Jean Brodie-Hall interview, 13 August and 24 October 2014

Dublin Core

Title

Jean Brodie-Hall interview, 13 August and 24 October 2014

Subject

Landscape architecture

Description

Lady Jean Brodie-Hall (Verschuer), AM, is a West Australian with a long and distinguished career as a landscape architect.

In the 1960s, she was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) at a time when the profession was in its infancy in Australia. Jean served on the Institute’s federal council for 10 years, during which time she was the delegate to the International Federation of Landscape Architects and in her final two years was President of the AILA. In private practice, as Jean Verschuer, she worked extensively for Western Mining Corporation on their Kambalda project, at the Kwinana Nickel Refinery, the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter and the Agricola College for the School of Mine, amongst others.

Jean was appointed UWA’s first landscape architect in 1974. She was initially engaged to report on requirements for pedestrian and vehicular traffic following the completion of the Stirling Highway underpasses. As landscape architect Jean was responsible for the planning, design and maintenance of the campus in the office of the University Architect until her retirement in 1981. Her major achievements and challenges are discussed in the interview.

In 1979 Jean became a Fellow of the AILWA and was awarded the AILA Award in Landscape Architecture in 1990. In 2001, she was awarded Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to conservation and the environment.

Jean Brodie-Hall has maintained strong connections with UWA, helping to establish the UWA Friends of the Grounds, becoming Patron of the UWA Centenary Trust for Women and serving tirelessly on numerous committees.

Creator

Brodie-Hall, Jean

Publisher

University of Western Australia Historical Society

Rights

Copyright holder University of Western Australia

Format

MP3 files

Type

Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Anne Yardley

Interviewee

Lady Jean Brodie-Hall

Location

West Perth, W.A.

Duration

Session 1: 00:35:10
Session 2: 01:22:50

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

00:30 Jean Brodie-Hall, maiden name Slatyer, married Ivan Barnes Verschuer in the 1950s. He passed away young and in 1980 she re-married Laurence Charles Brodie-Hall. Born in Rockhampton, 1925. Jean’s father [Thomas Henry Slatyer] was a banker from a Queensland farming family. Jean is the middle child with two older brothers and two younger. Eldest brother Ken studied dentistry, joined the air force during the war and was killed in action. Brother Bob studied engineering at UWA and joined the navy.

04:30 Family moved to Western Australia and built a house at 1 Hillway Nedlands. Jean recalls spending time in the UWA grounds, which were largely bush. The memorial buildings were completed in 1932 and engineering was in the Shenton House building. Jean even then was interested in plants and disliked seeing people take away big bunches of leschenaultia from campus grounds. As a young child in Rockhampton, Jean remembers following the Kanaka gardener around. In the Nedlands home, Jean had her own garden plot.

09:20 Jean recalls going to a very good kindergarten, Miss McQuie’s kindergarten, Nedlands before going to PLC at age seven. In her last year of school, Jean as house captain for Stewart, won the prize for best school garden plot. Jean loved school but had no ambitions for post-school. At 18, she followed a friend into nursing at the Children’s Hospital [now Princess Margaret Hospital]. She loved nursing children and continued nursing in Melbourne before leaving for London in 1949 and work at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the main children’s hospital.

16:30 She loved the experience but felt her parents needed her in Perth. She continued nursing at the Mount Hospital on her return and renewed a friendship with Barnes Verschuer. They married in 1951 and moved to Gooseberry Hill nearer Barnes’ dental practice in Guildford and Jean’s parents who had re-located to the hills. In Gooseberry Hill she pursued her interest in plants while her three children were young.

20:00 Landscape architecture was generally unrecognised in Australia: “I can’t believe I knew nothing about it, but I didn’t.” There were “outstanding” women in the field in London. She began reading widely and enrolled in a Melbourne based course with a friend; they frequented local nurseries together with their children. Only specialist nurseries then stocked native plants. Later George Lulfitz set up the wildflower nursery [1975]. Jean enrolled in Perth Technical College horticulture course run by Lionel Steenbolm and jointly topped the course.

