The Vision of China

The Vision of China
Experience China: Landscape Architecture
Talks / Lecture

Hardy Wilson architectural drawing
Recording date: 
14 May 2016

Architectural historian Dr Zeny Edwards explores the vision of Chinese influence in Australia as seen through the eyes of architect, artist and author William Hardy Wilson.


Transcript of ‘The Vision of China’

Speakers: Stuart Baines (S), Dr Zeny Edwards (Z)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 14/05/2016

S:            Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the National Library of Australia. I'm Stuart Baines, the Library’s Assistant Director of Community Outreach. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.

This weekend is the fifth and final of our Experience China weekends through which we’re exploring Chinese culture, cuisine, art, landscape and architecture and the Chinese diaspora as part of our public programs for the Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644 to 1911. Celestial Empire and its public programs would not be possible without the support of a tremendous group of partners. It’s been an extraordinary collaboration between government and corporate partners and as well as individual donors. First and foremost I thank the National Library of China for sharing its extraordinary collection with us and with all of you, of course. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit the exhibition later on after the e ... after today’s event.

I thank our partners, Shell in Australia, Seven Network, Wanda One, Optus Singtel, Huawei, Cathay Pacific, TFE Hotels and event partners, the ANU Centre for China in the World and Asia Society Australia for their generosity. I thank our government partners, the Australian Government, for support through the National Collecting Institutions Touring Outreach Program—that’s quite a mouthful—and the Australian China Council and the ACT Government through Visit Canberra. Thank you, of course, as well, for coming today to hear Dr Zeny Edwards explore Chinese influence in Australian architecture.

Zeny is a consulting architectural historian, author, biographer and curator. She is also currently Director of the United Nations Association of Australian Peace program working not only to further significance of the UN International Day of Peace but to enable peace to become an intrinsic part of our everyday life. Zeny’s history places her in the perfect position for today’s discussion. In 2000, she spent a great deal of time here with the Wilson collection. The result of this perusal was comprehensive account of the life of Hardy Wilson entitled William Hardy Wilson: Artist, Architect, Orientalist, Visionary, a copy of which we of course hold in the National Library’s collections. Hardy Wilson is best known for his wonderful drawings of Australian colonial architecture, and for his increasingly visionary statements about the future of humanity towards the end of his life. He discerned a Chinese influence in the circular forms and strongly horizontal lines of many colonial buildings, and it became his mission to create an architecture synthesis between east and west.

The Library holds in its collection over 250 of his paintings and drawings, both of China and of colonial Australia, some of which you can currently see on display in the Treasures Gallery downstairs, which I also encourage you to go down and see. Despite opposition from the Treasurer at the time, our collection of Hardy Wilson’s drawings of old colonial architecture was purchased by the Australian government for the Library in 1926. In 1935, Wilson himself donated 50 drawings of Greek and Chinese architecture. In 1942, he donated some furniture designs, and from 1951 to 1954 he presented the Library with his Currajong drawings. In 2007, his granddaughter, Margaret McCreedy, further donated a substantial Wilson collection which included paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts and personal papers.

We’ll have time for questions at the end of our session today so please hold any queries until that time. For now please welcome Dr Zeny Edwards.


Z:            Thank you, Stuart. Thank you, everybody, for coming today. There are quite a few familiar faces here, which is really, really good, and thank you for the National Library for inviting me. And I also recognise the traditional owners of this land where we are meeting today.

Now I was thinking about the way I should present this so I'm going to speak very little and show you a lot and I think that’s the best way to sort of go and do this so if you can dim the lights maybe, that might be a bit better. I’ve titled my talk ‘Vision Splendid: China in Australia’. I debated about this, I thought maybe I should call it Imagined Landscapes and it will be very clear later on when you see the visuals. But first of all I’d like to do the images’ acknowledgment, the National Library, Hardy Wilson family, Harold Cazneaux and Errol Dean. I did this generally because I actually acknowledged Hardy Wilson family but they’ve since lodged the material with you, so there’s a bit of a ... I didn’t know whether to acknowledge ... Hardy was ... but anyway I’ve acknowledged everybody so that’s the way. Best to portray it. What is that thing going on?

