Recording date:

Derek Wrigley, Meredith Hinchcliffe and Amy Jarvis discuss the work of furniture designer Fred Ward, whose work was commissioned for the Library building in the 1960s.

*Speakers: Grace Blakeley-Carroll (G), Derek Wrigley (D), Meredith Hinchliffe (M), Amy Jarvis (A)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 19 July 2018

 

 

G:        Good evening, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I'm Dr Grace Blakeley‑Carroll, an exhibition's Curator here at the Library. As we begin, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. I thank their Elders past and present for caring for this land which we are now privileged to call home.

If you have recently visited the 1968 Changing Times Exhibition upstairs no doubt you will have seen the display of some of the bespoke Fred Ward furniture that was commissioned for the Library in the 1960s. A number of Fred's pieces, such as my personal favourites, the waste paper baskets, are still in use in the Library today. Fred's furniture is part of the fabric of this institution.

Many of you in the audience tonight will have sat at one of his tables while using the Library's collections, or perhaps you've perched in one of his chairs while taking in a view of the lake from that main reading room.

Tonight we have an opportunity to learn more about Fred and his furniture designs. The Library is proud to welcome Derek Wrigley, Meredith Hinchliffe and Amy Jarvis, who will speak to the significance of Fred's furniture in the overall aesthetic of the Library's building which opened in 1968, so we're celebrating our 50th birthday of the building.

Derek is a celebrated architect and industrial designer. He began his career as a lecturer at the University of New South Wales where he established the first building science course for architects in Australia. He left this role to take up the position of assistant to Fred at the Australian National University and was appointed University Architect on Fred's retirement in 1961. In 2013 Derek wrote and published a book about Fred's work; Fred Ward Australian Pioneer Designer, which I'm sure many of you have copies of - yes, absolutely. So I think it's just been reprinted if you want to get your hands on it.

Meredith is a distinguished contributor to and supporter of the arts in Canberra, an experienced curator, writer and arts advocate, Meredith has served on the boards of many local arts organisations and I'm sure she's a familiar face to many. In 2013, she curated an exhibition of Fred's work at the then Gallery of Australian Design. Meredith also catalogued over 250 pieces of furniture designed by Fred at University House at the Australian National University.

Amy expertly carries out the very enviable and important role of University Heritage Advisor at the Australian National University. She manages the ANU design unit collection which includes a large and significant collection of works by Fred and Derek and their many counterparts. Amy is also the co-founder and creative director of Canberra Modern, a festival and advocacy platform for the celebration and conservation of Canberra's mid-century modern heritage places and spaces. Please join me to welcome this expert panel.

M:        Thanks very much, Grace. Well Derek, Amy and I will have a three-way conversation about the Fred Ward Furniture in the Library and elsewhere. It's a big topic but we're going to try to stick to the timing that we've planned. We've lots of images and Amy's going to change them as required. We'll speak about some of the more - some of them but not all, that's the images. And Amy and I will ask Derek some questions to facilitate the conversation.

I have known Derek for many years when I was the Executive Director of the Crafts Council of the ACT, and I met Amy in 2013 when I was locating items for the exhibition of war that I curated at the Gallery of Australian Design.

Fred Ward was born in 1900. He attended the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne and was a proficient draughtsman and illustrator with pencil on paper, as you can see from this gorgeous cartoon or caricature. He created cartoons and sold them to the Bulletin and other publications. He had taken both woodworking and technical join classes in his spare time. He was part of a network of artists and others interested in the arts, living and working in Melbourne from around 1920 until the beginning of World War II. He was friends with many of the greats artists and designers of the time, such as the Boyds, Norman Lindsay, Sidney Nolan and Cynthia Reed and many more.

Fred Ward's prolific career in design may readily be divided into two periods, the first in Melbourne, the second in Canberra. We will focus primarily on his Canberra period today and in particular his work here at the Library.

Ward had two strong beliefs; one was that Australia should have its own furniture style, challenging the perception that good things had to come from overseas. Fred's furniture offered a rare simplicity at a time where ornate antiques were the norm. He believed in simple furniture without carving and fussy curlicues and staining. Secondly, he believed Australian timbers in particular should be used and that their grains and patterns would be the main decorative features of his designs. He began making simple and functionally expressive furniture for the family's new acquired home in Heidelberg in 1929. As soon as he had made something friends brought the furniture out from under them, at first a lucrative sideline, but soon Ward opened a small shop to sell his wares.

In 1934 he constructed a room at the Arts and Crafts Society Annual Exhibition to display his furniture. Representatives from the Myer Emporium saw the photographs, drawings and prototypes and purchased work which led around 1935 to Ward establishing a furniture design studio at the Myer Emporium.

