Will they come to see this?

When several industries closed down, Beechworth remodelled itself into a tourist town. Three hours from Melbourne makes it perfect for weekenders. But it is definitely worth the 7 hours drive from Sydney. 

The beautiful streetscape of historical buildings is a drawcard. Yes, I first went because of the link to Kelly history, but there’s so much to see. Even with the low clouds and wet, walking along the street and popping into shops with clothes and knick-knacks is a great way to pass time. 

Many of the homes are gorgeous and I could imagine in spring and summer the gardens likewise. Walking back to our BnB, we were watched by this little boy who bravely only barked once we passed by.  

Last year we stayed in an old home that had been converted into a BnB. This year we stayed in an old bakery that had been sympathetically extended as a purpose built BnB. Both were gorgeous with divine gardens. 

Up the hill over looking the town is an old lunatic asylum. (Yes, not an acceptable term nowadays but what it was called.) The buildings are grand and evocative of the sadness and suffering that took place. 

So what happened to the building of public buildings? Why did we turn to such cheap and temporary structures? Such sad and poor looking buildings? Without any design merit? Crappy on the outside and crappy on the inside. 

Compare the library of Bright with the court house of nearby town, Myrtleford. 

The Beechworth Asylum was used as a hospital until the 1970s. Buildings were added with all the design features and sympathy to the environment as the court house above. 

Beechworth had a library of similar design to the courthouse. Opened in 1999,  it is so out of keeping with the town, so indicative of penny pinching, so ugly it shows all the worst of modern attitudes to civic pride. Decisions are made, buildings built with a short term focus.  Not for the future. Not for beauty. Not for civic pride. Not for what will last. Councils and bureaucrats would say for utilitarian and financial reasons. 

The only good thing about the ugly and small library at Beechworth. It didn’t last and was turned into a bottleshop when the supermarket and attached bottleshop was burnt down. Beer or books? It sounds like a crass commercial, low brow choice. 

But never fear, the library had already moved. But even without turning the library building into a bottleshop (and let’s face it, people need their alcohol) how short term is it to open a library in 1999 and move it less than 20 years later? When the building opened I would have said, how ugly; how lacking in any regard for people, books and the environment; and how short term. 

So, will anybody bother driving 7, let alone 3, hours to see these modern, squat, buildings without aesthetic and even utilitarian features? Well the question probably won’t be one that needs asking. The buildings won’t be worth preserving and will probably be knocked down and  replaced with equally cheaply built boxes. 

Your view?


9 thoughts on “Will they come to see this?

  1. What’s happened to the building of grand public structures? A very good question. My recent trip to country NSW made me appreciate these older buildings and town centres. I love the wide, parallel main streets, with their easy to navigate diagonal parking. (I even like how the main street is called Main Street). It’s so easy to forget how grand those buildings are, when we are so used to seeing modern, suburban and often soulless structures. I’d like to go back and investigate Bathurst.

  2. I ask myself that question constantly, everywhere, town or city. It’s so true that it isn’t only design features that are lacking but also everything utilitarian. That court-house without even an eave over the front windows to defend against the brutal Australian sun. Barely a portico over the front door to defend against the cold Victorian rain and wind in winter. All for the saving of x square metres of materials and the cheapest tender. It will only change once LEGISLATION changes…for example, it has a disabled access ramp despite the cost, only because legislation requires it. Energy efficiency codes have improved things but there should also be ‘Universal Design’ codes for cradle-to-grave access.

    Oh, don’t get me going! It’s another of my pet topics! But I’m glad you think Beechworth is worth the 7 hour drive down from Sydney. Even with that crazy-bad blizzard weather you’ve been having!

    • Yes, to all the weather-needed design features. But I wonder how we can legislate for aesthetics? One person’s tasteful is another person’s ghastly.

      And the weather adds to the charm. Love the cold! (For a change!)

  3. I have a certain appreciation of mid (20th) century modern and minimalist, which was inspired by suiting buildings to their landscapes and having vast windows that let the outdoors in. But it’s impossible to appreciate cheap buildings with poor functionality.

    • I forgot, and will add – libraries and liquor stores have a relationship! When a library needs to move temporarily into another building, a former liquor store is one of the only candidates because the library needs flooring with extreme weight-bearing capacity. Likewise, a new liquor store can use an ex-library!

    • I too love windows and linking to the outside but as Fiona wrote, in Australia we really need eves, verandahs and protective entrances. Old Australian buildings had verandahs on multiple sides our environment needs it. So many buildings now are without and it means lots of artificial cooling is needed. And flat metal roofs don’t let the rain run off (generally when it rains, it pours, very little gentle misting British-style rain here). And the roofs rust and the govt authorities rarely replace in time. (My school leaks badly. The response is yes your roofs are flat and rusted. Same response as many schools I’ve worked in.)

      I suppose it is less to do with modern design and more to do with poor design and cheap building.

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