This is the man we’re going to talk about, and Gail will know that this is a Cazneaux photograph. He’s a very tall man, six foot six, which is very unusual for someone, and this was his standard attire, bow tie, light suit. He described his face as long, and I think that shows here. So he was a very formal person. He was born in Campbelltown, and his parents were William Joshua Wilson—from whom he said he inherited the love of the works of man—and from his mother, Jessie Elizabeth Shepherd, he inherited the love of nature. He moved to Burwood, where he studied at Newington, and he excelled at cricket and rugby. He was terrible at maths and his record of 16 over 100 was I think—in maths final exams—was a record never to be broken. He wanted to go and become a farmer but the headmaster said he should be an architect so he did become an architect. He articled with Kent and Budden, and he finished that in five years and instead of practising he went away ... every architect does that, though ... did that ... he went on a grand tour and he left for England in 1905.

So this is where it becomes quite interesting. I have to put my glasses on. In the grand tour he became a member of the Chelsea Arts Club and because he only had £100 travelling money he had to go and furnish his apartment with bits and pieces that he’d bought at the Caledonian Cattle Market at Islington with second-hand dealers. So splendid old furniture for shillings; lovely textiles; all kinds and countless Chinese ornaments, including booty from the Boxer Rebellion, which I think was illegal to sell at the time or at this time; artefacts dug up from excavation at some railway tracks being laid across the country, and also the subsequent occupation of Beijing by the allies. I’m quoting him on this one. So this is an example of the cattle markets at Islington. As you can see it’s quite a busy place, isn’t it? And there’s another one. And this one is very interesting because this is a bookstore, but you can see the pages in the book strewn all over the ground and I’m sure Stuart will be appalled by that, by the manner in which they were just dumping everything on the ground and selling it. So this is the market where Hardy Wilson bought his goods.

He went to Assisi in Church of Francis, St Francis and he looked at the decorations of the church and this is where it starts getting a bit strange. Hardy Wilson said he took a nap under an ilex tree and dreamt of St Francis leading a procession of a hundred or more Chinese gentlemen resplendent in their long silky gowns. He says many years later a group of Chinese to see Giotto at Assisi is no more strange than a group of Italians at a temple of Confucius at Peking. The world is one. So that was the earliest mention of that Chinese philosophy getting through to system. After the grand tour came back to the Grange with a wife, settled at Darlinghurst in Sydney in 1910 and he furnished his apartment with ... you can see the Chinese fans there. This is his kitchen, by the way, though I don’t know how they cooked in it. More Chinese fans, bedroom, more Chinese fans and textiles. So he obviously loved to collect all of these things that he bought from England.

But Eryldene was his first ... one of the first sort of implementations of his Chinese philosophy. This is Eryldene. It’s in Gordon in Sydney. How many of you have been there? Just one? As you can see it’s Georgian and he designed by ... for Professor E G Waterhouse. And you can see ... this is a garden study he designed in 1921 and it’s already got that curved smiling roof at the corners. He wanted it to be that way, a Georgian building with a pagoda-style sort of Chinese-inspired roof. Waterhouse said no. And that’s what happened so it’s still very Georgian.

He got away with designing a Georgian dovecot—pigeon house, he called it— by adding a golden tympanum, which is that, and that’s the only Chinese detail that he can put in. So there was still a bit of a quarrel between Waterhouse and Hardy Wilson, but in 1927 Hardy Wilson got his way and this Chinese tea house is the only living example of the Chinese Grecian philosophy implemented in this building. The Georgian symmetry, it’s got shutters with illustrations in, the columns are ... what are they? Greek? Doric? So it is a combination of Grecian and Chinese architecture. It’s a beautiful building so please come and visit Eryldene. They dropped some leaflets to me when they found that I was going to give a talk so I think they’re open this winter because it’s the camellia season.

So in this Chinese tea house he put the elephants there to ward against evil and the Chinese dragons to do the same thing. I think the elephant is a symbol ... there’s no Chinese elephants, are there? No so that’s Indian so I think he’s got a bit confused but never mind. So the elephants are shouldering the weight so obviously there is a bit of a symbolism there.

