Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Restoration Australia - quick review Episode 3, Harrington Street Hobart

Episode 3 sees Haydn and Penny on a 20 year Sisyphean task  to restore an 1840s Hobart shop.

This time the baddie was the Tasmanian Heritage Council wanting to delist the building and leave it to the whims of future avaricious developers. But Haydn and Penny, well Haydn alone really, was going to fight for it. The unsung heroes of heritage are the people who stubbornly hang on to a dilapidated old shack despite all the criticism, and in so doing, give it some breathing space until public attitudes, government regulations or market forces come round to recognising it is worth keeping permanently. 

The bigger heritage story, however, – of the proposed massive reduction in the number of places protected under the Tasmania Heritage Register - was lost in the ungenerous main themes of the story – Haydn takes forever to do things and never finishes a project, and Penny resents it and so they bicker – a heritage soapy. But under the guise of "Reviewing the integrity of the Tasmanian Heritage Register" a Tasmanian government directive is to cut the list by a third. Was the chair of the Heritage Council, Dianne Snowden herself, in hardhat, steelcaps and fluros, to put a more friendly face on the policy that has led to some severe criticism?

In a contradictory bit of omission, probably because it does not fit the struggle narrative, there is no mention of the $13000 grant for works to the building from the Heritage Conservation Funding Program, deadlines for spending of which have been extended.

Haydn and Penny must have a pretty strong relationship to weather the restoration struggles (as Sibella portrayed them). The obsessive theme comes through again however, with a bit of Anglo-Australian American Pickers thrown in for good measure. There is a fair bit of emphasis on the psychological damage of "doing the hard way" such as cutting and dressing replacement timber from scratch, hand plastering  (again) and shingling, and not enough on the personal achievement and aesthetic satisfaction.

Again, not wishing to labour the comparison with Grand Designs, the implications of personality, motivations and relationships don't always help inform the building story. Or they are just too simplistic - for example, the narrative puts the line that the place was nearly destroyed by fire and the project set back years, because Haydn took too long to set things right. When the reality is that care for our history is not always accompanied by the means to protect it. The oft-repeated rule is that a project can be quick, or cheap, or high quality, and sometimes a combination of two, but never all three.

I found a hint that there was some archaeology associated with this site, which helped date it. Nick Brodie, (described by Andrew Zacharek as "historian and archaeologist and Hobart's answer to the Time Team") evidently  dug into archives and under floor deposits to determine the age of the building, its builder and dated artefacts from its industrial history.

Another developing (but disguised) theme in the show seems to be how narrative complexity gives way to melodrama. Why bother with details and facts when you can just show people arguing, which is how the show unfortunately finishes, despite Sibella's little bit of psychotherapy. The emotive music in the premature climax, doesn't help either, certainly in terms of fitting the images since the building only looks halfway there, rather than the 'incredible' phoenix risen from the ashes.

Good luck to them and hope they get to enjoy their hard work, before going off to rescue the next conservation lost cause.

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