Balance Architecture Revisits Mid Century Modernism

Over the last few weeks several critics have complained that we only like ‘historical buildings’ as if that somehow disqualifies our opinion. Well, yes we do like historical buildings with their fine craftsmanship, artistry and detail but we also appreciate those Architects who, during the mid 20th century, looked to provide innovative and spacious living for home owners and public buildings – mid century modernism.

Balance Architecture invites owners of such dwellings and custodions of public buildings of this period to consider a full appraisal and report that can be utilised when applying for Heritage recognition and, ultimately, listing. 

From Bayside to Macleod, from Eastern Beach, Geelong to Black Rock and Beaumaris, these iconic buildings must be saved and preserved. 
In November 2018 we published the following article “Modernism – Time to Protect Mid Century Modernism with Heritage Listing” – read and enjoy:

Modernism – Time to Protect Mid Century Modernism with Heritage Listing

Many people seem to have a skewed view of what Heritage actually means. For a start it doesn’t just refer to architecture. But here that is our primary concern and interest. We live in an evolving city and society. Buildings perceived to be of Heritage significance are often grand mansions with the Italianate or greco embellishments of the mid to late 19th Century.

Where it became really interesting was in the mid 20th Century when Architects like Robyn Boyd and Harry Siedler started to visualise a different type of build for the Australian climate, its landscape and population density. Modernism was to define the future direction of residential architecture from the 1950s and ‘60s onwards.

What is Modernism?

Modernism is a more socially informed way of building spaces and items for living according to need and function. It could be best deemed as a cluster of design ideals, beginning at the start of the Twentieth Century, which stemmed from an aversion to the ornate excesses of the recent Victorian style, and a reaction to industrialisation.

It is generally recognised that Modernist design formally established in Europe in 1919, with the opening of the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany. The school incorporated the combination of arts and craft disciplines and innovators such as Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Frank Lloyd Wright, an American of this time, who derived much of his inspiration from the open living spaces of Japanese homes, also held huge influence on the following century of architects.

The philosophies and practice of these people and many others, evolved, traveled and in post WW2 became the defining philosophy for many architects and designers, thus this era is loosely dubbed Mid-Century.

Many extraordinary examples of public and domestic Mid-Century Architecture can be seen worldwide, Australia is no exception. Touched by freshness of the Modernist ethos, combined with the post-war boom time economy, suburbs, cities and costal regions became the location of many ‘Modern’ structures and interior design.

Examples of Australian domestic Modernism vary from the heritage listed houses of Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd, to classic 1960s pastel pre-fab tract housing – still sighted in the tea tree scrub of coastal towns to this day.

Modernist public buildings range from university faculties to suburban pools to the premier architectural icon of Australia – The Sydney Opera House.

Attributes that denote Modernist Mid-Century homes and design may be:

  • Use of the natural elements to regulate temperature, air-flow and efficiency of the home’s energy use eg: Solar Passive Design.
  • Flat or single angled rooflines.
  • Floor to ceiling windows.
  • Clean lines and open plan spaces.
  • Specific attention paid to the site pre-construction and the building’s placement within the block eg: The front of the house does not have to face the street.
  • Split-levels and sunken living areas.
  • Uninterrupted Indoor/outdoor areas.
  • Lack of decorative and ornate styling such as ceiling roses, iron lacework etc.
  • The use of new materials and technology from the era eg: laminate, stainless steel, large scale glass panes, plastics, concrete and also natural and textural surfaces of interest such as wood paneling, slate, shag carpets, woven curtains.

In Modernist furniture simple shapes, functionality, mass production, geometric forms, new textile design and the use of ‘modern’ materials such as stainless steel, are at the forefront.

As definitions and design theory within the 20th Century are endlessly debated, we’ll be inclusive and encompassing of all variations which may be titled Mid-century. From the pastel kitsch of 1950s domesticity, to the stark concrete monsters of Brutalist Architecture, the aim is to appreciate and discuss all.


The desire to preserve this unique awakening of Australian architecture has been somewhat of a ‘slowburn’.

The activism became much more urgent in August last year when a number of iconic residences in Beaumaris, Caulfield, Studley Park and the Mornington Peninsula came under real threat of demolition and in two notable cases the properties were demolished.

The matter was canvassed widely in the Fairfax press at the time.

Online advocates fight to save Melbourne’s modernist masterpieces

Architecture enthusiasts are banding together against the wrecker’s ball.

When the Burgess house’s eagle-nest eyrie lit up at night, neighbours dubbed the building “Muckle Flugga”, after the Scottish lighthouse. With its flat roof, cantilevered balconies, extensive interior wood panelling and large fireplace, this 1957 Chancellor and Patrick designed home in bayside Beaumaris is a beacon of mid-century modernity.

Along with Studley Park and the Mornington Peninsula, Beaumaris is one of the “‘epicentres of mid-century modernity”, says Simon Reeves, architectural historian and director of Built Heritage. In the excitement of the post-war housing boom, young couples wanting to start families took to the new subdivisions of Studley Park and Beaumaris. The consequence of this development was a rich trove of mid-century modernist buildings.

“While there are some excellent pockets of mid-century housing in Toorak and South Yarra, Studley Park and Beaumaris have that historic cohesion,” Reeves says. “Like Palm Springs in California, it has a similar time frame and cohesion.”

Ironically, their modest simplicity has been one of the factors undermining the preservation of modernist buildings, says Rohan Storey, a heritage consultant who worked for National Trust for 20 years. “While the community accepts Victorian [era architecture as historically significant], the whole community doesn’t yet accept modernism as heritage. Some people still think they’re ugly, plain or ordinary. It’s a function of the types of houses they are and not enough time [having] elapsed.”

Over the past 15 years in Beaumaris, homes by well-known modernist architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Roy Grounds have succumbed to demolition. But a sea change is occurring. Time is one factor. Mid-century modernism is sufficiently old enough, people are more interested and the internet and social media have raised awareness and celebrated these buildings for their clean lines, elegant detailing and simple indoor-outdoor living.

A new generation of mid-century fans – many of them designers – are coveting the area, according to interior designer Fiona Austin, founder of the website Beaumaris Modern. Other websites, such as Modernist Australia, post real-estate listings as mid-century homes come on the market. Increasingly, such sites and social media groups have become politically activist as well. Nothing galvanises a group more than seeing cherished houses succumb to the wrecking ball.

In Sydney, the Sirius building was saved largely through a campaign by the Save our Sirius website. In July, Modernist Australia raised awareness that emigre architect Anatol Kagan’s Lind house in Caulfield North was to be replaced by eight townhouses. The City of Glen Eira obtained an interim reprieve, and Planning Minister Richard Wynne this week granted an interim protection order.

“There’s no doubt that the advocacy by groups such as Modernist Australia influenced [Glen Eira] Council to show leadership on this issue,” says Felicity Watson, advocacy manager for National Trust of Australia (Victoria). “The rise of online interest groups is a great thing for heritage advocacy.”

Building on this grassroots advocacy, the trust aims to lobby local and state government to invest in heritage assessments and planning scheme amendments specifically targeting significant post-war places.

“We are currently working with a group of experts to develop a Suburban Modern campaign, to be launched in the coming months,” Watson says.

While councils are obliged to regularly do heritage reviews, post-war buildings rarely cross the radar. “The City of Glen Eira has not listed a single place built after 1940,” Storey says. “Unfortunately Beaumaris, in particular, is under siege by developers and from people who want to build McMansions.”

Prospective buyers have to compete with developers’ deep pockets eager to maximise typically large sites. But for how long? “Heritage saves the property forever and doesn’t rely on a good owner to save it until they sell it and it might be under threat again,” Storey says.

It’s in this spirit of raising awareness that Beaumaris Modern was launched.

“If Peter McIntyre’s house in Pasadena Avenue with its curved roof got knocked down there’s not another, it’s experimental,” Austin says. “Once it’s gone it’s gone. That’s the crux as to why they should be saved.”

Historic awareness travels upstream also. Having “ground-up” online resources can uncover new information contributing to the incremental knowledge of architectural and social history.

“There are no obscure architects,” says Reeves, whose website posts a “dictionary of unsung architects”. “These are just individuals whose work hasn’t been researched or written about. No one had heard of Kagan 10 years ago. It’s not that everything they ever designed is notable or worth heritage listing. It’s about putting them in context.”


Alas, the home in Beaumaris, designed by Architects Chancellor and Patrick in 1962, located at Mariemont Avenue, has been demolished.

‘Significant’ Chancellor and Patrick Bayside house demolished

A house in the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris, designed by architects Chancellor and Patrick in 1962, has been demolished. The demolition took place on Monday 13 August, after a demolition permit was granted by the local council City of Bayside.

The house in Mariemont Avenue was included in a 2008 heritage study of inter- and post-war heritage in the Bayside area commissioned by the council and carried out by Heritage Alliance.

The house is listed as part of a collection of houses on Mariemont Avenue, which is home to eleven houses designed architects including John Baird, Kurt Popper and Brian O’Connor in addition to the now-demolished home by Chancellor and Patrick, which was identified as one of five “significant” houses.

