Bathurst : Strange Architectural Dreams


Like any city or town, there’s a few different Bathursts. The most obvious, popular one would have to be the car racing Mt Panorama Bathurst. Then there’s the university subculture world. I gravitate to the “Newtown” end of Bathurst: Keppel St where the art gallery BRAG is, often stopping off at Al Dente for a sandwich or The Hub to sit out on the grapevine covered terrace.

The Bathurst Courthouse, made of the distinctive pink red Bathurst brick

The Bathurst Courthouse, made of the distinctive pink red Bathurst brick

But the more time you spend there, another layer of the town reveals itself. One of unusual architectural parts: Florentine domes, extravagant Victorian flourishes and intricate wooden fretwork. In the two hundred years since it has been established some accomplished and adventurous architects and builders have passed through.


Surrounded by the gracious public gardens that includes ponds, a Fernery and a Begonia House, the Courthouse is the jewel in the crown setting the tone of the town with its Renaissance influenced symmetry. Located in one of the wings is a charming old style museum, including a gorgeous collection of birds eggs housed in substantial glass cases. If you make your way upstairs you get walls of the original paintwork and access out onto the balcony to look over the street.

Florence in Bathurst

the Florence end of Bathurst

It’s lovely just to walk around this part of town. On a sunny day a picnic of sandwiches under the trees is calming. I try to pop into the Fossil and Mineral Museum, on nearby Hawick St, really one of my favourite museums in the world.
The same Victorian architect who designed the Courthouse also designed the Bathurst Gaol. It is fascinating to learn more about James Barnet: he designed 169 post offices, 130 courthouses, 155 police stations, 110 gaols and 20 lighthouses. His major works include the GPO, Customs House, Callan Park, the Mortuary Station at Central.

Bathurst Gaol - the lion holding the key. Legend had it if the key dropped the prisoner went free

The Dickensian Bathurst Gaol – the lion holding the key. Legend had it if the lion dropped the key the prisoner went free.

Another major Bathurst highlight is the late Victorian Carpenter Gothic style at the Show Grounds. An American style that’s also know as Rural Gothic, it’s not often seen in Australia. One other wonderful example is the historic home Meroogal.

a corner house    ...   a pavilion at the show ground

A welcoming corner house. Distinctive timber detail from a pavilion at the show ground

But it’s not just the public buildings. Exploring the back streets can reveal some unique gems… houses that could be the central set in a movie or TV show.

A Wes Anderson style house

Sunset falls over the distinctive Bathurst street lamps. A house Wes Anderson might like.

The Golden Age Cinema and Bar

Ingrid Weir- Golden Age Bar
“I saw it as a hotel bar in space – you never know if it is going backwards or forwards in time – a little group of people going on a journey together” Bob Barton, designer and director of the Golden Age Cinema and Bar.


Over a series of cold winter Tuesday nights a group of friends and I met in the bar of the Golden Age cinema before seeing The Godfather films, with ticket prices the same as when the original movies opened ($4 for the first one and Part 2, $16 for Part 3). Approaching Paramount House, there’d be a golden light spilling onto the pavement from the neon sign & I’d know it would be cosy and comfortable inside. The bar staff would bring down a luscious burger from The Nighthawk Diner van parked outside and there’d be a warming glass of house red wine.

one of the stools designed by Bob.... the curtain draws back to reveal the piano on live music nights

one of the stools designed by Bob…. the curtains draw back to reveal the piano on live music nights

I met with Bob Barton, the designer, and spoke with him about the path he has taken, from starting with an architecture scholarship in Mexico, working in illustration and landscape architecture, creating The Commons Local Eating House, and now running the Golden Age Cinema and bar. As he puts it – he likes to create worlds.