Soon after the beginning of World War II, Ward went from Myer to the Department of Aircraft Production at Fishermans Bend. Derek, why was Fred ward chosen to work on the manufacture of timber frames for the aircraft for World War II?

D:        Well basically his knowledge of Australian timbers was pretty unique. Those of you who are old enough will know that during the war we had two bombers; one was the Mosquito and the other was the Beaufort bomber, designed in England for using English timbers for the fuselage and wings, but it was decided that Australia should do its bit by making them here as well. So a knowledge of Australian timbers was absolutely essential because they do things that no English timbers would ever do. The warping and shrinkage tendencies are quite unique, their moisture content had to be watched very carefully, the shrinks was very great but some of them were very brittle and of course their availabilities in wartime. Translation of the English manufacturing techniques had to be done to make it suitable for Australia, and the skills in jointing, gluing, the strengths of glue joints were something that Fred had had a good experience with at Myers, and of course the organisational skills to put it into effect. This was at Fishermans Bend and it was very convenient for Fred.

M:        After the war, Fred went back to Myer as well as pursuing several other projects. He believed that everyone should have access to well designed functional furniture and he was also concerned about economy and practicality. He developed the pattern craft and blueprint ranges of DIY, flat pack furniture for returned servicemen using the Butterick paper pattern distributors and creators and advertised through Australian Home Beautiful which was a highly successful project. This was long before the advent of Ikea.

In 1947 he also developed the DC1 chair for Fleur, which was Fred Lowen and Ernest Rodeck, which was a huge commercial success and saw the rapid growth of the Fleur venture.

In the late 1940s Fred was invited by Professor Brian Lewis to become a part-time lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, a partnership that would soon prove very fruitful. Amy will tell you some more.

A:        Thanks Meredith. So the Fred we've been speaking about was a born and bred Melbournian, engrained in the creative scene in Melbourne, so it must have been something very special to draw Fred, his wife, Eleanor, known as Puss, and the young son, Martin, all the way to Canberra, in fact it was an opportunity he couldn't refuse. I'll remind you all that after World War II Canberra's population was around 28,000 people, hardly the thriving metropolis that Melbourne was, and some even called it a good sheep station spoilt. Here is an image of the ANU in 1950. You can see that there's not much going on in terms of development right in the centre of Canberra so things were pretty slow after the Second World War. But after winning a design competition of five designers, Fred was working on a large commission with his former lecturing colleague, Professor Brian Lewis.

A bold new research university was in the works, known as the Australian National University, and Fred would be involved in what would soon be the jewel in its crown, and that is University House, which commenced in 1949. Opened in 1954, things were slow for University House in that post-war period. It was a pillar of modernist design; simple and austere in its use of materials in a tight post-war market, but elegant and grand in its use of space.

Fred worked closely with Lewis on the design of the spaces, the interior finishes, the fabrics and all manner of items including cutlery and candlesticks. Fred's consideration of the human scale in the furniture in contrast to the grand spaces I think really well demonstrated here looking at the Great Hall was admirable. So here you can see in the Great Hall it's a cathedral-esque space but Fred used this donkey brown colour on the ceiling to match the timber parquetry which was done in Queensland walnut which also then matched the wain skirting around the walls and the timber walnut - sorry, the walnut furniture as well to almost give the space a more human scale and make it more comfortable for people to be inside.

Fred's work was acclaimed by the university administrators and in 1953 he was asked by Vice-Chancellor Sir Lesley Melville to establish an in-house design unit which Derek asserts was the first and only in the world in university sectors. So, Derek, it's about this time that you and Fred crossed paths. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you met Fred and how your work at ANU came to fruition?

D:        Yes, this is a rather complicated little story. It depends on circumstances and who you know. It all started roughly around 1953, I was building my second house at Dee Why in Sydney and I read in the Sydney Morning Herald an article describing a lecture that Nugget Coombs had given at the University of New South Wales entitled Design and Manufacturing. Coincidentally I had just initiated the Society of Designers for Industry in Sydney. There was one in Melbourne established by, of course, Fred Ward. But I didn't know who Fred Ward was in those days, I was only a pommie.

So some time later I wrote to Nugget Coombs, didn't get a reply, but I did get a letter some weeks or months later from a chap called Fred Ward in Canberra. This must have been about 1954, because Fred had been badgering Ross Hoonan who some of you may have known, that we should be establishing an Industrial Design Council of Australia, just like the one they had in London. It's always easier to fix something that somebody else has done first and then try it.

