Thursday, March 8, 2012


This article was published in Book News (2002), the quarterly newsletter of the Sydney Writers' Festival produced by journalism and writing students at the University of Technology.
I was one of them in 2002, doing a Graduate Certificate in Journalism.
He is lolling back in a cane armchair, gazing through fine-rimmed spectacles directly at the camera.
Whispy, long hairs from an untrimmed moustache overhang his lips and mingle with a beard at his jaw line.
His head is inclined at an angle, his jaw supported by the thumb of his left hand.
A pair of inordinatelylong legs garbed in grey woollen trousers splay out at the knees before coming together in a pair of leather boots badly in need of a polish.
It is this laid back image of John Horbury Hunt, the first American architect to make his mark in Australia, that greets visitors at the entrance of a current exhibition of his work at the Museum of Sydney (MOS).
The photograph was taken in 1889 to mark his presidency of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, a professional body he helped found.

The exhibition and its accompanying book, John Horbury Hunt, are both being showcased at the MOS until December 1 this year.
Although Horbury Hunt was one of Australia's most stylish architects, he fell into obscurity after he died a pauper in 1904.
But over the years a small band of people have kept his memory alive.
The leader of this push has been architectural historian, Dr Peter Reynolds.
He first stumbled across the late 19th century architect 35 years ago when looking for a subject for his architecture thesis.
"I've been passionate about him ever since," he says.
It was Dr Reynolds who approached the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, which runs MOS, about holding a Horbury Hunt exhibition back in July 1999.
'I fronted up with 800 rolls of negatives about his work and I think that swung the deal,' he says.
Of this avalanche of film, 26 prints have been used in the current exhibition.
These are augmented by scores more photographs, architectural plans and intricate balsa models.
John Horbury Hunt designed a range of buildings including cathedrals, churches, schools, houses, shearing sheds, cemetery surrounds and even an outback pub.
The most highly acclaimed is the chapel at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay, also known as Kincoppal.
Horbury Hunt arrived in Sydney in 1863 at the age of 26.
He trained as an architect in Boston, USA, and was working for a leading architect when the American Civil War broke out and he left for Australia.
It was only a couple of weeks before he was snapped up by Edmund Thomas Blacket, then Sydney's leading private architect.
Blacket was the diocesan architect for the Anglican church and working for him gave Horbury Hunt a good grounding in ecclesiastical work.
Horbury Hunt's work is characterised by steeply sloping roofs, stained glass windows, exposed timber truss work, and gables with decorative timber framework.
Brick was his favorite building material and he used it in different colours and patterns for decorative effect.
He also loved juxtaposing different shapes and revelled in the challenge of making asymetry pleasing to the eye.
During the last 10 years of his life, he was sacked from two major projects - the new National Art Gallery of New South Wales and Newcastle Cathedral.
Work dried up and he was forced to live alone in his office on the corner of Pitt and Bond Streets with his friends paying the rent.
After he died in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital charity ward in December 1904, these same friends paid for his funeral.
Horbury Hunt's name was kept alive through the work of a friend of those friends, architect Sydney Hirst who selected him for his 1931 thesis.
The baton was seized by Peter Reynolds who, in 1989, formed the Horbury Hunt Club.
Its aim was to educate people about the architect and his architecture and to have fun doing it.
It currently has 60-odd membwers who hold regular meetings to discuss his work and organise bus trips to go and see it.
What all Horbury Hunt fans secretly dream of doing is finding one of his buildings that has not yet been discovered.
(C) Pamela Mawbey 2000