A coffee from the Paramount Coffee Project located in the same building,

A coffee from the Paramount Coffee Project located in the same building, just above the Golden Age

The Golden Age is located in the old Paramount Pictures Art Deco building in Surry Hills and the cinema was their actual screening room. Now reborn as Paramount House, the farsighted owner envisaged the building as a vertical laneway, with the different creatives cross pollinating ideas.

 the mood at the Paramount Coffee Project

the mood at The Paramount Coffee Project

It’s interesting to hear Bob talk of the bar starting off as an awkward rhomboidal space – the present proportions feel so right. His design process is organic; he’s never been into designing on the computer, using it for documentation only. Instead he built the room our of paper, and also taped it up on the ground. He’s obsessive about dimensions, down to the millimetre. The space between the booths is designed so that spontaneous conversations can strike up…

Bob in the bar...  the perfectly designed booths

Bob in the bar… the perfectly designed booths

There’s an intimacy to the room that is unusual in Sydney and Bob himself is aware of it. “The scale is very human” he says “I think when you bring down the scale of things it takes away some of the loneliness you can feel in a big house or a cinema. When people walk into this space I want them to feel like they are out in life”


This Easter I took on the challenge of designing and running a pop up cafe in one of the historic buildings in Hill End. Formerly a billiards hall, a girls boarding school, a boxing ring, a museum – this grand old dame of a building is being renovated by National Parks and Wildlife to be leased as a restaurant and Bed and Breakfast. In the meantime it was up for grabs and for Easter 2015 it became Hillendia…

it’s warm inside….

The ground floor is seductively beautiful: large, open plan, kind of 19th century industrial, further enhanced by National Parks exposing the bricks on one long wall. Bricks that had been made in Hill End many years ago, now speckled with paint, giving a strong character and texture to the room.

kangaroos grazing across the road

Chinese lanterns from a movie set

flowers from the garden of the Hill End Press

During the Gold Rush Hill End had a population of around 8000, now it’s under 200. But at Easter the crowds come and the numbers swell again into the thousands- the pop up would cater for them.

the importance of signage

everything over scale looks good

Starting to work on the project I realised the only way it could happen was to keep things local. The coffee ended up coming from Bathurst – Fish River Roasters, the toasted sandwiches from the Hill End General Store, and the pies and delicious sweet treats from the Hill End Estate bakers, who are based in the village.

a board game in the corner

There was an ease to this and a feeling of community spirit. Luke Sciberras loaned a painting, Bill Moseley from the Hill End Press a tin type photograph, while his wife Genevieve helped me behind the counter. La Paloma pottery provided plates for the cakes. The furniture came mostly from the National Parks and Wildlife archive shed- collected from the old buildings and businesses. This was a space grown out of a love of Hill End, its art and its history.

the avenue in the mist

I liked the experience of working in the country. More face to face conversations, less emails pinging around in an uncertain cyber space. Things got done quicker. Everyone seemed to have a dog.

Hill End greens

precious archive shed finds behind the counter

The actual running of the cafe was like diving into the deep end of the pool – it was hard to estimate the rhythms and flow of the business…

Hillendia after hours

The old saying of never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes came to mind. These last few weeks I have been much more patient and understanding in cafes. It’s a tough game.

a painting on loan from Luke Sciberras

Hillendia stenciled on the windows

In the end the crowds never quite came – the weather was against us. But the good will and generous feed back from the customers and people in the village warmed the space. Hillendia was there, for a moment, and now it’s gone. And there was something beautiful about it.

a lovely old dresser from the archive shed

so the sun came out at at the end of Easter…

The Beauty of Irregular Things

Harvesting a small crop of quinces from the orchard I was struck by their rare irregularity of size and shape. More usual is a uniformity of fruit and vegetables, flowers too.

evening walk through the village

looking through to clouds of insects

During the Tulipomania in 17th century Holland, one of the features that set off the craze was the ‘breaking’ of individual tulips. This occurred when a tulip, maybe one in a hundred, opened with a random and brilliant colour combination; pigments splashed like flames on the petals in a way never seen before. No one know the reason for it then, but it was discovered in the 1920s; it was a virus and it weakened the flower so it was bred out.

an original tiny house

There’s less straight lines in rural Australia. Crookedness exists still in the houses and sheds of the old Gold Rush towns. The buildings have an almost human individuality. You could given them a name.