Then Ross said to Fred, well why the hell don't you do something about it? So he did and he came to my house in Dee Why and saw my home and some of the furniture I had made rather like Fred had made at his house in Melbourne. He seemed to like what he saw and invited me to Canberra for a meeting with Ross Hoonan and Sir Roland Wilson, who at that time was Secretary to the Commonwealth Treasury. I have a little puzzle about that, never this. And there was also a bloke called Ron Rosevelt who was the Secretary of the Society of Designers for Industry in Melbourne. It all gets a bit tied up. Anyway, Wilson - we described this to Wilson and Hoonan and Wilson said, okay, I'll give you £100, see what you can do. Go and concoct a story convincing me that we need an industrial design council. So Ron did his share in Melbourne and I did mine in Sydney. We submitted it and then the next thing I know is that Fred invited me to join him at the ANU design unit. So that must have been at least 1956.

So I arrived in Canberra January '57 and I explained a concept that I had been running around in my brain of total design within an organisation. Now there's not only at the architecture but design planning, the landscape, the furniture, interiors, graphic design and things of this kind. And that seemed to take - get a little bit of traction.

So Fred in 1961, Fred invited Dr Coombs to design - sorry, invited by Dr Coombs to design all the furniture for the Reserve Bank in Martin Place. Now Fred couldn't do that job as well as his job at the ANU. So Fred was then sent overseas in '62 by John Overall, who was the Commissioner for the National Capital Development Commission to study galleries and libraries. None of this information came through to us, unfortunately, particularly about the library aspect. But Fred's skills as an artist shone through in his presentation of the furnishing concepts for the many buildings that he had done at Myers. He was essentially a realist and his sketches showed every detail of light and shade, reflections in glass and things of that kind and particularly his love of good craftwork. His clients loved that approach and when asked to give a presentation to a committee he would paper the walls with some of his pencil sketches which were really quite interesting, such as that one.

His tools were very simple compared to what we have today, or what other people have today, I should say. He has pencil, paper, ruler, a rather large drawing board because he had to put a full size drawing of a chair on that board with a T-square and a setsquare. Those were all that he had available. There were no computers in those days; everything had to be done with pencil and paper.

A:        So I'm sure you've gathered from Derek's remarks there that this was an incredibly fruitful time in Fred's career and Derek continued for its legacy at the ANU until Derek's own departure in 1977, further implementing that theory of total design. I wanted to also take the opportunity at this point to mention some of the other people who helped bring Fred and Derek's designs to life at the4 ANU and that was a very fortuitous time after the Second World War. So many of the craftsmen who made the designs for the design unit which then carried on relationships through the design careers of both Fred and Derek were post-war European migrants who had set up shop locally. Many of these were the Jennings Germans brought to Australia by AV Jennings to build the houses of Canberra. A few names to mention which I think are worthwhile doing. It's often the people who put their hands to the wheels who don't get their names mentioned so I thought we'd take the opportunity to mention a few; Karl Kleus, Conrad Dimple, Heinz Frank, Curt Kloska, Oswald Paseka, Hans Pielich, Klaus Scharrer, Alfons Stuetz, Tony Subam, Con Tobbler, Klaus Schaun, Kase Westrar and a few of these still live locally and their role in bringing Fred and Derek's designs to life cannot be under sold. As I'm sure you can see, this is an image of the writing table that's also shown in this photo.

As you would be gathering from what Derek said that Fred's standing in Canberra had also started to grow quite significantly. He developed important relationships with the National Capital Development Commission, as Derek mentioned, university officials, of course, and local architects and artists as well. And during their time at the ANU Derek and Fred worked on several other commissions including the Shine Dome, the Australian Academy of Science which is pictured here. Also the Canberra University College and the Commonwealth Club all during their time at ANU, and I know Derek was designing street furniture at this time for the NCDC so they're all very busy, not only at work but also outside.

As Derek mentioned, in 1961, Fred left the ANU and embarked on a world tour for the DCDC to understand the requirements of galleries, museums and libraries. At this stage seemingly unaware that he would be commissioned for the Library, we're yet to make that connection in a document. And also as Derek mentioned, in 1962, Nugget Coombs who was then the Reserve Bank of Australia, asked for him to do that important commission. So that brings us to about 1963 which is a pretty important time in history and I'll pass back to Meredith who will take us from there.

M:        So the NCDC commissioned architects, Bunning and Madden to design the National Library of Australia. Fred had developed - as Amy has said, Fred had developed a relationship with the firm during the building of Bruce Hall and the arts and economics precinct at the ANU campus and they were familiar with his design aesthetics. They also worked with artists Leonard French, who was commissioned at the ANU and then at the Library to create the stunning stained glass windows here.