“Although the work of these and other architects is well-represented in Beaumaris,” said the report, “there are very few instances where these houses survive in cohesive rows or in such close proximity.”

The house itself, the report goes on to say, “although slightly altered by overpainting, is an otherwise interesting example of the work of this important post-war firm.”

The house was sold in May 2017 for $2,315,000, according to

Fiona Austin, president of the Beaumaris Modern heritage preservation group, said that the fact that the only heritage citation available for the house was a decade old – and only evaluated the house in the context of the street – stymied attempts to secure intervention from Heritage Victoria.

She told ArchitectureAU that in the future the group would consider attempts to “bypass” the council by commissioning its own heritage studies of threatened properties.

The group is now turning its attention to a house on Beach Road, designed by Arthur Russell of Demaine, Russell, Trundle, Armstrong and Orton.

In April, after just a month, the council discontinued an independent heritage study of Beaumaris and Black Rock, one of Australia’s most dense collections of residential mid-century modernist architecture. The study would have identified properties for possible heritage listing.

The council instead adopted an opt-in system whereby the owners of the relevant properties will be able to self-nominate their properties for heritage controls.

Beaumaris is home to a proportionally large number of houses by some of Melbourne’s most significant modernist architects and practices, including Anatol Kagan, Yuncken Freeman and Chancellor and Patrick.

Rex Patrick of Chancellor and Patrick, lived in a house of his own design in nearby Cheltenham before moving to Beaumaris later in life.


More fortunately, Lind House in North Caulfield has been saved from the wreckers hammer and is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Located at 450 Dandenong Road, the Heritage Council determined that it is of cultural heritage significance to the State of Victoria and should be included on the Register.

The property’s features include motifs associated with European Modernism, such as a broad-eaved butterfly roof, window walls, feature stone cladding and articulation as an ‘upside down house’ with principal living areas at the upper level, creating the effect of an elevated volume.

The new state heritage controls now replace the local heritage controls which Council received in March 2018.

Glen Eira Mayor Cr Tony Athanasopoulos said in August 2017 Council lodged a nomination with the Executive Director of Heritage Victoria to include Lind House on the Victorian Heritage Register.

“The Executive Director recommended that Lind House was not of Victorian State heritage significance and that Council consider the property for local heritage protection only,” he said.

“Council objected to this recommendation which then escalated the matter to a Heritage Council hearing.”

Cr Tony Athanasopoulos said a hearing was held on 8 March into these submissions where Council argued that the intactness of the property and significance of the architect ─ Anatol Kagan ─ justified Lind House cultural heritage significance and should be included.

“The Committee disagreed with the Executive Director’s recommendation and agreed with Council’s arguments,” he said.

The Committee stated:

  • that it was persuaded by Glen Eira’s submissions in relation to the unique European design elements of the place, and its ability to demonstrate “first-hand” Modernist residential architecture;
  • that the intactness of the exterior elements are notable to a high degree; and
  • that the property is a fine and highly intact example of post-war Modernist residential architecture.

Mr Kagan was renowned for his contribution to mid-century modernist architecture in Melbourne during the post-war period. Council is embarking on an extensive program to review and update the heritage protection in Glen Eira. A Major Heritage Review of Glen Eira will commence in June to undertake a municipal-wide heritage review to identify gaps and protect significant heritage properties currently not identified within the Glen Eira Planning Scheme.


For the cynics, it’s good to be aware that these homes were designed for living in and not to be museum pieces. Large, open and expansive, it allowed for a style and comfort unknown in Australia prior to their construction.

Developers are attracted to these properties as they usually sit upon very large blocks in superb locations. The property demolished recently in Beaumaris had sold in May 2017 for $2,315,000. Consider that depending upon the redevelopment proposed the developer is aiming to triple or quadruple this initial investment.

The Victorian Heritage Register is in fact your passport to our history, our culture and dare we say it – our future. In this case Glen Eira Council were pro-active and saved a beautiful building from destruction. Yet in Beaumaris, Bayside Council is simply not supportive of preserving this valuable heritage.

As is demonstrated in both cases, it is only with citizen action that the case for Heritage preservation can effectively be put. The choice is yours. Stand by and watch – or get involved.

For further assistance in the preservation, renovation or Heritage Listing of your property call now on 0418 341 443. Andrew Fedorowicz, our Principal Architect will be pleased to assist you.  In rural Victoria appointments can be made for onsite visits, whilst in Melbourne you can schedule a virtual consultation, or alternatively, arrange for an onsite consultation post-lockdown (estimated to be mid October). Or you can simply click here to leave your details for a prompt reply. 

Heritage – it belongs to all of us.

Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Facadism – The Token Gesture by Developers Towards Heritage Preservation.

Former ANZ Bank Building, Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.

In the last week in South Melbourne we have been reminded of the reality of facadism. Work has commenced on the seven-storey project to the rear of the former ANZ Bank in Clarendon Street – the demolition of the meticulously planned and implemented 1970’s addition to the rear of the original Heritage Listed banking chambers. At the time the construction was supervised by the National Trust, we believe to ensure it was in keeping with the original Heritage Listing of the building. It has now been demolished, as well as the original 19th Century shop and dwelling next door. Viewed from the laneway the shop was as originally constructed. Hawthorn bricks laid by convict labour, original windows, framing and glass all now removed. What is left is a façade – you can see daylight through the front door and windows onto Clarendon Street.

Demolition of the rear of the former ANZ Bank building.

Facadism is a blight on our Heritage precincts. We have addressed the subject earlier this year in February (February 16, 2021) and again in March (March 18, 2021).  Basically the City of Melbourne has cried “Enough!” and such developments within the City of Melbourne municipality will now be heavily restricted with regards to facadism. 

Seeing daylight through the facade left behind.

As the previous article stated facadism is the mask used by Developers. In inner city locations such as South Melbourne, Collingwood, Richmond and Abbotsford no such protection as that afforded by the City of Melbourne Amendments is available, so the destruction continues.

When will the City of Port Melbourne decide “Enough is enough?”

This is not just an issue in Melbourne, it’s a universal tactic employed by Developers and their Architects to the detriment of Historical Heritage Buildings world-wide. London, in particular, has suffered much with the excesses of facadism. From the Architectural Review, January 2nd 2018, reprint of an article from The Gentle Author

We must stand up to the creeping plague of facadism, an infection spreading across the developments of London

As if I were being poked repeatedly in the eye with a blunt stick, I cannot avoid becoming increasingly aware of a painfully cynical trend in architecture that threatens to turn London into the backlot of an abandoned movie studio. If walls could speak, these would tell tales of bad compromises and angry developers who, dissatisfied with the meagre notion of repair and reuse, are driven solely by remorseless greed.

Meanwhile, bullied into sacrificing historic buildings of merit, cowed planning authorities must take consolation in the small mercy of retaining a facade. The result is that architects are humiliated into creating passive-aggressive structures – gross hybrids of conflicted intentions that scream ‘Look what you made me do!’ in bitter petulant resentment.

At present in Spitalfields, we are presented with a textbook example of such an affront – the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, a high-quality building from 1927 by architect Sydney Perks, enhanced by wooden parquet floors, careful detailing and significant craft elements throughout. In recent decades, it was home to more than a hundred independent businesses employing local people. This redevelopment was forced through by the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, against the unanimous wishes of Tower Hamlets’ planning committee, and before construction commenced it was pre-let to a single tenant, Ashurst, an international legal corporation.

The Duke of Cambridge dating from 1823 with its new shiny crown courtesy of Guy Hollaway Architects.

Axis Architects, working for the developer Exemplar, retained only the frontage of the building with its stone cornice and brick wall. Currently, precast panels of ‘bricks’ and ‘stone’ are being hung on the steel structure that sits behind it. These panels of bricks have an artful irregularity designed into them and an attempt is being made to match the tone of the cast ‘stone’ with the actual stone on the fragment of the earlier building. Yet these panels are already becoming chipped and damaged even as they are being put in place, and no one is fooled by this patronising approach to co-ordinate the old and the new. Indeed, the conflict between these elements manifests the conflict of interests that produced this ungainly chimera.

‘A kind of authenticity’ is the language of British Land’s oxymoronic attempt to sell facadism in the publicity for its proposed Norton Folgate office development by Stanton Williams, where it shows an image of the front wall of a 19th-century warehouse pasted onto the lower floors of a towering office block as if it were a Penny Black glued onto a Jiffy bag. This misguided notion assumes there might be 57 varieties of authenticity, when ‘authentic’ is not a relative term – something is either authentic or it is phoney.

Alan Sugar’s development of the 13th century The White Hart pub by Rolfe Judd

I fear Spitalfields is quickly becoming the epicentre of facadism in London, with the recent completion of Alan Sugar’s shameless redevelopment of The White Hart, dating from 1240, into a cylindrical tower block designed by Rolfe Judd with just the outer wall of one of London’s most historic taverns stuck on the front. 