2nd thoughts about window placement

a chimney that’s kind of a work of art

The thing is you can’t really go back to it. Impossible to recreate the handmade touch on a CAD drawing. Sometimes you see a version of it- often a drawing used to sell cookies or something similar, but it never looks quite right, always a bit forced. It’s a skilful job now- to preserve the buildings left to us yet to hold their authenticity and reality. Not to lose them like the beautiful broken tulips.

a posy from the garden

these geese think they own the village

A Picnic at Hanging Rock

photograph by @ingridweir

“On Saturday 14th February 1900 a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mt. Macedon in the state of Victoria.
During the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without trace…”

Miss McGraw from the film

photo by @helloemilie

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of my father’s film “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, I invited 4 Instagrammers whose feeds have inspired me for some time now – @mrpaddingtonbear @stephaniesomebody @helloemilie and @deanraphael to meet me at the Rock and share their artistic interpretations of the film.

that fateful Picnic…. still from the 1975 film

photo by @mrpaddingtonbear, dress by Lover

We planned to meet at the base of the Rock in the early afternoon, despite weather reports a thunderstorm was coming in.

photo by @helloemile

I arrived early on the hot and sultry day and found a group of schoolgirls, dressed in Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired clothes, gathered for a photo on their annual Valentines Day excursion.
It’s like that Hanging Rock. Coincidences and strange things happen there. You enter the park and are instantly on the location of the film. The majority of mobile phones cut out…

photo by @deanraphael

The question most people want to know is what happened to the girls. Joan Lindsay, the author, never answered the question. She begins the novel with an enigmatic introduction – saying whether this story is true or not hardly matters as the events occurred so long ago. Her secrets stayed with her.

“Waiting a million years, just for us”

lost on the Rock

The impending storm made our shoot a memorable experience. Growls of thunder were heard intermittently. The clouds rolled in… time seemed to speed up and go very fast.

by @deanraphael

by @helloemilie

In the end we were completely rained out. Soaked. Escaping down the Rock on the path through an otherworldly landscape of tree ferns, misty with rain and strangely very dark.

photograph by @deanraphael

“Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place” Miranda, Picnic at Hanging Rock

A Pie made with Apples from the Garden

Missing a country fix this week, so stole away for a few days. Got the total experience: the kangaroos grazing in golden afternoons, shaky legged little foals by the side of the road and an abundance of heritage apples fallen in the garden. The apple tree is of a very old English type and dates back to Gold Rush times. The apples are small and tart and delicious. There is something immensely special about making a recipe from food from your own garden…

the hour when the kangaroos all come out

an abundance of apples in the village

The lovely Country Apple Pie recipe I used…
5-6 apples, peeled cored and sliced ( I used 10 of the small sized heritage apples)
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon of flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 9-inch pie crust- store bought or homemade

a beautiful little foal seen alongside a country road

the apples from the tree on La Paloma pottery

Toss apples and raisins with lemon juice. Sprinkle vanilla extract 1 teaspoon at a time over fruit and toss after each sprinkling. Mix together remaining ingredients, except butter, and toss with fruit. Pour apple mixture into piecrust. Dot apples with thin slices of butter.
Top with piecrust and crimp bottom and top crusts together. Make slits in top crust so steam can escape during baking. Bake in a preheated 175 degree centigrade oven 45-50 minutes until golden brown. Serves eight to ten.