Bunning sought permission from the NCDC to take over the design of furniture and the inclusion of artworks in the building, much like the commission at University House. Walter Bunning himself undertook a world tour in 1962 to report back on furniture and other library related issues abroad. In 1963 he approached Fred to design the furniture that would be required for the building. This was Fred's last major commission. He was engaged for a year and when they sought to extend his contract he persuaded them that Arthur Robinson should join him. Fred and Arthur had both worked together at the ANU design unit and Fred thought their skills were complimentary. He proposed that they each be engaged to half time and Arthur came on board in 1965. In our research we found a complete list of the furniture that Fred thought would be required following consultations with some of the staff at the Library and especially Geoffrey Clarke. This totalled 10,920 pieces of furniture, plus 16,000 medal shelving racks and almost 200 individually designed items. It was a very big job. Can you tell us a little bit about Fred's design philosophy, Derek, and how that was applied at the Library?

D:        Yes, Fred's philosophy on furniture design tallied pretty well with my own, although mine was in a much more initial stage than his, otherwise he wouldn't have invited me to join him in Canberra. But his policy and his philosophy on design was developed very largely in the design unit because we all had to work together. And it's quite logical I think because he carries that philosophy with him when he came to do the National Library.

We believed at ANU and the Design Unit that our work should convey a spirit of Australianness, Australian timbers, having a human quality of warmth and softness that metal and plastics can't convey. There's no doubt about that. The fundamental functional need of an item of furniture should influence of course its ultimate form. Visual enjoyment must hugely be a secondary consideration. I like to think that it's 51 percent function and 49 percent enjoyment. But there should be no redundancy in any of our work. A rugged structure to withstand the lifetime of knocks was particularly important as a university and the questions of misuse, appropriate balance of the major elements of a design are important, appropriate size and proportions relevant to the architectural space. That was particularly important when Fred was designing the dining hall furniture for University House, because it's a huge space and if you put an ordinary domestic table and chairs inside it might tend to look tiny, so it was quite a challenge.

Another philosophical aspect would be an honest and respectful use of materials that had - using materials that had no pretentions of being what they were not. That might sound a bit quizzical but if I say that laminate finishes which copied wood grains or soft vinyl that copied leather texture and things, you'd know what I mean.

Another item would be an honest showing of the jointing details. We tended not to hide them but to express them because they are a functional part of the design of a piece of furniture. Bare faced tenons, that is tenons - you won't see any there, but where the tenon projects through the rail that it's meeting and it would probably cover flush with probably two little wedges inside that really clamp the joint together. Those are the important little things and are part - and showing them was part of our philosophy.

He liked a simple oiled satin finish to timbers, particularly table tops because when you have a lovely grain like Queensland walnut or blackwood or something like that, a reflection on a highly glossy surface would destroy the picture of that very nice grain. So he liked the satin finish which had about five percent gloss which was very low. Unfortunately maintenance people who had gone along afterwards tend to lose all these finesse details and they go and stick on a borne plastic full gloss and the result is awful.

Softening of arris, that is the edge there. If you would notice there's probably a radius of one millimetre or two millimetres at the most, carry that to extremes of a sharp arris which would be too sharp or making it a wider radius, the whole image of the furniture would look very soft, woolly, and somewhat indistinct.

In terms of upholsteries, Fred liked the weaves put on by Clarte. Some of you may remember them now as a business but they use natural wool weaves of very simple patterns. Fred never uses a pattern on a weave to my knowledge. So yes, that's the end of that, sorry.

M:        So again as Derek has mentioned, the furniture in the National Library certainly displays the key hallmarks of Fred's designs, its simplicity, its elegance, its use of Australian timbers and some express joinery which will we'll say further into these slides here.

There are few items in the Library's collection which are worth individually profiling, so rather than show you a bunch of photos of furniture, we'll actually go into a little bit of detail about a few key pieces. Some of these because they're so familiar, some of these which technology has made redundant, perhaps the ones behind me here. And some because they're out of the public eye and hopefully it's a treat for you to be able to see some of those today.

We'll note some of the unique features of Fred's design for the Library that were not used on other commissions and the files in the Library state that Fred was also involved in other aspects of the Library's interior design, such as carpet, fabric, wall coverings and even the theatrette in which we sit today, though we suspect these seats might have been replaced if not at least re-covered.