In 1920, he published The Cow Pasture Road. You say, well there’s nothing Chinese about that, but then you have a look at the borders and they’re actually bats, so any way he could he just inserted something Chinese. And this is very interesting because this is one of the illustrations in Cow Pasture Road and he called it ‘The Alchemist at Carn Hill’. So this is very Chinese, this is called a shou or longevity mark, and then there’s a crow with three feet called a three-feet crow which symbolises fruitfulness and immortality and then there’s the bat, you can locate the bat there, the phoenix there, the dragon there, the five-clawed dragon is a symbol ... is the highest symbol of the Emperor, I think. And then there’s the platypus and then there’s the stalk. Don’t know the symbolism of the plat ... I think that’s their Australian Chinese connection. I still don’t know what this means so only Hardy Wilson would have known what he wanted to say with that, but it is very symbolic.

Then this is his most well-known work, old colonial architecture in New South Wales and Tasmania. He actually did start this in 1912 and he wrote The Cow Pasture Road, drawing all of these historic buildings. He found that a Chinese circle was then a favourite form with Australian colonial builders, as it was in China centuries earlier, he wrote in his foreword after China when he visited it in 1921. He finished the drawing in 1922 to 23, and doing this way, the Chinese circle in Australian colonial architecture, he saw this temple, it is a temple of heaven in China and he saw that roof line which inspired him to include this which is the gate lodge at Finworth, reborn in Mulgoa, Fernhill in Mulgoa, Greystanes, Bungarribee. And you can tell that this was done after 1921, after his visit to China, because he drew the chooks. To him the chickens and the birds are the symbols of wisdom of the world. I don’t know why but he just thought that. And you say where’s the Chinese influence in this? Can you look at it? It’s in the pagoda-style.

In 1937, he published Grecian and Chinese Architecture which is ... a copy is here in NLA. I think original drawings are also here and it’s worthwhile to have a look and some of them are on exhibition downstairs. Grecian ... the Grecian building ... this is the most important one because it’s the Monument of Lysicrates in Athens; he drew that. And the partner drew that but he added this strange phoenix, a brood of phoenixes, with three and then I’m still looking for the chicken so ... he says there’s a chicken, symbol of the coming of the style, of parading before the family with a feeling of pride but not yet sure of himself. I can’t find a chicken anywhere.

Atomic Civilisation he published in 1949, again with Chinese symbolism on the cover. I go back to this Monumentof Lysicrates, it’s because he redrew it and reinterpreted it to this, Monument of Atomic where he put the lyrebird, the clouds, Chinese wise men, three of them, Buddha there which symbolised capitalism, communism, clouds, the atomic cloud which is a symbol of hope, the Chinese junk is ... I’ve lost it ... there. And a pagoda too, they’re very sweet. There also is illustrated the Temple of Green Jade Clouds. I only included this because [they] are shaped like pagodas. Everything that he did had sort of ... he tried to sort of go and assert some Chinese ideas in his drawings.

Meeting of East and West, which is modelled after the tea house at Eryldene. Again they sort of have that beautiful pagoda shape, and then he put a phoenix there again, and the two roosters and whatever that is, think that’s a lion. West Gate of Celestion, again modelled after the tea house, but he put a lyrebird to say that Australia and China share the same philosophy and should be one.

Things of East and West very much [modelled] after the tea house except this Atomic Cloud here which was copied after the atomic bomb exploded at the Bikini Atoll. Rather than a negative symbolism he said it’s the symbol of hope and peace. So again he put the two doves there, symbol of peace, lyrebird for Australia, phoenix for China. You will notice the orange colour there, which is amazing. When Hardy Wilson showed me the collection it was in a camphor chest and there was a little case there, and it had all his charcoal pencils and there was this very tiny orange crayon, and that’s what he used to sort of go and highlight some of his drawings. They really are beautiful drawings and it will be good for you to have a look at the original or a copy of the book. I’m sure you can access it here, it’s not a restricted copy and have a look at the actual illustrations. I can never do it justice.

