thing that can happen in terms of looking after our mid-century buildings".

"It's a local fight. It's not about carrying placards and chanting. It's about community. You look after them as they come up (for sale) in your neighbourhood," he said.

What is going to be vital in preserving the last houses by the likes of Robin Boyd, Anatol Kagan, David Godsell, Chancellor and Patrick, Mockridge Stahle Mitchell, and some of the 50 other architects who made the bayside suburb their home from the '50s ??? and therefore, according to Ross, constituted "the greatest concentration of architects in the southern hemisphere ??? is to explain why they are important and what's so important about this suburb".

"What's impressive and important here goes beyond architecture, because what we have is a series of buildings that people's mothers and fathers built," he said.

"It won't happen again. But it's such a rich part of our history ... Your history. These houses are a part of our collective photo album and our history is not to be demolished!"

That there is already a massive groundswell of interest and concern about the multiple threats to mid-century buildings is demonstrated by new owners to the suburb, very carefully restoring rather than ripping apart the features of these spare-boned, big-windowed, open space houses that oriented themselves to the light and their gardens. Ross' television exploration of the provenance and consequence of mid-century architecture, Streets of Your Town, became one of the ABC's highest-rated programs last year.

"That was remarkable for a show about architecture and social history," he said.

Yet as Fiona Austin, president of the group that started some years back as a neighbourhood Facebook page, says, also remarkable was that 30 years ago when so many of Melbourne's inner city councils were levying heritage protections on their loveliest period neighbourhoods, "mid-century modernism wasn't considered for heritage listing".

"Over time so many of the houses have been demolished and once they're gone, they're gone," she said.

At the meeting, both the Beaumaris Modern group, and its sister organisation the Beaumaris Conservation Society "which opposes the mowing down of trees", solicited for membership, starting at $30 and $10 respectively per year, to make more effective a grass roots movement determined to stopping thoughtless redevelopment replacing the best of the original houses and remnant bushland with the blandest of volume townhouse builds.

The purpose of Beaumaris Modern's work is, through information and education, to promote understanding of the remnant Beaumaris gems.

"We hope to save as many of these properties as we can. And in doing so, bring like-minded people together to share their passion for mid century architecture."

And, perhaps, not a moment too soon?

beaumarismodern.com.au

This story 'History not to be demolished': Fight to save suburb's character first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.