We arrived in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, last Tuesday to visit our family and grandchildren.
On Friday, as a result of new UK Covid cases in Melbourne, the Victorian government decided to have a short five day Lockdown. We watched the news at midday, and made the decision to pack up and come home, as the borders between states were closing at midnight. This could possibly mean not being able to get home for some time….much easier to come for a return visit in more settled times.
This is the world we live in these days!
We left at 3.30 pm for the eight hour drive back to Canberra. We usually stop at our favourite country town coffee shops, and occasionally at a really pretty nursery, where you can buy plants, and delicious cakes and coffee….all at the same time.
This time we stopped at a Roadside Service station for petrol, sandwiches and coffee. Everyone looked tired and preoccupied, manners were in short supply, understandably.
It was good to see the lights of Canberra through the bush as we got closer to home. We arrived at 11.30…. we made it by 30 minutes! Although we share the driving, Paul did all of the night driving, and he did a great job navigating trucks and semi-trailers, which seem to loom out of nowhere in the evening.
Now that we have settled in back home I’m beginning my long term plan to write a few posts about Walter Burley Griffin, who designed the city of Canberra, while his wife Marion Mahony Griffin, played a significant role, not only as a fellow architect but as an artist who drew up the beautiful watercolour sketches of the city. Recently these two Chicagoans have been getting a bit more of the attention in Australia, at last, as it is richly deserved.
Today I’ll just write a little about Marion Mahony Griffin, as it was her birthday yesterday, (Aussie time). She was born on the 14th February 1871, in Chicago.
As we have precious few photos of Walter and Marion I’ll add some of my favourite photos of Canberra, some of which may have been in earlier posts.
In the summer of the year Marion was born the family were caught in one of the worst fires of that time in Chicago (1871).They survived the fire, but decided to move out of the city, and took their children along Lake Michigan to a place called Hubbard Woods. Marion grew up exploring the woods and forests, and she later said it was ”the loveliest spot you could imagine.”
Her mother, Clara was a Unitarian, and the church provided a social connection, and a sense of social justice for the family. Marion had a talent for art and an interest in architecture, and in 1894 she became the second woman to graduate with an architecture degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first woman in America to become a licensed architect.
Her skill as a graphic artist was already well known at university, and once qualified she began working for Frank Lloyd Wright. There she met Walter Burley Griffin, a young idealist architect, who shared many of her ideals and values. They eloped in June 1911 (Walter’s family had reservations about Marion, as she was older than him, and ”too bohemian”). However, theirs was an equal match of values and talents. Two months later, an international competition for the design of the new capital in Australia was announced. Walter entered the competition, but was a well known dreamer and procrastinator hence to quote by Marion…
”For the love of Mike, when are you going to start those plans for the Australian capital? Do you realise it takes a solid month to get them over there. That leaves exactly nine weeks now to turn them in. Perhaps you can design a city in two days, but the drawings take time and falls to me…”
Making Magic The Marion Mahony Griffin Story by Glenda Korporaal.
Despite the universities recently opening architecture to women, Marion, at that time, could not apply to enter the competition herself, as a woman. How frustrating for a talented feisty woman like Marion.
The plans were done in nine weeks, and there was a mad dash one winter’s night to get the last train able to meet the last boat to Australia. The Griffins’ entry was the last to arrive.
In May 1912 Walter received a telegram stating that he had won the competition. There were to be many hurdles ahead, but none the less.. what a wonderful day for future Canberrans!
Both Walter and Marion’s philosophy was that architecture and city planning should work for the environment, not against it. Rather than looking to the past for their inspiration, they looked to a future.
It is amazing to think that Walter could be in an office in Chicago and design a city in a such a contrasting country as Australia, and Marion in turn was able to draw beautifully detailed sketches of the plan. What a team!
Marion’s story is as rich and varied as Walter’s and in the words of the fascinating book called Making Magic The Marion Mahony Griffin Story by Glenda Korporaal.
“She was also a botanist and an idealist, an astute social observer, a loyal wife, and a woman very much ahead of her time.”
150 years later, I hope Marion and Walter would be happy with their city. Happy Birthday Marion.
In March we are going to an exhibition in Sydney about another part of Walter and Marion’s life, their time in Sydney. I’m looking forward to that.
Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.