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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


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Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

The Fairbridge Chapel: Sir Herbert Baker's Labour of Love

By David Dolan With Christine Lewis, Perth: API Network, 2004, 82 pages, paperback, $30.00. Reviewed by Ann Jensen in the August 2005 issue.

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The name Fairbridge might provoke a cringe from anyone familiar with Australia's shameful history of child immigration and the institutional care of children .

If one has not visited the Fairbridge Village at Pinjarra, Western Australia, it is hard to equate the name with unique architecture, and a centre for contemporary youth recreation and education. The enigmatic achievement of English architect, Herbert Baker, in building the Fairbridge chapel, the showpiece of the village, is the subject of a small book by Professor David Dolan and Christine Lewis. It is a curious story of a 'jewel' in the desert which emerges from the coalition of the visions of remarkable men, two of whom died very young, at the height of their international influence. It is also a story of splendid inspiration realised in a stark desert landscape shaped by young and impoverished boys and girls who for a time, made Fairbridge their home.

The documentary drama, The Leaving of Liverpool, etched into the public imagination some of the most sinister narratives of children shipped out from England to institutions around the empire. Alan Gill's journalistic account, Orphans of the Empire (1997), provided a comprehensive view of a welfare system that not only allowed the sicknesses of adults to be played out among the vulnerabilities of children, but provided an opportunity for some children to secure their destiny, depending on where they landed. To read about the beauty of Fairbridge, and its contemporary usefulness, requires us to put aside some of its social history, or at least, do what many commentators have suggested, and remember those events in the context of a somewhat less sensitive age.

While the name Fairbridge appears frequently in Gill's account, it is the homes in NSW that draw the most criticism, and not the original Fairbridge Farm at Pinjarra, where the founder himself, Kingsley Fairbridge, managed the property and died apparently of exhaustion, at only 39. The inventive feature of the Fairbridge project in Pinjarra was cottages where the boys and girls were cared for by parental figures. Kingsley Fairbridge was an intellectual, and some of the instructions he left for the development of the farm, are heavy with his philosophical underpinnings, while others, such as the use of native trees for landscaping, were before his time. He had a passion for education and a plan for a better life for the empire's orphans: they would become farmers and farmer's wives. He was the founder of both the Child Emigration Society and the entire group of orphanages in Canada, Southern Rhodesian and Australia carrying his badge.

Large scale institutional care declined by the mid twentieth century as a result of both the end of child immigration, and the philosophical and psychological shifts in child care and protection. Of the Fairbridge homes, only the Pinjarra work, which had enjoyed Kingsley Fairbridge's direct influence, endured into the late twentieth century, as it reinvented its mission.

There is no doubt that Kingsley Fairbridge was a genuine altruist, and an inspired champion of children. As a young boy in South Africa he was one of the earliest recipients of the infectious benevolence of Cecil Rhodes, the visionary leader of the Cape Colony who died in 1902 at only 49. As a Rhodes scholar, Fairbridge was committed to applying his skills to community service. Rhodes was also the patron of the British architect, Herbert Baker, who had arrived in Cape Colony, unknown, in 1892. Rhodes provided Baker with work, and Baker became a great admirer of Rhodes. Baker saw Kingsley Fairbridge as the personification of the Rhodes scholar.

Baker paid tribute to Rhodes in various architectural triumphs, including Rhodes House at Oxford University in England, and the Rhodes Memorial on Table Mountain. In his letters, Baker expressed a profound satisfaction in working for the sake of honouring other men. Baker worked with greats, such as Lutyens, and was friends with other greats such as Lawrence of Arabia. He built dozens of buildings for all purposes throughout the world: distinctive churches in South Africa, as well as the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the 'superstructure' extensions of the Bank of England on top of Sir John Sloane's eighteenth century work, and Goodenough College in London. The authors of this book set out to describe how one of Baker's works came to stand on the edge of a small Western Australian town.

Both Rhodes and Fairbridge were dead by the time the Child Emigration Society approached Baker to provide a design for a chapel at Fairbridge in 1928. By now Baker had been knighted, and was enjoying a reputation for his innovative eclecticism. Not only did the design for Fairbridge Chapel come free of charge, but Baker refused to re-cycle his African church designs, and he planned a chapel that was appropriate for the Pinjarra site, and the climate. Although he usually built in stone, and stone was available locally, the Pinjarra chapel is in brick, perhaps largely because Baker had been lauded for his mastery of brickwork in England.

The authors use quotations from Baker's autobiography and letters, to show how he was determined to carry something of the spirit of Rhodes into his work. Baker had also been influenced by other nineteenth Century greats, such as William Morris, so that questions of morality and social conscience were bound up in his response to the request for a chapel at Pinjarra. It could never be about simply making a living and filling orders. All the issues of light, ceremony and function, the connection of elements to the natural resources and landscape, to the remotest detail, came under the architect's scrutiny in flurries of correspondence with the builder, funders, and officials. The building of this chapel in Western Australia at that time, by so great an architect, was also a testimony to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people on the ground.

The architect died at the age of 84 in 1946, and the chapel still stands as testimony to visionary men. We are told that the children loved the chapel.

This book is more useful than readable. For those who care deeply about architecture, it will be a little treasure. The research and technical content is excellent, the illustrations effective, the subject important to our history, but the telling is disjointed. It is a mere 84 pages in a kind-of matt half-size coffee table format. So much social history has been necessarily dismissed, that it only whets one's appetite for a fuller story.

Citation

  • Ann Jensen. 'Review: The Fairbridge Chapel: Sir Herbert Baker's Labour of Love by David Dolan with Christine Lewis' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), August 2005. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 20 April 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • In the aftermath of World War I, in the depths of the Great Depression,a small idealistic group in England had a grand vision. They weredetermined that the child migrants at the Fairbridge Farm School atPinjarra in Western Australia would have a magnificent building astheir chapel. They won government and financial support, and engagedthe British world's most famous architect, Sir Herbert Baker (1862--1946).Baker so admired the educational work of Kingsley Fairbridge that hedonated his services, describing the chapel as 'a labour of love for me'.

    The Fairbridge Chapel, completed in 1931, is renowned as Baker's onlybuilding in Australia. Comparison with Baker's work in India, Africa, andEngland shows that Fairbridge Chapel was a high point in his glitteringcareer. Built without compromise, it represents the culmination of astyle Baker had begun developing decades earlier in response to thehot climate of southern Africa.

    The cast of characters in this inspiring story includes Kingsley and RubyFairbridge, fast-food magnate Thomas Wall, former Western AustralianGovernor Sir Arthur Lawley, his wife Anne (nee Cunard, later CountessWenlock), and Baker's friends Cecil Rhodes and T E Lawrence ('of Arabia').

    Proceeds from the sale of this book will help ensure that this unique andinternationally significant piece of Australia's heritage is conserved forcontinuing community use in the 21st century.

Have You Also Read?

  • Textual Spaces

    imageStephen Muecke, Perth: API Network, 2005, 194 Pages, Paperback, $34.95
    Reviewed by Rhian Healy in the October 2005 issue.

    How does one talk about Aboriginality? Is it best talked 'about' by academics? Or talked 'through' by Aboriginal people? In the end, does academic discourse represent Aboriginality, negotiate it, or perhaps, somehow, own it? Must it be discussed in English, or by using individual aboriginal languages or Aboriginal English? Through written languages, spoken languages, through physical depictions? Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies discusses the implications of the use of language, especially in the politically loaded relationships between the speakers and those spoken about. Muecke addresses the idea of representation and asks us whose representation it is. Is it ... read more.
     



 
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