Meanwhile up the road in Bethnal Green, The Duke of Cambridge, dating from 1823, has had an aggressively Modernist steel and glass building forcibly inserted into the shell of its dignified brick structure by Guy Hollaway Architects on behalf of Heath Holdings. Such is the conflict between the old and the new, you can almost feel the humiliation and pain of the original building. The ugliness of the outcome is a pertinent slap in the face, reminding us how blatantly any concern for architecture is being sacrificed in this approach. This disastrous hybrid is an unfortunate totem of where we are now, an object lesson for architectural students of what not to do, and we may be assured future generations will laugh in horror and derision at the folly of it. 

The carcass of the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, designed in 1927 by architect Sydney Perks.

Sticking a new building behind the shell of the former building in this manner is a pitiful way to go about things. It is not worthy of the term architecture. As resources grow ever fewer, the practice of sacrificing good-quality buildings for cheapjack disposable replacements cannot be justified. The default choice must always be to repurpose and reconfigure existing buildings. Some of the greatest of our cathedrals and country houses are the outcome of this approach to architecture, palimpsests in which the history of the building’s evolution can be read by the perceptive viewer.

In every case, it is paramount that attention be paid to any structure as an architectural whole, rather than simply sticking a new shed behind an old facade. Taking existing buildings and reworking them sympathetically to serve new purposes requires much more sophisticated thinking from architects and developers than is in evidence in these hideous structures, which manifest the lamentable trend of facadism that blights our age.

Photographs courtesy of The Gentle Author

With many buildings ‘protected’ by local government Heritage Overlays the simple fact is that the original buildings are currently not properly listed in terms of the full three dimensional composition of the nominated properties. Facadism sees the demolition and removal of significant craftsmanship and ornamental features. These are simply not undertaken in modern construction methodologies and finishings. 

One of the worst examples of the absurdity of facadism is in Market Street, South Melbourne . The façade of an older warehouse stands in front of a new forecourt and multi-storey, modern apartment block. It’s a statement, it screams “We were forced to do this” and, no doubt, in ten year’s time will be condemned and removed on safety implication

Warehouse facade in Market Street, South Melbourne dwarfed by apartment block.

The State Government must move to legislate to ensure all Local Government will follow the leadership of the City of Melbourne in regard to facadism – there must be an end to such rampant development and Local Councils must step up and take more responsibility. The  building demolished in South Melbourne this week hardly rated a mention in the Developer’s plans. With such a significant Heritage Listed building next door, and the Clarendon Street shopping precinct also Listed (a State treasure) you might expect more interest from the City of Port Philip Council? The development was overseen and passed by one Officer from the Planning Department, there was no discussion, no debate and, frankly, no interest. It is simply not good enough. 

Heritage is Precious – Once It’s Gone It’s Lost Forever – Protect It. 

Heritage Town of Victoria’s Goldrush Era

Currently Balance Architecture is working on several projects in the greater Bendigo area. The first is a rather grand and statuesque home with Edwardian origins, first constructed in approximately 1903. Like many such properties it has seen a number of expansions and additions, not to mention some dubious renovations as was the fashion of the time when changes were made during the 1950s through to the 1970s. It was all about “modernising” whatever the cost and the removal of older, more ornate features to achieve the popular mid-century modern genre of the times. The second project is the restoration of a Miner’s Cottage. In both instances Principal Architect for Balance Architecture, Andrew Fedorowicz, will restore the properties to a condition befitting their Heritage status as well as according superb liveability and comfort. 

Bendigo features some magnificent Heritage properties, the result of the fabulous wealth achieved during the Victorian Goldrush in the area. Fortuna Villa is one of these extraordinary properties. In 2018 we published an article detailing its history and architecture. It’s well worth re-visiting so we are taking the opportunity to republish it here in full. It’s quite the read, so sit back, pour yourself a coffee or a cup of tea and enjoy. 

Fortuna Villa – Riches beyond imagination

Gold – that beautiful precious metal – is what Bendigo is built upon. This week we look at one of Bendigo’s most famous Mansions – Fortuna Villa, a building of over 40 rooms. Its original owner was George Lansell, a very successful mining investor. George invested in deep mining of Quartz reefs. He went deeper than anyone had before him and his reward was fabulous wealth. His home was full of exotica from all over the planet – his garden too was filled with rare and exotic plants from mystical and secret places, most of which are now long gone.

Bendigo has produced over 9 billion dollars worth of Gold since the 1850s – that’s $9,000,000,000, the second highest producing Goldfield in Australia to Kalgoorlie. No wonder historic, elaborate bank buildings line the streets of old Bendigo. Originally discovered by the wives of two farm workers on a pastoral lease, a Mrs Kennedy and a Mrs Farrell, alluvial gold mining soon made way to deep shaft mining after 10 years. After 100 years the Bendigo Goldfield represented the largest concentration of deep mine shafts for Gold anywhere in the world.

George Lansell was born in 1823 in Kent, England. As a young man, George and his two brothers emigrated to Echunga in South Australia to ‘pan for Gold’. The Lansells were soap and candle makers by trade. By late in 1853 George Lansell and his brothers Wooten and William had moved to Bendigo and set up their business as butchers, soap and candle manufacturers. By 1855 Stockbrokers were visiting George and encouraging him to invest n deep shaft mining. By 1860 he had invested, lost and reinvested a number of times. He was learning what was required to be successful at this type of mining. By 1865 – a bad year for mining in Bendigo – Lansell took advantage of the tough times and bought up many shares in the Advance Mining Company and Cinderella Mine. He insisted that the miners go deeper than ever before and from then on he and his companies reaped massive rewards. By the 1870s he had accumulated a large fortune from the Garden Gully Mine and he then purchased the 180 mine. Although he was initially always on the edge of financial ruin, his methods paid off and he became a Millionaire, a philanthropist and returned to London. He was petitioned by the Bendigo Mining industry to return and in the late 1880s he did return. George continued to build onto the house Fortuna he purchased in 1871. He collected furniture, sculptures and art from around the globe. Outside he designed a spacious estate featuring walks, lakes and imported plants and flora. He died in 1906 with his second wife surviving him until 1933. His mansion was in fact directly opposite his prosperous Fortuna Mine.

His second wife Edith and their six children lived there, she remained there until her death. He commenced his lavish building program immediately after he purchased the property in 1871.

Generally described as ‘over the top’, it was opulent and went far beyond being utilitarian. Drapes covered faux windows, mantle pieces appeared from nowhere. The impression was one of immense wealth – and power.

George Lansell enjoyed the beauty of classical Europe and the Orient and the ‘villa’ very much reflected his personal style and tastes.

The house came close to being demolished after the death of his second wife Edith Lansell. Edith had continued to add to the house and its contents up until her death. One of the interlinked mining companies sold off the contents of the house with much of the collection saved. Many of the items have been displayed in the Post Office Gallery in Bendigo and the Bendigo Art Gallery.

By 1942 it had been acquired by the Federal Government Department of Defence and used as a Map Making facility during WWII and remained in the hands of the Defence Department until 2008.

It is now in the hands of a private owner who permits regular tours and public access after 65 years of being closed.

According to the Heritage Council of Victoria, Fortuna Villa’s description is as follows:

“The Villa is a rambling three storey asymmetrical rendered brick mansion, in a variety of styles , predominantly French Second Empire and Queen Anne”, reflecting the various periods of construction. Cast Iron Balconies decorate the North, East and West elevations. The original house, purchased in 1971, is encompassed in the centre of the present house and is much altered. Originally it was designed in 1857 and extended to the further designs of Bendigo Architects Vahland and Getzschmann, Emil Mauermann and William Beebe.

By the early Twentieth Century, Lansell had expanded the house to over 40 rooms, one of the largest in Victoria. Lansell transformed the industrial site of settling ponds and tailings dumps into spacious gardens and ornamental lakes, extravagant fountains and follies, with pathways and exotic plantings.

The estate is actually located atop of the rich New Chum reef.

How is it significant?

Fortuna satisfies the following criterion for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register:

  • Criterion A Importance to the course, or pattern, of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion B Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion C Potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion D Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects
  • Criterion E Importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics
  • Criterion H Special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Victoria’s history.

Why is it significant?

