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Archive for the ‘Architecture and Design – Art Deco to Mid-Century’ Category

Portland in NSW is a sleepy little country town about 2.5 hours west of Sydney. Hidden away from the Highway, it’s a surprising little hot bed of traditional hand painted sign writing.

Ron Bidwell, a sign painter originally from Sydney, now makes the town home. He had a vision of  recreating vintage hand painted signs to attract people to town, and the ‘Signs of Yesteryear’ was born.

The signs are spread throughout the town’s centre. The best way to see them is park up the car, and go for a wander down the main street. While you’re there, why not grab lunch or least grab a drink or an ice cream and help support the local economy, and tell them how much you love the signs.

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The mosaic in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial is as poignant as it is beautiful. It features panels representing the army, navy, airforce and the women who served in World War II. There is significant meaning behind each of the panels, and that understanding only serves to make them more powerful.

The Hall of Memory houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and is accessed by passing the Pool of Reflection which includes the names of 102,000 people who have given their lives to serve our country. It is the heart of the Australian War Memorial and one of the most sacred sites in the country.

The Hall was originally conceived to commemorate the soldiers killed in the Great War, with stained glass windows and sculptures. However before it was completed, World War II had commenced. Following the second World War, it was decided to incorporate mosaics representing the pillars of the Australian defence force. The mosaic work was undertaken by Napier Waller, who also served in World War One. This is an excerpt from the Australian War Memorial website:

The figures in these drawings emphasise qualities of strength and endurance. Their poses are frontal and each – except the sailor – has its left foot extended forward in the manner of an archaic Greek ‘kouros’. The enlarged, intense eyes are also characteristic of both ancient Greek sculpture and the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, which Waller had visited in the late 1920s. In contrast, the uniforms and hairstyles are contemporary. The faces express their feelings. The figures are of ordinary men and women, elevated to demigod status by their monumentality and references to antiquity.

Each of the following explanations of the imagery also come from the Australian War Memorial. A short video from 1955 on the construction of the mosaics can also be viewed here.

The Army: The war is over. The last traces of the storm symbolising it can be seen as water running down the tree trunk, while the sunshine bursting through the trees causes the soldier to contemplate that the sacrifices of his dead comrades have brought a ray of hope for the future. Through the beams of light he imagines he sees in bird-like form their ascending spirits. After the dreary war years, with freedom still ours, he is removing his wartime equipment and preparing to return home.

The Navy: On the fore-deck the sailor in summer uniform is preparing to hoist the white ensign, which symbolises the oldest tradition of the fighting services, as the ship goes into action. Behind him is the nautical compass as a reminder of the Navy’s service in all seas. Above, on the upper fore superstructures of the ship, are an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun, and fixed searchlights from which beams of light are crossed with beams coming onto the ship. Smoke belches from the funnel as she steams towards the foe.

The Air Force: In the remaining walls of a cathedral, the flying officer stands and surveys the destruction of beauty and human ideals. He is inspired to defend his tradition. The sculptured “wyvern” grins down sardonically on man’s stupidity, and on the perverted ingenuity by which he can destroy in a few moments what has taken centuries to build. The idea is sustained symbolically in the decapitated saint and mutilated hand and book, and, from above, the rain of missiles. In but two generations this youngest of the services has built up its wonderful tradition of prowess and the noble one of chivalry.

The Women’s Services: This figure is clothed in blouse and skirt, this part of the uniform being the same in all the women’s services. The different branches of the services are symbolised by their own badges in the lower right hand part of the design. The figure has stepped forward from an opened doorway, from which bursts a halo of winged light. She remembers the many sacrifices and disasters suffered by her sisters; one of which is symbolised above by the engulfing waves of the sea into which sinks the “sea-centaur”, symbol of that war tragedy in which the hospital ship Centaur was sunk and all but one of her nurses lost their lives. The suggestion of missiles falling from above is a reminder that so often the service woman too was a victim of gunfire and the wrack of bombs.

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It’s hard to beat rods, customs, a beautiful main street with old buildings, and rockabilly music. And that’s exactly what the Lady Luck Festival dishes up every year. Held in Katoomba and based at The Carrington Hotel, it’s become a must do for many each year.

It’s a great event with the Hotel hosting burlesque acts, dancing and gigs. A highlight for many though is the show and shine which takes place on the Katoomba main street. As you can the street still has a number buildings dating back to the art deco era, which makes an awesome backdrop.

All in all it’s an awesome little event, and well worth checking out if you get a chance.

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When it comes to pushing the envelope in urban design, Melbourne is leading the country. But it’s great to see some decent efforts in other areas too. This pedestrian bridge was recently completed in Hazelbrook in the Blue Mountains. Not only does it have a great industrial style to it which is far more interesting than a standard pedestrian bridge, it also includes a lookout section with views for miles. Let’s hope we see more of this kind of thinking in the future.

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Living in Sydney, so much of our cool old architecture is bulldozed in the name of ‘development’. One of the things I love about getting out into the country is that the variety of cool old buildings that have survived long enough to become valued.

Often, the coolest buildings are theatres from the art deco era. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. The ’20s and ’30s saw movies transition from silent film to ‘talkies’. This was a significant leap forward for entertainment, before this it would have been radio and maybe some live plays, particularly in country areas. Cinema as we now know it would have been a game changer, in the same way the internet has been for our era. Theatres popped up across the country, resulting in a great assortment of art deco buildings. Like this pair in Mudgee. While both have seen better days, they’re in pretty good condition and will be around for a while yet. The detailing like the tiles and the glasswork is fantastic. If only those walls could talk, I bet they’ve seen some interesting sights.

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Hidden innocently enough on the main street of Gloucester is a neat little cafe called Roadies. It’s immediately obvious that the owners are bike nuts, with a couple of gorgeous oldies serving as decor alongside the tables. Not to mention the vintage signs and other prints on the walls.

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The other thing that caught my eye was the beautiful art deco ceiling work. Often ceiling plaster has a much older style like Victorian, with deco being particularly rare. The central piece with the lights would have been a good metre long!

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The food is pretty good too, nothing fancy just good quality burgers and chips. All in all well worth checking out for lunch or dinner if you’re in the area.

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If you’re ever in Newcastle and looking to kill some time, I reccomend checking out the ocean baths. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset, with the afternoon light hitting the water and starters blocks. The pools were opened in 1922, and have a really classic art deco style to them.

Here’s some pics from the last time we were in town.

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