Hugh O'Neill

Dad came back from New Guinea where he had been working on radar and the war was over. Aged twelve, I got a hundred per cent for geometry and was allowed to help select works for an exhibition of satirical linocuts by Eric Thake at East Kew Central School!

Our close neighbours were setting off to Japan where Macmahon Ball was to represent the ‘British’ on the Allied Council. He’d already been to Jakarta reporting to Foreign Minister Evatt on the confrontation between the returning Dutch, and Indonesian revolutionaries. Down the street Chinese market gardeners lived and grew their vegetables on the river flats, selling them from their horse-drawn cart.

When we enrolled in Architecture in 1951 there were very few ex-service repatriation students left in the rebuilt army huts just north of the Grattan Street gates. Neil Clerehan’s brightly lit entrance space, regularly filled for parties and crits, was very welcoming.

Professor Brian Lewis, who established new courses from 1947, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Colombo Plan. His experiences in Malaya in the mid 1920s led to the Faculty’s warm welcome to students under the scheme, coming from India, Ceylon, Malaya, Thailand and Indonesia.

We locals, about half the group of thirty, were confronted by Rupsuk, who it was said had eleven children back in India, Solomon David, later a Tamil Tiger, from Ceylon, Ajit Bhogal in a turban, Tiew Fong, Hok Pok Wong and several others from Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore. Uldis Merrits, Zigurts Kapelis and Orestes Yakas, recent arrivals from Europe, would disappear early after the regular esquisse on fridays to earn a living and support their families.

Peter McIntyre, an exciting young practitioner, was our tutor for some twelve hours a week under design lecturer Fritz Janeba who had come from Vienna in 1939 and settled in Warrandyte. He had worked in Peter Behrens’ office and told us great stories about the origins of Modernism.

Although luminaries Roy Grounds, Robin Boyd and Frederick Romberg were teaching in the Faculty, our vivid memories were of the Archi Revues directed by Peter McIntyre. We had a great time getting to know older students such as Andrew Cccutcheon, Zula Goldinberg, Peter Staughton, Helen Tippett, Keith Lodge, Marjorie Ho, Neil Everest, Balwant Saini and Amos Rapoport. From our group Neville Quarry, Jim Bartlett, Jim McNamara, Helen Boyce, Philip Sargeant, John Adam and Colin Munro combined extra-curricular activities in music, sport and theatre with revue performances and production. Brian Lewis regarded participation in Faculty football and the Revue as prerequisite for professional life!

My older brother had friends who were active in community and politics. With Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ support they set up the Australian Volunteer Graduate Scheme to Indonesia in 1953 – principally under the inspiration of Political Science Professor Macmahon Ball. When I decided to seek employment in Jakarta as a public servant, friends and mentors said “professional suicide”! However encouraged by Professor Lewis, those two years designing public housing and teaching in Jakarta and Bandung led to employment in London with the champions of “Tropical Architecture” Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.

Back in Melbourne we set up related study programs in 1962. It has been an obsession spending many years learning more, getting to know students during their first days in the faculty and helping many from our region to turn their vision back towards their places of origin. Time passes.

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