Fortuna is significant at the State level for the following reasons:

Fortuna demonstrates key historic phases of Victoria’s history, notably the gold mining era, the development of the City of Bendigo and the history of defence in the state. The Fortuna cultural landscape is associated with the gold mining industry of Bendigo, particularly the extraction of gold from the richest quartz reef in the world in the nineteenth century, which had a significant influence on the settlement of Bendigo. (Criterion A)

Fortuna is an outstanding demonstration of the wealth and prosperity of Bendigo and Victoria during the gold rush period. The quartz-crushing works attached to the mansion represent a direct link between its owners’ wealth and its source. Fortuna is historically significant as the home of two of Australia’s wealthiest gold-mining families, Christopher and Theodore Ballerstedt, the earliest successful reef miners on the Bendigo goldfields. These men are often referred to as Australia’s first mining magnates, and George Lansell, known as the ‘Quartz King’, one of Australia’s most successful and adventurous nineteenth century mine owners. Although there were no mines on the Fortuna site, the estate was developed largely on the waste from Lansell’s 180 mine, north of Fortuna, which was one of the richest mines in Bendigo. The ore treatment site was gradually transformed into a picturesque landscape of lakes and gardens. Fortuna demonstrates the lavish lifestyle of the very wealthy families of Victoria’s gold-rush period. (Criterion A)

Fortuna is an example of the large private properties appropriated by the military during World War II, and has been in Defence control since 1942, when it was acquired as a base for mapping activities. It was the headquarters of the Survey Corps, later the Army Survey Regiment, until 1966 when it became the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO). The work of the regiment was highly important for the war effort, as preparing maps was a matter of urgency. New techniques based on American methods were developed at Fortuna, including innovations in aerial photographic surveys, and cartographic and lithographic techniques. (Criterion A)

Fortuna has a number of features which are rare in Victoria. It was rare for such a lavish house to be built so close to the industrial works that were source of the wealth that created it, in this case the crushing works for the ore from the Ballerstedt and later the Lansell gold mines. This reflects the need for security to protect the gold produced on the site. The survival of a nineteenth century villa estate, with a grand house surrounded by its original garden, is also unusual in an urban setting, and many of Fortuna’s garden structures, such as the iron fountain, rotunda and iron arbour are now relatively rare. Other rare features at Fortuna include the Pompeii fountain and the Roman bath, whose significance is increased by its origin as a tailings treatment pool built by the Ballerstedts in the 1860s. (Criterion B)

Fortuna has archaeological significance for its potential to contain historical archaeological features, deposits and objects associated with the establishment, development and use of the place. In particular the battery house is likely to contain archaeological features and relics associated with the operation of Lansell’s quartz crushing battery (and possibly remains of an earlier battery belonging to Ballerstedt), and other mining activities. 

The area in the direct vicinity of the house has the potential to contain historical archaeological features, deposits and objects associated with the construction and use of the place, including sub-floor deposits, refuse and garden or landscape features. (Criterion C)

Fortuna is an outstanding and relatively intact example of an extensive nineteenth century villa estate. The house, developed over several decades, is significant as one of the grandest residences built in Victoria in the nineteenth century. The villa is significant for its outstanding collection of stained and etched glass windows, for its ornate plaster and pressed metal ceilings and parquet floors, and for its now rare intact early bathrooms. The conservatory is significant for its outstanding glass workmanship, and is regarded as among the most important examples of its kind in Australia. The Pompeii fountain is unique in Victoria and indeed in Australia. The Roman bath is significant as a rare feature in a nineteenth century villa, and is the only known surviving private swimming pool from this period in Victoria. (Criterion D)

Fortuna is aesthetically significant for its decorative architecture, its remaining interiors and for its landscape setting and garden buildings and structures. The picturesque landscape extensively planted with trees, shrubs, garden beds and lawns is located on high ground that retains an undulating and modified land form of a former mining site with terracing, walls, steps, fences and gates, roads and paths and a lake, being a former settling pond. The contrasting and extensive plantings consisting of conifers, evergreen and deciduous trees, palms, shrubs, herbaceous plants, camellias and roses form a garden of aesthetic significance. Fortuna’s gardens, at their peak, were a marvel of aesthetic design, and many significant plantings remain. (Criterion E)

Fortuna is inextricably linked with George Lansell, the ‘Quartz King’, Australia’s first gold mining millionaire, who is credited with being the driving force behind much of Bendigo’s early prosperity. Lansell made a significant contribution to the mining industry in Bendigo and is credited with the introduction of technologies such as the diamond drill for quartz mining. Fortuna Villa and its grounds were Lansell’s passions and he decorated them extravagantly. (Criterion H)

Fortuna is also significant for the following reasons, but not at the State level:

Fortuna is of historical significance at a local level for its association with the history of Bendigo.

Fortuna is a historic landmark in Bendigo. It symbolises the founding of the town, and is important as a reference point in the community’s sense of identity. Many of the town’s citizens have worked on the site and several active community-based social groups have been formed to actively promote the history and importance of the site. The community, through the City of Greater Bendigo, has shown a profound interest in the future of the site.

Fortuna is significant for its association with one of Australia’s wealthiest gold magnates, Christopher Ballerstedt, who played an important role in the development of Bendigo’s gold mining industry. It is a demonstration of the work of the prominent Bendigo architects, Vahland & Getschmann, E Maurmann and W Beebe.


All in all a rather significant building and a spectacular history, but there is a final chapter.

In 2017 the Fortuna Villa Estate was released for public sale. The masterplan offers modern housing – houses and townhouses positioned in a horseshoe configuration facing back at the Estate’s Lake and Historic Mansion.

According to the Estate’s website it consists of “79 contemporary architectural residences on one of Bendigo’s most renowned locations.”

You can view the development here

For us it certainly provides a major juxtaposition to the eccentricity and charm of the old estate. But you will experience “spectacular views of gardens, lake, historic villa and uninterrupted views over Bendigo”.

The last question is whether it resonates with the Heritage Listing and its reasons for protecting the original Fortuna Villa. We’ll let you be the judge of that.

Restoring your property to its true Heritage configuration will add value, not to mention immense personal pleasure and, if done correctly, genuine liveability to your home. If your property is Heritage Listed or part of a Heritage Overlay contact Balance Architecture now for a free consultation to discuss possible renovation and restoration. Call 0418 341 443 and speak directly with our Principal Architect, Andrew Fedorowicz.  Alternatively, leave your details here for a prompt response and scheduled appointment. Create the home you’ve always dreamed of with Balance Architecture.  

Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

No Development for Sites of Illegal Heritage Demolition for Up To 10 Years.

It would appear that new legislation has been implemented to control the activities of rogue developers such as the Corkman Cowboys. Back in February this year (2021) the Victorian government was to introduce legislation into Parliament that would preclude development on a property for up to a decade if Heritage buildings have been illegally demolished.

A comprehensive analysis of the proposed legislation and the reasoning behind it was published by ABC News February 2nd, 2021. Read about it here:

Victorian Government plans to block property development if owners unlawfully demolish heritage buildings

The Victorian Government will introduce legislation into Parliament today which could stop development on a property for up to a decade if heritage buildings are illegally demolished.

Key points:

  • New legislation has partly been prompted by the controversial Corkman hotel demolition in 2016
  • The laws would stop future development on a site for 10 years if heritage buildings were illegally demolished
  • ·       The Government hopes the changes will remove any financial incentive for unlawful heritage demolition

The legislation will cover buildings that have been unlawfully demolished in full or in part and where the owners have been charged with unlawful demolition.

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the legislation targeted developers who did the wrong thing.

“These new laws remove the financial incentive to illegally demolish buildings by potentially stopping development of the land for up to 10 years,” he said. “This means that they can no longer expect to reap windfall gains from just selling or rebuilding on their land.”

New laws partly prompted by Corkman demolition

Mr Wynne said the legislation was, in part, prompted by the unlawful demolition of the 160-year-old Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton in 2016.

The developers who demolished the Melbourne pub were jailed for a month and ordered to pay more than $400,000 in fines and legal costs.

The Corkman Pub, formerly known as the Carlton Inn Hotel, was built in 1858.

Although it was not on the Victorian Heritage Register, it was covered by heritage rules.

The developers are appealing a contempt of court conviction and sentence.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) yesterday amended an enforcement order over the Corkman site to require a park to be built there by April 30.

‘Stringent protection’ for heritage buildings

Mr Wynne said the Corkman demolition was “unprecedented in planning in the state of Victoria” and strong action to protect heritage buildings was needed.

“We must put in place the most stringent protections possible and we are getting that through this legislation,” he said.

“It does not only deal with the Corkman matter but other attempts by people whose motives may not be essentially about ensuring the heritage protection of their buildings.”

He said there had also been issues around so-called “demolition by neglect”, where people were not willing or able to pay the cost of maintaining their heritage buildings.

The bill will also enable existing permits to be revoked and allow for new permits to be issued for specific purposes, such as building a park or reconstruction or repair of the heritage building.

These new provisions are a significant strengthening of the current enforcement regime and are expected to act as a powerful deterrent to the unlawful demolition of buildings of heritage significance.

The minister said the reform complemented measures the Government introduced in 2017, which made it an indictable offence for a builder or person managing building work to knowingly carry out works without a permit or in the contravention of the Building Act, the regulations or their permit.

It is also high time that the Victorian government policed property owners and developers who practice ‘demolition by neglect’, a rather appalling tactic to gain access to land locked into Heritage Overlays or properties covered only by Council policy at local government level.

Too often these properties are allowed to slide into a situation where they become vandalised, suffer at the hands of arsonists or,through complete lack of maintenance, simply topple over or fall down.

If these properties carried a Heritage Listing from the Heritage Council of Victoria the owners could be ordered by Heritage Victoria restore the buildings, or in extreme cases, Heritage Victoria could make orders to independent contractors to remedy and restore damage. All costs are then born by the property owner.

The National Trust Advocacy Team have recognised the dire nature of this current problem and are currently campaigning to formulate policy and issues at local government level. An extensive report was commissioned and delivered in 2013. Please take the time to read it. Here is the link to the report.