The catalogue units that are lovely in the image here behind me, which are quite iconic to the Library, I think are elegant as well. They have an obvious aesthetic appeal and as the historic photographs shows, an obvious usefulness in the days before computerisation and catalogues. With the solid timber units weighing a lot themselves made of solid timber on solid timber bases with brass elements, and many kilograms of paper inside, these units needed to be robust but operate smoothly. They also came with a complimentary consultation table. So I'll mention - Grace mentioned the exhibition earlier. Sorry for the photo here but this is actually the drawings of the cabinets that are in the exhibition so the photos - I couldn't get a photo of them without showing a bit of a glass reflection. This is also the consultation stool. So these complimentary consultation tables on which the catalogue drawers would be placed while the reader looked for their cards and I'm sure many of you remember lugging out a catalogue drawer or placing it on the table and rifling through until you found what you were looking for.

So, Derek, there must have been some significant design research that went into making a functional unit that was able to take all of this weight but also operate smoothly. And I must admit the ones here at the Library look a little bit familiar to some I might have seen at the ANU. Would you like to make a comment on that?

D:        Yeah, indeed. It was really quite coincidental. We were working on the design of the Menzies library at the ANU at roughly 1961, '62 and Fred started work on the National Library in '63. But when we started we knew nothing whatsoever about Fred going to the Library, the National Library. Fred did learn a lot from his visit, mainly of not copying ideas but of learning what not to do, which is much more important. But Hans Pielich and I of the design unit were working hard on solving of the problem with the metal units inside each drawer and there are hundreds of these. The problems were that you could graze your knuckles when you're putting your hand in the handle because the holding rod of the cards, the knobs stuck out usually a little bit, about that much, and it was probably [inaudible 33:52], that is roughed up, and then processed so when you put your hand on the handle you graze your knuckles. And there were other things about the mechanical card holding system that we worked on at the same time.

We shared our design thinking with Fred when he returned from overseas. We did that a lot. We had no secrets. But in retrospect it's interesting to recall the conversation I had with the university librarian about these catalogue units and I asked him a question, I said, computerisation was just getting known, although there were no computers around at all, so I asked the librarian this. I said, are we wasting our time designing these card systems because computerisation will take it all over at the press of a button. And he said, oh gosh, no, computerisation will never take over. So there must be thousands of redundant catalogue units all over the world and we've got our share.

A:        I should also mention there was about a hundred of these made for the Library which we found in that same list of furniture. And we also found in the files that Fred had also looked at the Baillieu Library in Melbourne and the Monash University Library as well to see that if any technology had changed and to understand if anyone was doing anything differently before the library units were made.

M:        Some of the most beautiful pieces of furniture in the Library are out of the public eye. They're in the private executive areas of the building. The council room in the Director General's office are furnished with bespoke pieces designed for function and elegance to compliment the high level meetings and positions of the people who occupy those spaces. The Director General - this is the council room - the Director General of the Library when it opened was Sir Harold White and -

A:        There is a photo of him coming up when we talk about his desk in a moment.

M:        Oh, okay. So, Derek, can you explain some of the design elements shown in these pieces?

D:        Yes. The centre table is a real masterpiece of furniture design, not only for its elegance, its construction and the assembly of its size. It can be taken to bits, obviously. The soft panels - sorry, the dark panels between the ribs there are of a soft elastic vinyl which became popular around that time and Fred used it very well by making it a separate inset panel. And there you see a detailed corner of the dark green vinyl and the timber on the outside, whilst on this it's interesting to note that Fred normally insisted on a [inaudible 37:36] joint at that point at the ANU, and for some reason I'm not quite sure, he chose a butt joint here. But with a butt joint you - unless your timber is really seasoned you can get an awkward mismatch when one piece shrinks and the other doesn't. So why he did that I do not know.

The [inaudible 38:05], as you see in the top left are a fairly unique introduction for legs, but is governed partly by the fixing of the adjustable leg - adjustable foot underneath it. It's a great pity I think that the public cannot see this particular room in normal circumstances.

The [inaudible 38:39], we've gone to that. This is apparently Fred's original sketch for it, but the reality it turned out quite different, much better. It has an elegant simplicity about it that is really almost surprising because these are four doors but there's no handles. All you have to do is just touch the top of the door and there's a touch light inside and the door opens and you just pull it open. It's really very simple. It's a fine piece of workmanship.

The Director General's desk, again is another piece, if we could have the next slide perhaps. Is there one more?

A:        Yeah, this one.

D:        Oh yes. This was Fred's original pencil sketch. It didn't turn out quite like that, but that's how he sold the design through Harold White at the time. The centre panel - oh, forget that one. The centre panel was again the soft vinyl, which is all right when you have a Director General's table but when you have students with ballpoint pens it's another thing altogether.