In 1915, he produced Kurrajong. Sit, look, see. I think that’s the interpretation of the Chinese. No? Anyone who can interpret this, I ... that’s ... he said that’s in ... that’s the translation of that title. The temple of heaven which he drew in the Grecian and Chinese architecture was reinterpreted so many times at Kurrajong ... in Kurrajong, the drawings. This is the ... his drawing of the Kurrajong Rising Mist, which is an exact copy of the Temple of Heaven. Kurrajong is in the foothills of the Blue Mountains and I ... we had a survey of the site and I think we located it ... it’s about 3km square and we tried to sort of pinpoint where he would be when he was doing this but we couldn’t honestly say where it was. This is the Echo Temple. Oh, he called it the Echo Temple, but I couldn’t locate it in Chin ... in the Forbidden City where the Echo Temple was. This is a temple of heaven, it’s not actually called the echo temple so this is also published in the Grecian and Chinese architecture. And you can see that the roof tightened after that. And this is his drawing of the Kurrajong Library and you can see all the Chinese dressed—well the people living there—dressed in the Chinese blue uniforms for a library, I mean it’s such an inaccessible place, I mean how can you go up those hundreds of steps with your library books, to go up and down, up and down? And there’s a little ... there’s a man here with a cane, there’s another one with a cane so when you look at it it’s really quite an interesting photograph.

The entrance to the Forbidden City, have a look at that building and have a look at this building, have a look at that building and this is his interpretation of it. The Kurrajong Octroi, which is an Italian and French thing. I think it’s a tax place where you pay your tax and this man is carrying his ... accompanied by his two turkeys. Heaven knows what he’s carrying, maybe a bag of potatoes to pay his dues. Really a very strange thing, instead of dragons he put black swans in. Quite a lot of chickens, different kinds so this is a very interesting building and you can look at it and look at it and see something new all the time. But I don’t really know why he included octua in this but it is a beautiful illustration and worthwhile looking at.

The Jade Belt Bridge at the Summer Palace. Have a look at this, it’s a beautiful bridge,  and this dragon screen at the Imperial Palace. I got this from the UNESCO World Heritage Commission collection. And this is his ... are his drawings in the Grecian and Chinese architecture which he called the Summer Place Bridge and the dragon screen and this is interpretation at Kurrajong where he put a statue of Kwan Yin underneath. And you can see the scale of that because there’s a fisherman there so it is a huge, huge thing.

I call this odds, I’m nearly the end of ... I can’t put them anywhere because they don’t belong anywhere and they still baffle me. This is it, life to earth. Here’s the phoenix, thepheasant, the sunflower, the lyrebird, the turkey legs, the sun, the fox tail. I don’t know the symbolism of the fox tail, I’m sorry. The yin yang, so Stuart can figure that out. I’d be very happy to find out if you can give me the symbolism of the turkey legs and all of that, would really be good. It is a wonderful illustration, it’s quite huge so ... is it here? It’s ... National Library? I’m sure it is.

This is another one, an airplane, Australasia with a phoenix thing; I don’t know whether it will fly in the clouds and all of that. You can see that he’d actually quite flipped already but it’s ... he meant very well and he was really quite serious about the whole thing. I think if he did it now he wouldn’t be regarded as crazy but during that time he really was ... encountered quite a lot of criticism. Sorry, I keep jumping. Doesn’t want to do that.

In 1954, year before he died, he flew to Bourke in a butter plane to create the town plan. This is the School of Arts in Bourke, which he designed and again there are his beloved chickens, and again it’s Chinese in style. And he said he borrowed these features from the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha in Peking.

This house he designed for his son, Lachlan. He had one son and he called him Lachlan after Lachlan Macquarie. I don’t know whether this was built, I don’t think it was ever built. I think he designed it in 1951. And he also designed furniture for the Fairfaxs with Chinese detail in it and bits and pieces of cottages and all of that which had Chinese influences, mainly in the roofs. These were never built. And this is the most quirky of the lot. So he equated, or compared, the Virgin Mary with Kwan Yin, and this is quite an unusual thing but he did that and I found ... I discovered this ... I don’t know whether it’s here, I think the family must have hidden it somewhere but I found it somewhere and to me it’s really quite a telling illustration. I still ... I don’t know the symbolism of these ‘cause he repeats it. And the symbolism of the sun. Hardy Wilson won’t put anything without a symbol in it so we really need to have a Hardy Wilson expert or a Chinese symbol ... some expert to sort of have a look at all these drawings and tell me what they are all about or tell us what they are all about.

This is the last photograph. It’s by Harold Cazneaux. This is his son, Lachlan, underneath the temple he called Jerusalem at his house which he designed, Purulia, in 1916. I’m including this as the last photograph because Lachlan was the one who opened up the collection for me to have a look at. Without him and without giving me free access to everything I wouldn’t have been able to locate all of these wonderful illustrations. That’s it. Thank you.

End of recording

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