If you truly value Heritage now is the time to be vigilant. For those who value our Heritage Architecture whether it’s Georgian, Victorian or Mid-Century Modern, it really is time to speak up. Contact your local Council, Heritage Victoria or the National Trust and ensure all planning regulations are adhered to and due respect is given to Heritage Listings and Overlays. Value Heritage – once it’s gone it’s gone forever.

Heritage is Precious – Protect it.

The Heritage Home – Finding and Restoring Your Forever Home.

The current Covid lockdowns and the change in working patterns see many people working from home, experiencing major changes in lifestyle. People who were formerly nine to five commuters are looking for a better quality of life and the quest to find the right property to live in sees growing numbers searching for and purchasing ‘Heritage’ properties both in Melbourne, regional cities and rural locations. 

Heritage Architecture 

Purchasing a Heritage Listed property or a property covered by a Heritage Overlay introduces a raft of issues buyers may never have experienced previously or even considered. It’s a sensible plan to enlist the services of a qualified and experienced Architect – both prior to purchase and after.


Prior to purchase your Heritage Architect can provide you with an accurate Condition Report that is prepared with a twofold purpose. The more obvious section is the current state of the property and its building/s in terms of Heritage Status; previous alterations, current necessary repairs or restorations, the age and status of the property in terms of it’s listing or the applicable Heritage Overlay. What are the limitations, what can be achieved in terms of liveability?

The second part of the Heritage Report is more practical. Most older buildings and structures require quite basic refurbishments – electrical, plumbing, roofing, plastering and flooring to name but a few areas where restoration can be both difficult and expensive. It is far more practical to have a thorough understanding of what may be required prior to purchase and a sensible appraisal of what costs may be involved to restore and rectify any such issues. 


Post purchase your Heritage Architect can scope out your restoration plan to ensure you arrive at a comfortable, liveableresidence that is further enhanced by the tasteful refurbishment of all Heritage features – verandas, Victorian tiling, Heritage colour schemes, roofing (slate or wrought iron), solid plastering, decorative mouldings (internal and external), timber architraves, period wall paper – the list goes on. 

Planning with a Heritage Architect ensures that all such features and fittings are authentic and yet practical with most residential homes of 80-100 year’s old – or older – there will be some inappropriate renovations and additions, likely not included in the Heritage Listings or items of mandatory retained features. In many cases there are opportunities to create a comfortable, modern living space, yet retain the genuine Heritage ‘feel’ of the property by cleverly rectifying the mistakes of the past. 

A sensible and progressive restoration plan; a purchase based on realistic appraisal, expert assessment and advice formulated through genuine experience and expertise. 

Andrew Fedorowicz is an experienced and competent Heritage Architect – a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects. Over the years Andrew has managed a wide range of Heritage Projects, both public and residential, (currently Andrew has designed and supervised the construction of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens Fernery, a gothic revival of the original 19th century design). 

Call Andrew now on 0418 341 443 to schedule a consultation or leave your details here for a prompt reply. Create the home you truly desire and with competent and expert advice restore your property to its former glory. Add real value and, at the same time, ensure your home stands for another 100 years, a true vestige of the past, a beautiful home resplendent in the craftsmanship and artisanship of years gone by – yet a comfortable, livable home for your family and generations to come. 

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It.  

Russell’s Old Corner Shop. Built in 1850 (approx) – For Sale.

328-330 King Street, Melbourne’s oldest home.

Located at 328 to 330 King Street, Melbourne, on the south east corner of Latrobe Street, the building formerly known as Russell’s The Old Corner Shop is now officially offered for sale. Requiring significant work – the Latrobe Street wall has been braced by the City of Melbourne for a number of years now, the building is a remarkable remnant of the early Gold Rush era of Melbourne.

We have previously profiled the property in an article published in September, 2017. You can revisit it here.

Bracing of Russell’s Old Corner Shop in Latrobe Street

The Russel family have owned the building for over 120 years. Lola Russell’s (the current owner) Grandfather purchased the building in 1899 and converted it to a general store and newsagency. 

The property is to be sold as a commercial site, with the pitch ‘Ready for refurbishment and restoration’ from,  featuring an article by Alanah Frost from the Herald Sun on July 13, 2021.

Melbourne’s oldest home for sale for first time in 100+ years

Melbourne’s oldest home has hit the market for the first time in 120 years, offering up a nugget of gold rush era history.

Built in about 1850, when modern Melbourne was just 15 years old, the 328-330 King St property is thought to be the city’s longest-standing building.

Once a merchandise store for those heading to the goldfields, it’s now officially been listed for sale for $2.9m-plus.

Lola Russell and husband George Dixon outside their historic home surrounded by Melbourne’s modern CBD.
The pair operated a cafe downstairs, known as Russell’s Old Corner Shop.

For the last century, during which it became known as Russell’s Old Corner Shop, the corner store was home to Lola Russel and her husband George Dixon.

Ms Russell, now in her late 90s and in an aged-care facility, was born and lived at the property for most of her life before her husband died in 2017.

The pair, who were both actors, lived in the original living quarters above and operated a cafe downstairs.

But due to her age and health, and the declining state of the building, Ms Russell’s family have been left with no option but to sell the heritage-listed property.

Ms Russell lived at the property for most of her life.
It’s now hit the market for the first time in more than 100 years.

In 2019, family spokesman Owen Dixon said he wanted to see the house, which has been in the family for two generations, restored.

But he said the priority was Ms Russell’s health and settling her into appropriate aged care.

“We’d like to see it used as a cafe downstairs and maybe turned into a museum upstairs,” he said.

“George and Lola loved the theatrical and film industries — we’d be willing to accommodate that, but it’s got to work with the major plan.”

At one point, the National Trust had been developing a plan and fundraising to save the building but it’s believed that has since fallen through.

Lola Russell and George Dixon look out at the city from the cafe. Picture: David Caird

Allard Shelton agents Patrick Barnes and Joseph Walton said they hoped someone would step in and look after the iconic building, which was steeped in Melbourne’s history.

“We’re very much engaged and attune to the historical and heritage nature of the building and one of the best ways to refer to it is, that we see it as being a bit of a passion project,” they said.

“It’s such an amazing property. Someone will have an idea for it.”

The building was built about 1850, when modern Melbourne was just 15 years old.

The building is being marketed as “ready for refurbishment and restoration” and suited to retail and office space.

It’s also across the road from Flagstaff Gardens and close to Flagstaff Station.

The property will be sold via an expressions of interest campaign ending August 5.

The real concern is that the property has significant land value, but as it is Heritage Listed and requiring major structural repairs it will not attract suitable buyers. It would be a great relief to see the City of Melbourne or the State Government purchase the property then re-purpose it as an historical building, a window on Melbourne’s distant past. Time will tell. We hope that it is restored and recognised for what it really is – a simple but elegant Heritage treasure of our city’s past. 

Street view of Melbourne’s oldest home, corner King and Latrobe Street.

Balance Architecture – Specialists in Heritage Architecture.

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It.  

Heritage Restoration and Refurbishment. Add Value to Your Home with Elegance, Grace and Comfort.

Inner Melbourne used to be considered a 10 kilometre radius from the CBD but more recently this has now expanded to include properties within a 25 kilometre radius. Sadly, the situation sees a competition between ‘Developers’ and those who genuinely appreciate the beauty of Heritage architecture. 

Many of these older homes in median suburbs such as Camberwell, Kew, Malvern, Elsternwick, Brighton, Essendon, Moonee Ponds – the list goes on –  are well and truly under threat.  Larger blocks, older homes built from the turn of the 20th century until the 1930’s are now under threat. Developers see open space (front yards, back yards and gardens) as a premium construction opportunity. The very idea of preservation is counter productive to their interests. 

As a consequence, it’s not unusual to see delightful Edwardian residences, often with slate roofing and terracotta gargoyles left to the elements. A famous example is the property on the corner of Denmark Street and Barkers Road, Kew. A lovely old Edwardian, the slate roof is now holed and the place surrounded by security fencing. 

Think of what the alternative might be.  Restore the building to its original external structure.  The six sided box – walls, floors and ceilings.  Assess the foundations, the chimneys, verandas, windows and doors. Commission a proper Heritage Architectural Report. 

Considering land value is it not just as sensible to restore such a property to a comfortable living condition?  Add extensions and reconfigure the internal spaces, perhaps a pool and walled garden to the rear.

In ten year’s time the property value would be three to four times your initial investment – if you utilised a  qualified Heritage Architect and plan an effective restoration and makeover.

Where a property is not Heritage Listed or part of a Heritage Overlay, neglect is the Developer’s friend “Oh it’s too far gone”.  This is where Councils, local governments, must lift their game. It’s time to allocate decent resources to ensuring Heritage Overlays are kept up to date and provide genuine protection for older, more gracious homes. 

The issue is that very liveable homes in good condition of up to 120 years in age are being demolished. Quite simply Real Estate Agents are pitching to Developers, not residential buyers “suitable for development”.  Why?  Money! It’s an easy sale and in many areas, land for development is currently at a premium – no matter what building may be standing on the property now. 