The box, as it turns out, is really very beautiful. It's in Queensland walnut with typical handles which only one person in Australia used to make our design. So these are - it's a pity that the public can't see these. It'd be very nice if they could.

M:        Can we move onto the chairs now, Derek?

D:        Yes.

A:        So Fred designed several types of chairs for the different areas of the Library building, each of them varied subtly to differentiate its location in the Library and also to stop it from going walkabout. The chairs and tables - this is the Asian Reading Room here shown in this photo. The chairs and tables were made in different timbers for different areas, again to differentiate their home location, and they're examples of black bean, Queensland walnut and silver ash, as well as the use of subtle design differences on each of the chairs. As this image shows, there's essentially one basic chair frame applied in four different ways and of course one different material. Obviously this one at the end is done in tubular steel.

Derek, you've used in your book about the Library design that the same design of chairs for executive staff and the public was an egalitarian gesture by Fred. Do you want to comment on that?

D:        I have no direct knowledge of this, but Fred was inclined towards this philosophy by his very nature. But the reason perhaps why there's a similarity here is that it was possibly because of the economy of having the same structure for a range of chairs where you change, say, the back rail or you change the upholstery or something of that kind. So as some economy was certain the chair achieved, and having those three versions of the same structure. When we were talking about redundancy of rails, there is one redundancy in those chairs as I'm not going to tell you but I'll leave it to you to find out.

I might just go back a bit. The metal chair on the right has the same sort of character so it didn't look out of place in the Library when placed with the chairs. A walk around the building reveals the fact that another designed has been employed since Fred died in 1990 because there are several changes around, particularly when the difficulty of four-legged chairs on castors proved so problematic and they became five, so a mass change was put in place. The ergonomics revolution seems to have made many changes necessary but they were not always justified.

A:        We'll move onto the Reading Room and I'm - as Grace said, I think, in her introduction, most of you will have used the Reading Room one way or another. There are few key design features of this space which you might not have noticed, however. The polished brass leg adjust is on the tables so they don't rock. The brass given an effective gleam of gold among the black bean timber, and as Derek has written in his biography, the combination of brass and black bean added a prestigious quality to this huge room. The cruciform motif on the corners is not seen in other designs of Fred's and the use of - as Derek mentioned, the use of open tenons as a purely functional item which add aesthetic interest. Despite their size they are appropriate and have a human scale in this room with its very high ceilings. At some point individual carrels were installed and they are another example of Fred Ward's relentless focus on function. But these, as Grace, I think, said, these are - perhaps the baskets are the outstanding things and these beautiful baskets are purely functional but so elegant. So what do they tell us about Fred, Derek?

D:        Well as we've gathered, Fred was a down to earth person. He knew he'd be a good designer, I think. He loved the basic crafts which are very - and in this case, the wicker basket echoed something that he did for University House in the 1950s. Wood, wicker, natural yarns, have a visual as well as a physical warmth which relates well with our human qualities. And this was his favourite basket, I feel is a bit of fun on Fred's part. I think he's really having a quiet joke. But it is a reminder of our past when crafts had a much - more significant role in our lives and metal and plastics really don't have the sort of quality that we would like to use.

Unfortunately staff changes, loss of original maintenance instructions and new health regulations which lack "soul". The odd things happened, like plastic bag liners. Surely that's another design problem that should be put on the to-do list for the Library.

A:        Thanks, Derek. Just noting, this is the University House [inaudible 46:51] linen basket that Derek was referencing there. So I guess to sum up the formal part of the evening, we - all three of us wanted to make some short closing remarks, each from a personal perspective, and firstly from me, who I'll note is a built heritage professional and not a designer. I believe that Fred had a unique perspective, living through two World Wars and the Great Depression, Derek describes him as a quiet, down to earth achiever who was confident in his own skills and rarely needed prototypes. An excellent intuitive designer who was able to strip down a problem to its bare essentials with no unnecessary pretentions.

In Derek's book he mentions a quote on Fred's - that he say on Fred's drawing board which struck me as something we should all perhaps keep in the back of our minds. There is always a better way. Short and sweet but I think very powerful. What's often now referred to as Fredwardian furniture, is iconic and increasingly valuable and collectible, but so many of Fred's designs are invisible to the public because of their bespoke nature hidden in the executive and special areas of some of Australia's most important buildings and even overseas. Perhaps a contrast to many of his design contemporaries of the era who designed for the commercial market and probably got a lot more accolade in the public eye.