24:00 Jean was advised that landscape architecture would suit her and she took classes in architecture to give her a dual background in horticulture and architecture. She found she was in demand, more so as there was only one woman active at that time, and she was retiring. Mervyn Davies, from a Federal department, was looking at the Perth Airport development and asked Jean for local help with selecting plants.

27:15: Jean could have studied further overseas but with a young family that wasn’t possible. It was the combination of design and horticulture that appealed.
She recalls coming home from a successful undertaking in Montreal to have Australia accepted into the International Federation of Landscape Architects through Japan. She loved the broad view of landscape and the subtle, practical pruning of trees to withstand the local storms and snow. “There was very little understanding of fitting with the climate here, in Australia. It was starting to be recognised, but really people just gardened and planned their local maintenance pro adapt to the garden.”

30:20 George Campbell was the first person employed by UWA to assist with garden planning. He designed the layout of the Great Court when Hackett Memorial buildings were planned. He had toured with the Government botanist and introduced 180 new species of indigenous plants to the Government Gardens of Perth. He was one of the leaders in establishing native vegetation. When he died in 1930 his assistant, Oliver Dowell, took over and under the direction of the Vice-Chancellor, the university gardens were gradually developed. Oliver Dowell and his assistant George Munns hybridized species and had Geraldton wax species named for them: Chamelaucium Dowelli, and C.Munnsi also there was one they propagated called University White.

35:10 end first interview session.

Second interview session recorded 24/10/14

00:00 Jean defines a landscape architect, as described in the International Standard Classification of Occupations: Landscape Architects research, plan, design and advise on the stewardship, conservation and sustainability of development of the environment and spaces, both within and beyond the built environment.

To become a recognised professional landscape architect in Australia, the first requirement is a degree in landscape architecture at a school accredited by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects. (AILA) After two years of recognised professional practice, graduates can apply for full professional recognition by the AILA.

01:35 Jean’s early projects which were mainly through Forbes and Fitzhardinge, Geoff Summerhayes and Associates and as a consultant to Western Mining. Domestic projects didn’t appeal to Jean. She describes the redesign of Mason Gardens, Nedlands: “The space had held two hockey grounds, a rubbish tip and jungle under the weeping willows which collected the storm water runoff from the surrounding road system. We researched its history and cleaned out under the willows to make a safe fun play space for children to climb the trees, and put in a lake at the higher level which recycled water. Unfortunately I used a strong plastic sheeting, with Council approval, but over time the pool became very attractive to dogs and their claws ripped the sheeting. The City concreted the base but altered the shape of the pond at the same time.” A great team of Kalamunda based workers implemented all Jean’s projects. Predominantly Italian, they followed plans faithfully under supervision.

04:00 The Kambalda project followed her earlier work for WMC which was Belmont Office and Kwinana Nickel Refinery, and later the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter and Agricola College for the School of Mines. WMC (Western Mining Corporation) provided funds for Murdoch University to establish an environmental science department in lieu of an opening event for the Smelter. Jean’s office in Kalamunda was established after the Institute had been incorporated, but they were always too busy and after several years she accepted an offer from WMC to take her drawing staff and work from their offices to continue the Kambalda Project and commence planning for the Alcoa Pinjarra project chaired by Prof Stephenson.

05:20 Jean’s aim at Kambalda, was to establish a company town and operation in the indigenous setting of the arid woodland of the eastern goldfields. Planning started in the early 1960’s. There was considerable financial pressure to complete the project in the shortest possible time. Helen Whitbread included this project in her Master thesis and thought Jean’s plan was ‘before its time’ but to her was the logical solution for a remote town dependent on the life of an ore body. After the opening, circa 1965, her team received acclaim for the result.

06:40 The houses were all company owned and predominantly prefabricated. Fences enclosed the ‘back yards’ and returned at the house level to provide safe green space but Jean kept the land forward of the houses as part of the verge which prevented the denudation of the existing vegetation and enabled areas to be maintained by the workforce if necessary. She collected seeds and established a nursery for local species not available from government nurseries for both vegetation work and to be available to residents. There was an embargo on removal of existing vegetation and as the contractors moved out, Jean vegetated the many hectares denuded by their holding yards. Jean brought over the first wood chipper to WA and chipped the vegetation from the planned roads for mulch on other areas, to the horror of the Forest department, but it was very successful. In a report by for Melbourne University, Professsor Oscar Ozar said that one of the main reasons residents enjoyed living in Kambalda was because of the established vegetation

09:50 A second town, Kambalda West, was planned west of the known ore body as an open town in the Shire of Coolgardie, on the principles established at Kambalda East.
Jean believes landscape architects were the early environmental scientists.