For a full Heritage Report followed by a complete Heritage Restoration and Design package, call now on 0418 341 443 to speak with Heritage Architect, Andrew Fedorowicz ( Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects). Andrew offers experience, expertise and a passion for Heritage restoration.  Alternatively, leave your details here for a prompt reply. Consultations are obligation free with no initial fees being charged. 

‘Forres’ at 9-11 Edward Street, Kew, torn down in July 2016

It’s a gracious alternative, one that is slower to realise a profit, but one that offers dignity and an acknowledgement of beauty and craftsmanship of the past and a splendid place for you and your family to live and thrive. 

Balance Architecture – Specialists in Heritage Architecture.

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It.  

Barangaroo – What Now For Millers Point?

About 18 months ago we published a blog on Millers Point, one of Sydney’s earliest settlements. We visit it simply to show the difficulty in achieving Heritage status. Barangaroo Point is now an estimated $2B white elephant, a monument to the failure of James Packer and the Crown Resorts Group to obtain a Casino licence – they were deemed to be unfit to hold such a licence by the NSW Gaming Authority. 

Millers Point viewed from Observatory Hill 1882

It is worth reading the full article from October 29, 2019 – ‘How to Develop Heritage in Australia’s First Colony Remnants. Sydney the Place of Opportunity’ below, but before you do that consider the response in 2021 – Community Survey Heritage NSW on behalf of the NSW government. To say this is a joke would be kind – it’s downright insulting. With so many properties either sold or demolished is it now the time for consultation? Or is it time for decisive action on the part of the NSW government to offer immediate protection for the remaining neighbourhoods and their very important Heritage buildings and features?

How to develop Heritage in Australia’s first colony remnants. Sydney – the place of Opportunity.

Heritage and development – are the two qualities mutually exclusive? perhaps by revisiting a significant battle in Sydney, it’s rather intriguing to follow the process. For in many cases the battle continues. In this case the area is Millers Point, one of Sydney’s earliest settled areas.

The exposed promontory proved to be the best place to situate Windmills in early Sydney Town. As well Sandstone was extracted from a quarry at the end of Windmill St.

The area quickly became a hub of activity with wharves and warehouses. The ‘mercantile’ elite built fine homes on elevated streets whilst the workers lived in small cottages near the wharves. Millers Point had by 1850 become the maritime heart of Sydney and was set to experience a long economic boom.

Millers Point

In the 1890s the Great Maritime Strike was focused on Millers Point. It was a pivotal event in Australia’s short history. Between 1900 and the beginning of World War 1, there was an outbreak of Bubonic Plague, with the result being a massive clean-up of what was very sub-standard housing and the very first public housing ever constructed in Australia.

From post World War 2 until the 1970s saw the Maritime Services Board run worker housing and tenancies with homes often passed down through families over generations. Developers eyeballed the Rocks and adjacent areas but the BLF and its leader Jack Mundey enforced the now famous Green Bans preserving the area from demolition and devastation. Millers Point residents were very supportive of the bans fearing the ‘Development’ engine may consume their suburb.

In the 1990s the Maritime Board transferred control of its housing stock to Housing NSW. Residents were no longer wharf workers with maritime activity transferring to Port Botany.

Walsh Bay

Walsh Bay saw a development between Dawes Point and Millers Point. Luxury apartments, restaurants and a new ‘cultural precinct’ whet the appetites of developers for prime locations like Millers Point.

In 2003 Millers Point and Dawes Point village precinct was listed on the State Heritage Register. More Wharves were sold off and the new urban precinct known as Barangaroo was established.

Residences at Millers Point. Pic: High Street 1920.

By 2006, the State Government was selling off 99 year leases on 16 of the Millers Point properties, with a further 20 added in 2010 – many fetching more than $1 million. As the houses left fell into disrepair the residents were beginning to be relocated.

Enter Crown Casino – James Packer and Crown Resorts in partnership with Lend Lease announced their plans for the Barangaroo hotel and Casino. The Government proposes selling 250 public housing properties on Millers Point, by 2014 is would be 300 dwellings. The Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore is outraged by the decision and an MP Alex Greenwich called it Social Cleansing. The first 6 Heritage properties are sold for up to $3 million each. Heritage rules were ‘relaxed’ for new buyers of the Millers Point properties.

Renovated House at Millers Point

Fast forward to 2016. Shirley Fitzgerald, the former Historian for the City of Sydney spoke at the NSW Parliament.

‘Millers Point today. Woolloomooloo tomorrow. Glebe. Ultimo. Pyrmont. Surry Hills. And so on. There are pockets of public housing everywhere. Public housing that helps to make for a good city that works… So, sell them. For a quick and dirty profit today and pile up social problems for tomorrow. When we’ve achieved a completely socially segregated city where there isn’t any affordable housing in any neighbourhood which commands high land prices then we will really have problems. Social problems. Human problems. Environmental sustainability problems as the rich clog up the centre and the workers travel from the outer areas to service these inner areas. And right now, where is the government’s accounting of the immediate social costs of breaking up the Millers Point community in the unnecessarily cruel way it is being done?’

Millers Point in 1870

‘We have mentions of substitute housing elsewhere in the inner city but no promises. And rumours of further sell offs down the track. Others will talk about all this. My role here is to say something about the heritage issue.

What is heritage? We tend to think of it as ‘old stuff that we like.’ Buildings. Places. It is these things but it is far more. Heritage is what explains our past to us, and that includes far more than just the physical fabric of places. The State Heritage Register lists places that are protected under the heritage legislation. It lists things against a complex range of criteria: historical, aesthetic, social, research potential, rarity, degree of intactness – the list goes on. Significance can arise from who the people are and what the communities represent.

So forget definitions that are just about buildings. There are dozens of buildings on the State Register in Millers Point but there is also a listing for the ‘Millers Point Conservation Area’ (1999). This listing is not for this or that building in Millers Point but for the totality of the place. And ‘place’ is defined as its social fabric along with the physical fabric.

A heritage listing under the Heritage Act gives preservation some teeth. But it is a sad truth that heritage listings get updated – i.e. watered down – and when they do it is really hard to find official references to older listings. It is rumoured that the Heritage Council will have to review the Millers Point Conservation Area listing because it will be wrong once the government has kicked out all the public tenants. It was reported in the Herald at the time of the announcement of the sell off that the conservation guidelines would also be reviewed to put in place a heritage strategy that would ‘interpret’ the period of public housing. It will need ‘interpreting’ because we will no longer have it as a reality. Could anything be more cynical?

I have a reference to the 2003 listing of the significance of Millers Point as a ‘living cultural landscape’ with ‘an unusually high and rare degree of social significance’. Social significance. I cannot find this in the current listing. Even so, this is what the Heritage Register said when I last looked at it this morning. [day of the screening in Parliament House, 19 March 2015]:

There are many paragraphs, including:

  • 1.3 Its demonstrative capacity is heightened by [building listings] and by the experiences and memory of its long term community.
  • 1.4 Its public housing …and its development into a Government corporate town were probably the first such developments in Australia (apart from first settlement) and may be of international significance.
  • 3.3 [refers to ]… a pioneer programme of public housing and social improvement, demonstrated by development of a company port town by the Sydney Harbour Trust. This encompassed construction of purpose designed workers’ housing and support services.
  • 6.1 Its unity, authenticity of fabric and community, and complexity of significant activities and events make it probably the rarest and most significant historic urban place in Australia.

I’m reading all this to get it on the record before it too all disappears if the listing gets ‘modified’. I’m not a lawyer, but there is a Heritage Act and the Millers Point Conservation Area is a state significance listing under that act. And its listing unequivocally includes its significance as public housing and as community. It reads to me as though the government is in contravention of the law.

They are trashing Millers Point. Not the physical fabric, maybe. But the community, the rarity. Of course they are. This government does not want to be reminded of a time when governments undertook great public works for the public good. The Labor opposition mouths allegiance to a great social housing heritage and genuflects to people like Jack Mundey and Tom Uren, but promise little and fight for less.

That quaint old thing called public housing. Governments in the early 20th century understood that you had to have a place for workers to live in the city. They were motivated by ideas of what makes a city work efficiently as much as by ideas of the welfare state – these were and remain good ideas and they are ideas that leave for dead the current sterile ideas about maximising the bottom line.’


The National Trust was so concerned with the trashing of Heritage values that it put out its own statement:

Millers Point Under Threat

National Trust of Australia (NSW) says the sale of 293 heritage buildings in Millers Point is the most devastating attack on Australia ís nationally significant heritage since The Rocks were saved in the 1960s.

Horse and carriage at Millers Point 1800’s

National Trust of Australia (NSW) CEO Brian Scarsbrick warns rare heritage – some buildings dating back to 1820 – are being sold with no contractual heritage protection. He says all political parties should state their policy on this issue highlighting a ‘test sale’ of nine of these precious heritage properties which has produced disturbing results.

The Millers Point sale of 293 heritage buildings is the most devastating attack on Australia’s nationally significant heritage, since Jack Mundey working with the National Trust, saved The Rocks’ unique heritage during the 1960s.