Fred was far ahead of his time as well and sadly many of his pieces and admittedly many of those at the AMU were regrettably discarded in a flurry of ergonomics and a need for shiny and new. Derek also wanted to mention how much of Fred's work had been mis-credited and often you can go on ebay and anything with a Myer heritage sticker on it is credited to Fred and it's quite difficult because his work is often copied and often mis-credited. And I also probably should give a shout out to Derek as well. Often Derek's work is credited as Fred's so we should make sure, especially at the ANU that we call the collection of furniture the ANU historic furniture collected by the design unit, and that's anything that's not done for University House, we credit to the group of people.

Personally I wish I'd had the chance to meet Fred, but I must say how privileged I am to have had the chance to learn about him from Derek, as well as having the privilege to work with Derek himself, to understand design in a way I never thought imaginable, especially from someone without a creative bone in my body, I do feel honoured, though, to know Fred through his designs and count my lucky stars to have the rare privilege to be a custodian of a small amount of his work and of course that of Derek and their design unit counterparts.

Managing the collection has taught me that good design is timeless. Well made items will last for as long as they are care for, which is certainly the case here at the National Library.

M:        Well I hope that we've reminded you all of the strong philosophy that Fred had, the importance of good design to everyone and his elegant egalitarian beliefs. He was particularly concerned about men who returned to Australia after World War II, many of whom were at a bit of a loss and this was one of the reasons that he designed the pattern craft furniture that we mentioned.

Fred Ward and Derek too believe that everyone should be taught design at school, that everyone should be visually literate and appreciate the value of good design. He believed that good design could solve most problems. It cost no more to produce a well designed object than it does a poorly designed object, whether it's a cup or a stapler or a complicated desk.

Fred obviously had an ongoing design with the - relationship with the Library after the building had been opened because we found lots of drawings in our research looking - going through the files, looking for things that we could speak about tonight, so I think that that's quite an important thing, that they obviously wanted to maintain the design integrity of all of the furniture.

There are many things that we are grateful to Fred Ward and Derek for. The establishment of the design - the Society for Design Industry in Melbourne, the New South Wales Chapter, the establishment of the Industrial Design Council of Australia and I think we need to acknowledge that both Fred and Derek have really had such an extraordinary to commitment to design in Australia. I feel very honoured to have had so much to do with Fred Ward furniture in the last five years, although I have been familiar with it for decades. I was lucky enough to meet Fred in the late 1970s and it's probably then that I learnt about his furniture. And I've learned all that I know from Derek. Thank you, Derek, very honoured to have spent this time with you. And I'm really grateful to both Derek and Amy for all the work in putting together this talk. And before I finish, we all with to thank the Library very much for inviting us to talk about Fred Ward's work. We're all devotees and could have talked for hours, but we're very pleased to have - that the Library gave us this opportunity.

D:        I'm more grateful than I can express that Fred Ward and his wife, Eleanor, Puss to many of her friends, came into my life in 1956 and ended in 1990. Their son, Martin, I believe is in the audience tonight somewhere. But our design philosophies were very similar and I ended up filling his shoes as the head of the ANU design unit.

I can hear him now in my head and from the many discussions that we had over coffee time and discussions on design and architecture and one relevant statement stands out that I feel sure Fred will like me to say here. Architecture in its own right might create a pleasant environment externally but without all the many elements of furnishing its interiors would be - the billing will be utterly useless to human beings. Just ponder on that statement. He would ask us to imagine this magnificent building without any furnishings at all, just an empty reverberative shell with nowhere to sit down, nothing to write on, no bookshelves, curtains or soft floor coverings. No direction signs, no room numbers or appropriate light fittings, all of which are the links between us and architecture of bare shells that we would have to live and work in. We owe it to people like Fred to make us more aware of the value of the many items we tend to take for granted. It's all part of the furniture. Thank you for coming. I hope you have enjoyed it.

May I mention one more thing, there is a little exhibition upstairs that has one element describing a little bit of what we've been talking about and sit in the talking chairs because there are, again, another excerpt about the same thing. Well worth listening to.

A:        And if I could quickly make a plug, Derek's book about Fred is available in limited supply in the bookshop. And I just wanted to point out the reasoning behind this image, just as a way to leave you and open up the floor for questions. This is an image of Fred's own lounge room, and the reason that we found it so poignant to use as the image which Derek closed on today, was that as you can see, two of Fred's chairs here, the small table you see there was a gift from the ANU, designed by Derek, made in-house to Fred on his departure from the ANU. And the sculpture on the table was a gift from Derek to Fred's wife. So that's quite a beautiful way to round out the relationship of Fred and Derek in quite a simple image there and so I just thought that was worth mentioning as well. So thanks very much.