The Little Wonder in Bathurst, named after a gold mine

A Summer Evening in Coogee

Cabinet of Curiosities: hand made mushrooms at the Coogee Pavilion Rooftop bar

The beachside suburb of Coogee takes its name from an Aboriginal word meaning “smelly place”. I would associate the main intersection of Coogee with a fast food smell but I think they were referring to the decaying seaweed that washed up on the beach…

large bird mural in the Coogee Pavilion rooftop

the Ross Jones Memorial pool in South Coogee

Just recently Coogee has had a major shake up with Justin Hemmes opening the Coogee Pavilion Rooftop bar. Designed by Amanda Talbot, the Rooftop is generous in scale and feels fresh and new. To sit up on one of the city’s few rooftop gardens sampling the Turkish inspired dishes while the sun sets and the air gets all salty is a true Sydney summer experience.

the previous incarnation of the Coogee Pavilion; it has been and aquarium and a swimming pool

Many years ago, the Coogee Pavilion was housed an aquarium and 1935 saw the infamous “Shark Arm Murder” case. After a local fisherman caught a large shark at Coogee, he donated it to the aquarium: a few days later it vomited up a man’s arm. On closer inspection the arm had not been bitten off but sawn through. Tattooed on it was a distinctive tattoo of two boxers that led the police to the identity of the victim- a member of the vicious 1930s gangster underworld…

a Coogee apartment block

the whale nook in the Coogee Pavilion

There were no references in the current design to the shark arm that I could see but lots of interesting little nooks and vignettes. Sydney artisans from knitters to blacksmiths have been involved and it gives the space a real individuality. An eccentricity that somehow relates back to Coogee and its Victorian funfair history.

dramatic sting lights at the Coogee Pavilion downstairs

the bird inspector

At the south end of the beach are the fabled McIver’s Ladies Baths and the entry fee is still an unbelievable 20 cents.

how can anything be 20 cents ?

like an element from a stage set

Walking down the sandy grassy path to the pool, past the narrow old fashioned changing sheds is like entering a secret world. The pool itself is more like a rock pool and winds its way around the cliffs. Apparently this is where the Aboriginal women would come to swim. This is another magic spot in Sydney- a swim here followed by roof top drinks could just make a perfect night.

at McIver’s Ladies Baths…

the rainbow lorikeet tree

Designing a pop-up bar at the Opera House

The Sydney Opera House transcends being a building- Utzon’s sails are embedded deep in the collective unconscious. It’s kind of mythical. I’ve loved it for a very long time, ever since I was a child & then later when studying Architecture at Sydney University. This summer I designed a pop up bar to go on the Western Promenade for the month of January. . .
sometimes a dream job just finds you-

the magical approach by ferry

the bow tie & braces uniform of the bar staff

Being a UNESCO heritage building there are many protective regulations in place but for 40 days of the year the rules are relaxed with the “Summer at the House” program. In 2015 the theme was “Beach”. To get a handle on it I started to think about the unique flavour of Sydney in summer- that relaxed, casual, abundant feeling. Anyone can go down to the harbour, to a park or a public area, take a picnic and have a millionaires’ view. I wanted this bar to be somewhere where people would feel at their absolute best. . .

the inspiration – Jackie Onassis on Skorpios

The reference that seemed to encapsulate that feeling was a photo of Aristotle Onassis and Jackie on their private Greek Island, dressed all summery, under a pergola dripping with vines. Also influential was the look and feel of the Soho House group: their masterful mix of the simple and rustic with the sophisticated that create a unique feeling of comfort and charm.

checking back over my concept document

the lucky anchor I found on the beach

Even though it looks onto the stunning vista of the city, the Bridge and passing boats, the actual area in front of the Playhouse is windswept and harsh. The bar needed to provide patrons shelter from the rain and sun. I also wanted to bring in a sense of fun and to do this, used a colour palette of Indian Red, Turmeric Yellow and Aqua Blue. Hot spicy colours that promised a good time.

the front of the cool room

the waterside bar front of the kitchen/bar cabana

The footprint was 1000 square meters and comprised of a lounge area, bar/kitchen cabana and a pergola where musicians would perform every night. An engineer had to certify the structures for a high wind rating. Given that is was only for a month, the strokes had to be broad.