High Street, Millers Point

“Australia’s rare heritage provides a vital “sense of place” for communities. Selling off heritage buildings, some dating back to 1820 (only 32 years after the First Fleet arrived), with no contractual heritage protection, exposes that precious heritage to destruction and loss” – Brian Scarsbrick AM, CEO of the National Trust of Australia (NSW)

Irreplaceable properties that go back to Sydney’s colonial roots are being sold without full protection. The Millers Point area is not just built heritage, it is social heritage. For 200 years, it has been the home and workplace for merchants, shipping companies and waterfront workers and many of the people still there are descendants together with a range of public housing tenants.

High Street, Millers Point – different view

“We are deeply alarmed at the damage facing the 293 State heritage listed properties located at Millers Point because State Heritage Register Listing alone has been proven not to be sufficient protection,

A “test sale” of nine of these heritage properties, sold outright before Christmas on freehold title with no contractual obligation to protect their heritage value, has produced disturbing results.

Merrimum Street, Millers Point.

Already a third of the properties sold in the “test sale” are subject to unauthorised works and Sydney City Council is issuing stop work notices”, said Mr Scarsbrick

The National Trust of Australia (NSW) is calling on all political parties to clearly state their policy on the protection and conservation of our nationally significant Millers Point/The Rocks.

The National Trust is not against the sale of the Millers Point properties- but it is against the inadequate conditions and manner of sale which fails to protect the heritage values of the properties. This heritage destruction must be stopped and the Trust is asking the community to stand up against this inappropriate selling off of public assets.

“History shows that selling properties in The Rocks area on 99 year leases results in only a 5% – 10% discount and the assets can return to the public estate at a greatly increased value after the lease expires”, stated Trust Director – Advocacy Graham Quint

More than $700 million worth of public heritage assets are being sold freehold and not as in the past, on 99 year leases where approvals to undertake works had to be obtained from the owner – the government. The current freehold sales of the properties have no contractual obligations to ensure that conservation works are approved and no Compliance Bond to ensure that works are carried out in a timely manner using qualified heritage architects.

Brian Scarsbrick stated “these properties could easily be sold on 99 year leases which would involve purchasers being contractually obligated to protect the properties’ heritage values. They should remain ‘in the public estate’ and return to the Government in 99 years at massively increased values. Properties could be sold and the Government and the NSW public benefits now and later. This area is a rich part of the heritage fabric of Sydney located close to The Rocks and its wealth of State Heritage Register listed buildings”.

The heritage significance of the oldest surviving, continuously inhabited urban residential precinct in Australia’s European settlement history deserves the better protection that 99 year leasehold sales can provide.


Key Lesson

The key lesson in this very unfortunate saga is that Heritage Listings and the Heritage Database must be kept intact. History doesn’t change. Rewriting history suits some parties but does nothing to preserve our heritage.

What has happened in Sydney is now beginning to occur in Melbourne. Areas without appropriate up-to-date Heritage overlays in operation are being savaged by developers. And here it is even worse in that buildings with heritage protection or interim heritage protection are being toppled at a rate of knots. In all the lesson is that it is a Government responsibility to provide protection for Heritage listed or proposed properties. The legislation must be current, workable and provide genuine protection

Of course, we can always subscribe to the ‘feel good’ version of such developments. From Domain…

First renovated Millers Point properties back on the market, attracting prestige buyers


Several rundown Millers Point public housing properties sold by the NSW government in recent years have now filtered back onto the market, renovated and with hefty price tags to match.

One such property is 60 Argyle Street, listed for sale for $4.5 million, after selling for $3.175 million just over two years ago.

It’s one of Sydney’s oldest terrace homes, built by whaling captain George Grimes about 1845.

A development application submitted to the City of Sydney shows the property was changed from a boarding house to a residential dwelling at the end of 2015. It was put up for auction as part of the government’s Millers Point public housing sell-off in February 2016.

Agent Richard Shaloub, of Sotheby’s International, said the home was an investment property for the owner, with records showing it was advertised for rent, fully furnished, initially for $2,700, and then for $2,500 in April of this year.

Many of Millers Point’s terraces were home to Sydney’s low-income families and pensioners but they were evicted and moved elsewhere after the government announced plans in 2014 – despite protests from the community – to sell off its inner-city housing.


The area has since undergone a metamorphosis, attracting prestige buyers with its large heritage buildings, proximity to the city and the Barangaroo precinct, as well as harbour views. The suburb’s median house price rose 36.15 per cent over the year to $2.78 million.

If the property sells for its $4.5 million asking price, it will represent a $1.325 million windfall for the seller over the two-year period they owned the property.

“A lot of people buying into Millers Point are going in for the high-end properties,” Shaloub says. “Being historic, heritage homes there’s a really strong appetite for restoring historic features. From my experience, buyers are not afraid of putting in a significant amount of capital for improvements.”


“It’s a rare opportunity to buy something [in Millers Point] that has been renovated”, Shaloub says. “Everything that has been traded has been run down or dilapidated. This is one of the first that you can move straight into.”

Shaloub has another renovated Millers Point property on the books – 60 Kent Street, which sold for $1.75 million in May 2016. Also bought as an investment property, the home is currently listed for $2.75 million.

“They were both purchased for a good price. They’ve put some money in, but it’ll be a nice earner for them,” Shaloub says.


“It’s a very unique proposition, it’s a very highly sought after area in the precinct”, he adds.

A five-bedroom renovated home at 53 Lower Fort Street is also currently listed for sale, with an advertised price guide of between $4.8 million and $4.9 million. It last sold for $1.575 million in 2009.

Billionaire Kerr Neilson recently bought into the precinct, paying about $5 million at auction for an unrenovated set of three apartments, formerly known as George Talbots Townhouses.

Investment banker Richard Kovacs has also purchased property nearby, paying $9.9 million for two Georgian townhouses.

A reported $550 million has been raised from the sale of 177 NSW Government-owned properties so far.


Median House Price Rise

Median house prices in the area rose by 36.15% in one year,during 2018.

Therein lies the story. Keep in mind these properties were all Government owned. A slice of Australia’s earliest history. But hey – it’s a good investment. The plan was that most people would purchase and spend substantial capital on heritage base renovations. The actuality is many are simply being rented out as Airbnb, to the extent that Kent St is now known as ‘Rent St’.

So beware, development is not always going to support heritage or produce the results intended or expected. And without proper Heritage protection – it’s just another building – land banked for an uncertain future. Such is life, a famous fellow once said.

Time for action we say.

Well, it’s way past the time for action. What this whole travesty of greed over our Heritage and cultural history represents is corruption at the highest levels as was reported recently on the ABC Four Corners program. It’s time to wake up! This time round we didn’t have ‘Green Warriors’ like Jack Mundy, the BLF and Wanita Neilson; there were no green bans, no deviant developers like Abe Saffron – this time it was us and the big end of town. It’s time to support those trying to save what is totally irreplaceable history – these places speak to the true beginnings of the first immigrants from Europe and the port that supported the new colony. Heritage is our responsibility, if that means taking on the wealthy and the powerful, so be it.

To assist please contact the Millers Point  Community Resident Action Group 

Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

The Heritage Overlay – What Does It Mean To You As The New Home Owner?

Chadwick House at 32-34 The Eyrie, Eaglemont

Recently in Bank Street, South Melbourne a Victorian terrace house built in 1858 was sold for a reputedly $2.7M. Until recently the occupant, an elderly widow, had lived there now for nearly sixty years. In the early 1970’s the property was purchased by her and her late husband and he proceeded to render it into a liveable state. Prior to their purchase the stately two storey terrace was uninhabitable and facing a possible demolition order. Peter Downey was an ex-Merchant Seaman from Scotland. He and his wife Maureen emigrated from the UK in the 1960’s as ‘ten pound poms’. The original building itself was structurally sound with a period style slate roof in poor repair, floor boards ripped up or rotting, an original staircase and a miniscule bathroom upstairs. 

With a young family, the Downey’s first consideration was to establish a liveable family home. During the 1970’s there were no Heritage guidelines so a section was constructed to the rear of the original building comprising of a kitchen, meals area, laundry and a small bathroom/toilet. Peter rebuilt the fences, constructed a garage at the rear and removed the old outdoor brick ‘dunny’. He repainted and replastered inside as he saw fit.

The family home is now covered by a Heritage overlay with relatively strict requirements the new owners will be required to abide by. Sensibly, the first action they have envisaged and planned is to commission a full Heritage Architectural Report. In doing so they will ensure for themselves an understanding of the mandatory requirements of the Heritage overlay and what exactly they can and cannot do. 

Two years ago just up the street from this home a beautiful two-storey bluestone property sold for about $2.3M. Smaller and more compact, this property had undergone a series of inappropriate renovations. When it was first built it the 1850’s it  was purposed with the buildings adjoining it as South Melbourne’s first ‘School for Young Ladies’. In 1921 a third of the original building was demolished and a small Victorian style single storey terrace was constructed in its place. The building being discussed features a regular and well cut blue stone frontage pointed in an early stretchy bond pattern. The side wall is more rustic and in need of attention. Internally since 1998 the property has endured three renovations by three separate owners. Unfortunately none of them were anything more than cosmetic. The result? The current owner has been forced to undertake very expensive repairs. Buildings constructed in the early 1850’s are not designed to accommodate under-funded cosmetic renovations. The bathroom leaked very badly, the carpets were poorly laid and had to be removed and there are structural issues yet to be addressed. The current owner stated that she wishes she had availed herself of a properly qualified Heritage Architect prior to purchasing the property or, at least immediately after.