12:25 Melbourne based landscape architect, Mervyn Davies, mentioned earlier, was a member of the British Institute of Landscape Architects and worked on the Perth airport development. John Oldham was also a member of the British Institute and a very good promoter of the profession from his position as Government Landscape Architect. Gordon Stephenson organised the West Australians and arranged for the first informal meeting under the umbrella of the Royal Australian Planning Institute meeting in Adelaide in 1963. The meeting discussed guidelines for a professional body for the Institute. Jean was the West Australian on that group. The first Council was elected in 1966 with Dick Clough as President and incorporated in Queensland. Membership was by a recognised degree, or by a grandfather clause, which is how Jean became a founding member.

15:00 In 1969 Jean was elected to the Federal Council where she served for 10 years, during which time she was international delegate to the International Federation of Landscape Architects for three or four years, the last two as President of the AILA. Being the International delegate was a great experience. At Mervyn Davies’ request Jean successfully put the case for Australia to join the International Federation to the Montreal AGM in 1975. In 1977, the AGM was held at UWA, with Dame Sylvia Crowe as guest speaker. It was run by Michael Tooby, Vicki Metcalf who was assistant Landscape Architect at UWA and Jean.

16:40 Late 1960s Kambalda East was completed and there was talk about making Kambalda West an open town which became the responsibility of Coolgardie shire. Jean was working for Western Mining and due to start work on the Alcoa project. Jean was approached by Arthur Bunbury about a new position at UWA. The Building and Grounds committee had recommended to Senate that a new approach was needed to campus planning and the committee was apparently looking overseas for a suitable Landscape Architect, when George Seddon recommended that Jean be considered. It was decided Jean would go to UWA once free of other tasks. The establishment of the Alcoa facilities at Pinjarra, with an associated town, was at planning stage with Gordon Stephenson chairing a planning committee including Don Fraser and Associates, Gil Nichol as Architect and Jean as Landscape Architect.

At that time engineers designed the V ditches, designed to carry storm water by a designed creek bed and required fencing. Jean considered the ditches unsuitable and instead made them similar to a creek bed which enhanced adjacent space and eliminated the need for security fencing. The Country Water Supply engineer commented that he’d never thought of handling storm water in such a way.

19:25 In 1970, Jean began working at UWA just one day a week, tasked with preparing a report on changes required to accommodate pedestrian and vehicular traffic following the completion of the Stirling Highway underpasses. Jean believes she was selected for the job because of her strong horticultural base, her design skills and local knowledge. Jean’s responsibility was for the design and implementation of new landscape projects predominantly necessitated by the current extensive building program. Following the recommendations in Jean’s report on vehicle and pedestrian movement, plans for the eastern walkway were prepared and the first project received approval in 1971.

24:00 Working with the University Architect, Jean’s aim for the eastern walkway was that the Memorial Buildings would become the perimeter of the Court by designing a paving to become an integral part of those surrounding buildings. Whitfield Court was surrounded by roadway and reinforced by the pencil pine trees, the buildings were isolated from the court. Red bricks were used to link the existing bricks in the underpass and in Saw Promenade with the new walkways and provide the surround for the poured concrete. The final design for the walkway evolved during a discussion when they realised that the Canaletto print of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, which hung on the wall in UA’s office, had a similar character to the one they were seeking. It took about 20 samples before the best compatible colour for the paving. Compatibility is important through all the walkways to link the campus together.

27:10 In 1971 the Vice Chancellor advised that the Whitfeld Court Walkway project would start and be carried out in stages. Stage 1 was the eastern walkway.
[The details, which Jean considered important, were to:
• emphasise the stone edge of the covered way, which had been concealed by the bitumen footpath and
• introduce a drainage channel to allow the walkway to grade to the east.
• remove unsightly wing walls from the entrance to the underpass and
• construct limestone retaining walls to extend past the bookshop.]

