Victoria border closes, a hurried trip home, and happy birthday Marion Mahony Griffin.

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.

The lights from Telstra Tower can be seen as we drive into Canberra, it is a landmark for Canberrans.

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.

The Griffin design has allowed for more than one city centre, and more than one lake for recreation.

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.

I took this photo just before we left for Melbourne. Lake Tuggeranong on a fine summer’s day, the shops, library, College tucked into the landscape.

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.

It is always very peaceful on the lake in the early mornings

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.

Commonwealth Place.

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.

View from Mount Ainslie, the War Memorial looking down onto Anzac Parade to Parliament House across Lake Burley Griffin.

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!

View from Reconciliation Place across Lake Burley Griffin to the War Memorial.

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, I think would have been pleased to see wild birds happily eating acorns outside Parliament House.

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.

20 Replies to “Victoria border closes, a hurried trip home, and happy birthday Marion Mahony Griffin.”

    1. Thanks Barbara, I think it is an underrated city too, but becoming better know, and less hectic than Sydney and Melbourne.

  1. Very interesting and good to see your photographs of the city. I have visited Canberra but not since 1961 so I expect it has changed a lot.

    1. I had my first teaching job in Canberra in the ’70s and it was a very quiet place at that time. I left when I could! Much better these days!

  2. I enjoyed reading about Marion Mahony Griffon, thank you Gerrie. I didn’t know the Griffons were from Chicago ( how ignorant I am!) nor did I know that the entry was sent from the US. Fascinating!
    Canberra is looking resplendent in the summer sunshine. What a wonderful summer we’ve had, and now everything is green and beautiful.

    1. I don’t think many people know about the Chicago link with Canberra, and the fact that Walter won a competition! Yes, Canberra is looking so lovely and green, and we’ve had a pleasantly cool summer with plenty of rain, I guess you have had the same. I just wish we could have this every year.

  3. You and Paul are really going to know all the ropes re border crossings, thinking on your feet and being flexible. I am sure your granddaughter had something to say about your hasty departure. Autumn will beckon you later so you have something to look forward to. The Sydney exhibition sounds interesting.

    1. We are remaining very flexible about any plans we have! Hopefully the Sydney exhibition will be good. I hope you are getting some of that much needed rain.

  4. I certainly did not not know about the Chicago/Canberra connection. I so enjoyed reading about Marion Mahony Griffin, who found a way to use her talents despite the obstacles. (Heartbreaking to think of how much talent has been squelched and repressed because of gender, class, race, and ethnicity.) You live in a very beautiful city, and I was much struck by these lines: 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.” Yes!

    I am really looking forward to learning more about Canberra.

    Glad you got home safe and sound, but it must have been a nerve-wracking trip. Oh, this pandemic! May you and yours stay safe and be well.

    1. Thanks Laurie, it is nice to think some bloggers in the US might learn a little more about this talented Chicagoan couple. I agree, how dreadful that talented women could not be recognised. I really loved the philosophy of city planning working with the environment, not against it. I hope views are changing as a result of the pandemic.
      Yes it was a tiring trip home…my granddaughter said to her mother ”what a strange day it has been”…..that is for sure!

  5. I did enjoy hearing about Marion. I am glad you managed to get back home with thirty minutes to spare. These are strange times for sure. I loved all your

    1. That Dina, I enjoyed picking out some of those photos. Yes, you have to wonder what our grandchildren will think of all this when they are old enough to remember bits and pieces.

    1. Yes we were very glad to make it home in time. We are used to a long drive, but we usually split it into two days. Stressful indeed.

  6. Sorry your visit was cut short, but glad you got home with 30 minutes to spare. 🙂 This year has certainly been a challenge to everyone. Very interesting history with the Chicago connection and applause to Marion for all the spunk it required to pursue an MIT education at that time.

    1. Yes, Marion was allowed to get a degree, but still could not put her name to the drawings she made, as it would compromise Walter Burley Griffin…unbelievable!

  7. So glad you got to see your family, even though your visit was a short one. You must have been relieved to have made it home before the lock down. Interesting history about your beautiful city. Walter and Marion did a great design job, judging by your lovely photos. What a brilliant couple they were.

    1. Yes they were just the sort of people you would want to plan a city! And yes indeed, lovely to see the family, even if it is just for a short while.

  8. What a great story. I’m so glad you shared it. So many people don’t realize that women had so few rights such a short time ago. It’s amazing to think that we couldn’t even vote in most of this country a hundred years ago. And it galls me that there are still countries in this world where women are second class citizens and treated abominably, with so little outrage on the part of other countries.

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