D:        I'd like to give credit to Hans Billing who made that table.

M:        I think we need to stop there.

G:        Thank you Derek, Meredith and Amy for that enthralling discussion and I don't think any of us are going to be able to look at Fred's furniture in quite the same way and I'm sure we all could have sat here and listened to you for hours, but alas.

Now we do have time for some questions from the audience. If I can ask that you please raise your hand and a microphone will be brought to you, and please wait for the microphone before asking your question for the benefit of all our guests. I think everyone's - oh, we've got one at the back.

D:        I would ask you to speak up, please, because I'm very - getting very deaf.

M:        There's a microphone, Derek.

Audience:        My question is about Fred's trip overseas and if he made any connections that he kept in contact with?

M:        We don't know. There's no record of that that we've been able to find.

A:        There is a report in the Library catalogue that Fred wrote to the NCDC which we didn't access in terms of where he went and who he spoke to, that's part of the Library catalogue, so that might be worth looking up as well.

Audience:        I just wondered what happened to the design unit at ANU?

M:        What happened to the design unit at the ANU?

D:        Oh.

Audience:        A loaded question.

D:        Quite frankly I couldn't stand the administration in 1976. I retired in 1977. Sorry to have to say, that money is taking over the world. It's becoming a new arbitrary of taste and a lot of things that have been designed today are not properly designed. It's a symptom of our society, I'm afraid, but perhaps I shouldn't say anymore.

A:        Functionally inside the ANU, not only do we manage the furniture collection but there is a drafting office and there also is a graphic design team within the university so those are, I guess, the last threads of what the design unit used to be which was a full suite of designers.

Audience:        It's a very international style that you find within the Library and within spaces at the university. To what extent or what were the influences, both on Fred and on you, Derek, in terms of national origins. Were they European modernism, were they Japanese architecture, were they British folk craft, what were those broader influences?

D:        I would like to say that there were no influences at all. We don't believe in copying, we like to think that we can solve a problem that's presented to us in a simple a way as possible and there's never any attempt, I'm sure on Fred's and my part of doing it in a Japanese style or a Chinese style or whatever. We solved the problem to the best of our ability using the circumstances with which we were surrounded, the materials that were available and so on. So no, we deliberately do not copy.

A:        The trip that Fred took in 1962 was his first overseas trip, so apart from any written and photographic material he wouldn't have ever picked up any other influences.

D:        But learning from other people's mistakes is a different matter.

M:        I was going to also ask about that tension perhaps between the international inspiration and that making Australian and one thing that does seem quite obvious is the colouration of the timbers and the - it's that khaki bush colour almost of the timbers and the vinyl coverings and the muted palate of the fabrics that seem quite Australian. But I also just wanted to ask, were there any subscriptions to any international magazines that came in regularly to the office?

D:        I'm afraid I couldn't understand anything that you said.

A:        She was asking whether there were any subscriptions to international magazines that were - that came into the design unit?

D:        No, none. I don't remember anyone coming - any magazine coming in. We didn't need to - it's all very well to hear what everybody else is doing but it does cover you somewhere - there is some influence goes in. We prefer not to see it in a way because we had our own circumstances in the ANU and the - we met them. There were very largely technical, audio visual things, how to make a successful theatre and so on. So we managed without.

A:        I was just going to mention that on the idea of magazines, Meredith mentioned the pattern craft series of works was put out through Australian Home Beautiful, and I just wanted to show just how beautiful the graphics are for that series of pattern craft here which were advertised in a magazine to the post - the return servicemen which are unrelated but also very beautiful image to show that we didn't get time to show during the presentation.

M:        The Australian Home Beautiful was published for years and years and years and Eric Wilson was one of the authors who wrote regularly about Fred's furniture and about - and Puss herself wrote a lot for it as well and that was published monthly.

G:        Unfortunately we've ran out of time tonight, but I hope you have enjoyed yourselves this evening as much as I have. And if you haven't already, I encourage you all to visit the Library's exhibition 1968 Changing Times and view some of Fred's furniture, explore the collections and discover your own stories. So the galleries will re-open at 10am tomorrow and the exhibition is on display until the 12th of August. And the final day of the exhibition actually coincides with our National Library open day which you're all invited to and you can find more information about the open day on our website.

And as was also mentioned, Derek's book is also available from the Library bookshop, which can also be purchased online. So please join me in thanking Amy, Meredith and Derek once again. And thank you to all of you for coming tonight and we hope to see you at the Library again soon. Thank you.

End of recording