So-called renovations can have multiple disastrous and expensive repercussions years down the track from when they were first carried out. It’s not only sensible from a design perspective, financially it is imperative to obtain expert advice from a qualified Heritage Architect. Builders will often attempt to carry out remedial works in many instances but with a Heritage overlay these works must first be approved at local council level on the basis of both Heritage requirements and structural integrity.

Chadwick House, Eaglemont – interior

Call Balance Architects on 0418 341 443 and speak with Principal Heritage Architect Andrew Fedorowicz with regard to your property and your plans. Arrange for a professional assessment and Heritage Report on your property with a view to creating a liveable, comfortable home yet ensuring the Heritage status of your property is both recognised, respected and restored.

Andrew is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects with a genuine passion for Heritage preservation and refurbishment with many years’ experience. For a prompt response you can also leave your details here. Planning will ensure you are not confronted with major expense and insurmountable problems in the future. Owing a Heritage property in itself is a significant asset. Enhancing and restoring it can only add value to your investment. And the starting point is always a Heritage Report from a competent professional.

Heritage Architecture – The Pathway from The Past to a Better Future. 

The Real Battle? Updating Victoria’s Heritage Charter.

Nearly two years ago an article appeared in The Age on Saturday 3 August, 2019. The article posed a sensible and necessary question. Are Melbourne’s Heritage homes worth saving? The simple answer is yes, ofcourse. However, with less than 2,600 sites (that’s not necessarily homes) considered significant and worthy of State level Heritage, we are witnessing a continuing cavalcade of destruction. And it comes down to the intransigence of local municipal councils. This is, in part, financially driven, as we have been pointing out here for some time. Quite simply the increased rates from property developments that replace single dwellings with multiple storey apartment complexes on strata titles provide an irresistible carrot. The real requirement is a significant increase in budgeting expenditure by councils on ensuring Heritage Overlays are accurately maintained and expanded to reflect the true Heritage Status of many properties and sites not included in the original Heritage Overlays proposed and confirmed from the 1980’s onwards. What were then 70-year-old buildings are now over 100 years old and deserve protection. 

It isn’t necessarily about age. Where there is true architectural significance – for example, the mid-century modern designs and constructions of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s located in the Bayside council area – here real protection is required. Currently there are only a minimal number of dwellings that qualify under Council assessments with demolitions continuing in the area unabated.

So let’s reflect. We reprint in full the article from The Age by James Bennet, dated Saturday 3 August, 2019: 

They’re charming, but are they worth saving? The battle to save Melbourne’s heritage homes

by James Bennet. Saturday 3 August, 2019.

When the demolition notice went up at 55 Seymour Road, Elsternwick, neighbour Sam Dugdale didn’t know what to do.

Last-minute appeals by locals to save this historic family home failed.

Key points:

  • A petition signed by several thousand people failed to halt the house’s demolition
  • National Trust says many councils lack resources to conduct rigorous heritage reviews
  • Opposition says a review of Victoria’s heritage protections can’t recommend legislative change

“I was advised to put in an interim protection order, which I did,” she said.

It was denied.

Why? Because under Victoria’s heritage laws, individuals can only seek emergency protection for places or buildings worthy of state-level heritage protection.

Only 2,600 sites across Victoria are considered that significant.

Except in rare cases, Melbourne’s historical homes are instead protected by council-level heritage overlays.

So if, like the property on Seymour Road, a house is not already covered by a heritage overlay, it is only the council that can ask the planning minister to halt demolition while its historical value is assessed.

“How do we actually stop these terrible things from happening?” Ms Dugdale asked rhetorically.

She started a petition, which attracted more than 2,120 signatures.

But by Thursday, an excavator was clawing at the house’s front room.

“I’m devastated,” she said.

“This is 100 years of history being bowled over.”

Bulldozers moved in on the 1890 Edwardian family home.

National Trust ‘frustrated’

Victoria’s planning minister’s office says it did not receive any application from the City Glen Eira to halt the home’s destruction.

“We get calls from people about these kinds of issues every single day,” the National Trust’s Victorian advocacy manager, Felicity Watson, said.

“Its very frustrating to have these individual cases keep coming up while the systemic issue underlying that is not addressed,” she said.

Heritage Victoria and the Heritage Council have both acknowledged the issue.

They’re currently conducting a statewide review of “strengths and weaknesses” of local heritage protection.

Local government shortcomings

“The reality is this is a council issue, and they’ve been neglectful,” Ms Dugdale said.

Glen Eira’s last full heritage survey was over 20 years ago, in 1996.

The National Trust says ongoing heritage assessments are critical to identify and protect significant homes before people knock them down.

In an email to Ms Dugdale, Glen Eira mayor Jamie Hyams said he “shared her disappointment” but suggested there “wasn’t much we could have done about it”.

“The last time Council looked at heritage in that area, our consultant did not recommend that stretch of Seymour Road for protection,” he said.

Councillor Mary Delahunty told the ABC that Glen Eira is currently conducting a new heritage assessment.

“These are long processes, they’re methodical processes,” she said, while acknowledging the community dissatisfaction.

“Obviously it’s on council to speed that up,” she said.

Elsternwick residents including Sam Dugdale (left) want to try stop the destruction of any more historic homes.

Preserve or prevent urban sprawl?

At the heart of these issues lies a deeper question — which homes should be preserved?

Urban planners have long hailed medium-density development — close to transport and the city — as critical to preventing Melbourne from sprawling ever outwards.

The ABC has attempted to contact the owners of 55 Seymour Road to ask what they plan to build, but has not received a reply.

“Councils do have a responsibility to provide for our increasing density,” Ms Watson acknowledged.

“But it needs to be done in a strategic way, that protects the places that we value, while also providing opportunities for growth.”

Felicity Watson of the National Trust says local councils need better funding to manage heritage protection.

Review mere ‘window dressing’

The Heritage Victoria review of local heritage protection won’t report back for another year.

It is understood that it will not have the power to suggest new laws, prompting criticism from the Opposition.

“I don’t believe it can recommend legislative change,” said planning spokesman Tim Smith.

“That shows you that this really is window dressing,” he said.

Ms Watson said many councils simply lacked the resources to conduct regular, rigorous assessments of what should be protected, and called for the State Government to fund them.

“I think this is really crunch time, where the State Government needs to work with local government to address this issue,” she said.

“It keeps coming up again and again, and the community outcry is growing.”

Quite frankly very little has changed and, to be honest, we consider current Heritage protection to be a flawed model unless all local government agencies take their Heritage responsibilities seriously. It is simply unacceptable to have some local councils rigorously enforcing Heritage Standards whilst others continues to turn a blind eye to inappropriate developments that proceed at the expense of Heritage. Height levels seem to change to suit particular projects and insignificant “faults” are continually discovered to undermine Heritage significance. Where restoration is both possible and cost effective the option should be available via Heritage Victoria to order restoration of minor Heritage transgressions. Seven Oaks in Balwyn/Deepdene is a prime example of this. Located in Boroondara council area, such an attitude and response (a demolition permit is now pending) is not surprising. Over the last three years a number of simply magnificent properties have been demolished in Boroondara.

The correct answer for Local Councils and the State Government is to allocate more funds and more expertise to true Heritage protection – provide higher funding to Local Government and the Heritage Council, to carry out timely and effective assessments. Give genuine recognition and protection to Victoria’s valuable Heritage and its remarkable buildings. Determine why the property or place is of Heritage significance, not looking for petty reasons to pronounce it is not of significance. Put a real value on the advice of the National Trust and similar bodies.

Nothing will change until there is an across-the-board co-operation and understanding. This can really only be achieve by convening a summit of all involved participants – Local Government, Heritage Victoria, the Heritage Council of Victoria, the National Trust, the REIV, the Australian Institute of Architects and prominent Developers. Such a summit will require significant planning to achieve a medium where all parties can provide input, however, ultimately what is required is an up-to-date approach to Heritage protection and a set of guidelines that provide and a set of guidelines that provide universal legislation to be applied uniformly across the entire State of Victoria. This summit should ideally be convened and held by the Victorian Government Planning Department.This summit would ideally be held by the Victorian Government Planning Department. Penalties for transgressing Heritage regulations should then be increased to a level that makes ignoring them punitive to the extreme. In the United Kingdom if a Developer demolishes or destroys a Heritage building they are offered a simple option. Rebuild it to its original status and configuration or be forced to pay someone else to do so. Fines are massive and Heritage protection is actually funded by a National lottery. 

It’s way past time to update our statutes on Heritage protection – quite simply, when Heritage is destroyed it becomes but a fading memory. Melbourne has enough such nightmares – it’s time for reform. 

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It. 

Balance Architecture – Heritage Architects.