looking through to the kitchen/bar cabana

the circus like canopy of lights

The bar is coming to an end in a few days: it will be dismantled and packed up – the show will be over. What I’ll remember most, apart from the challenges of the process, are the actual nights spent there. Lying on the cushions with friends drinking pina coladas and listening to beautiful live music. The canopy of lights glowing next to the sails. And a couple of times when stepping back and looking up, the privilege of designing a space, however temporal, at the Sydney Opera House.

that view…

The Sydney Summer

I’d been wanting to write this blog post since Sydney’s jacarandas were in bloom but my very sick little computer had to be send away to the Apple store to convalesce… I’d been thinking about the mood of the Sydney summer – the abundant flowers spilling over backyard fences, the evening swims in salt water pools, & the easy festive socialising…

looking down to the Bondi Icebergs pool…

at Kaspia’s Caravan pop up shop

Among the traditional signs of summer a new contender is emerging in Sydney: the pop up shop. Like all temporal things there is a freshness to these spaces – a low fi looseness of style. The goods are authentic- containers just unpacked from Morocco and Pakistan like in Kaspia’s Caravan and piles of cushions, throws and scarves from India at Sally Campbell’s Handmade Textiles.

mural by James Gulliver Hancock at Kaspia’s Caravan

The dynamism of the spaces often extends to collaborations with artists; the murals by James Gulliver Hancock at Kaspia’s Caravan are inspired by the motifs in the rugs of traditional nomads that are stacked and piled round the room – carrying on the bohemian tradition of what was once Sydney’s famous Yellow House.

fool house products at etsy at David Jones

etsy workshops at David Jones

The other form of the Christmas pop up is collective of Australian makers as seen at The Design Residency in Darlinghurst and Unwrap Etsy at David Jones. The inaugural Etsy event was held on the dramatic 7th floor of the David Jones city store with panoramic views out over the park and cathedral. Entering though a massive macrame and rose installation by artist Cleo Ryan I came upon a room buzzing with energy: stalls and stall holders, workshop tables under the large windows, dumplings by Miss Chu, a Photo Booth and the comforting sound of a well run expresso machine. This carefully curated collection of talent made for a stimulating experience: I loved the “curios for any room or reason” from foolhouse, Brian Dakin-Davies’ redesigned African fabrics, and the ‘stitch your own adventure maps’ from Sconnie and Jam. It’s great to have a real life focal point for these online artisans – who knows what creative collaborations might come out of casual meetings at this years event…

Cleo Ryan’s massive macrame installation at David Jones

a summer evening light

Its been a very sad week in Sydney & a shocking one. With people dazed from this unexpected turn of events, the mood on the streets has been different to ever before. But for me too it has reinforced the preciousness of Sydney and what makes it beautiful and unique.

Real, Raw Beauty

There’s a spareness, a lack of clutter in the country. The textures are different to the city. There’s more old, rusted things, lots of spare parts lying around. Sometimes they’ve been there so long that they are bleached like a bone- simmered down to an essence. Machine skeletons.

the bones of a petrol pump

the texture of a gum tree

Looking through a book on Georgia O’Keefe’s houses – you can see how she embraced this aesthetic. The cow’s skulls, the simple black and white clothes, the houses with minimal, purist furnishings. Objects gathered from nature. Stripped back, her spaces become timeless.

Georgia O’Keefe’s studio, photo by the National Park Service

up above the clouds

old cars out at the tip

Sometimes when friends stay I show them the village’s tip: a drive out into the bush, then an area with a big hole in the ground that you throw garbage into. Wild cats and crows scatter around when you come close. Next to the hole is a pile of twisted metal and old cars. It’s so different to the way waste is treated in the city. Somehow it makes you pause. An avant garde theatre director could stage a Samuel Beckett play here.

I like these layers, this access to other eras. It’s not the pretty side of the country – the lambs gamboling, the huge fragrant roses blooming. But it is real. Authentic.

the herd of wild goats that roams near the lookout… ….now I just need to find some of their horns