27:30 Later the building linking the bookshop and Hackett Hall Refectory, which opened only to the east, was altered to provide a chemist and then travel shop opening to the west at an intermediate level. The design which linked the four levels, allowed for a northern entrance to the Refectory below a new planting of Gleditsia var ‘Sunburst’.

The eastern walkway was completed by the end of 1972 and the Vice Chancellor advised that stage 2 would encompass the western and southern sections. He wrote: “the completion of these two additional areas will at last do justice to the dignity of Winthrop Hall and its approaches, and will add further to the attractiveness of the Undercroft.”

Work began on Whitfeld Court paving stage 2: the Western and southern sections. In late 1973 it was reported that: “Work on the new paving on the west side of Whitfeld court began in November ’73 and will be completed by the end of February. The total area involved in the paving contract will be all the existing roadway from north of Administration to south of the archway at the Winthrop Hall entrance, and east to meet the new paving at the north end of Saw Promenade.”

30:38 It was a very complex project and the design of the second stage of the Whitfeld Court paving included establishing a new level to be parallel to the covered way which involved:
• excavating to a depth of 500 mm at the northern end and a new entrance to what is now, in 2015 the Visitors Centre,
• replacement of underground services (installed by the Design Engineer).
• two new Donnybrook stone steps at new level at the northern end of the covered way,
• two new flights of steps from the paving to the reflection pond level,
• a redesign of the north western corner of Winthrop Hall (now again redesigned) and
• reducing the road level south of the archway to avoid impinging on the vista through the arch and allowing the redesign on the southern levels to be below the floor level of the undercroft.
• a change of level to the south western corner of Winthrop Hall, which enabled an unsightly Spiraea Thunbergia hedge surrounding the Howea Forsteriana (Kentia palms) to be removed and show the tracery of their trunks to advantage.

34:30 Jean wishes she had been brave enough to push the pencil pines out because they prevented the building being the perimeter. Many of the poplars were removed. Jean was delighted when a visiting University planner asked if the walkways had been part of the original design. Jean decided that this was a great commendation.

36:40 The project was complex and on Jean’s recommendation, the project was implemented by letting a series of small contracts, under her control. The excavated soil was used at other campus sites to complete several project. Vice Chancellor, Professor Whelan would walk round the campus with Jean to discuss progress. She had several letters though from a member of the Bursar’s Office complaining that he could no longer cross the newly paved areas without wearing his sun glasses.

40:20 Jean was officially appointed as inaugural landscape architect in 1974 with this duty statement:
1.1 Responsible to the University Architect for all matters in connection with planning and maintenance of grounds and sports fields, and for specific developmental work associated therewith as directed by the University Architect.
1.2 Responsible for the operation of the University grounds staff and its administration.
1.3 Responsible for the management of, and expenditure in accordance with University procedures, of funds within the annual Premises and Grounds section of the budget which relate to landscape development and maintenance, and the allocations for landscaping made from within Government grants for particular projects. This includes responsibility for recruitment, industrial relations and training of a staff of 28, including the Foreman Gardener, and a formal training program for student or apprentice gardeners.
1.4 Advise the University Architect and when required other senior members of the University Architect’s office on the landscaping implications of building and site works projects.
1.5 Assist in preparing briefs for commissioned architects and other consultants appointed for new developments and assist the University Architect in evaluating the landscaping implications of their design.
1.6 Prepare designs and specifications for all landscaping work as required, including roads and car parks in collaboration with the Officer of Works.
Jean says her approach to her work is a practical one, bringing in projects under budget and utilising discarded soil on other projects, for instance on the Reid Library steps.

44:05 Changes were made to the grounds staff to provide training for both specific skills such as automatically controlled irrigation installation and to enable appropriate staff to undertake the two year course in Horticulture at Bentley Technical School on weekly day release and our skill base was increased by adding a stone mason and a bricklayer to enable most work to be undertaken in house. Jean was comfortable being in charge of a team of men. She relates the story of introducing a new apprentice, on his knees weeding, to the Vice Chancellor and moved on. Afterwards she went back to this boy and told him that when she stopped to speak to him with a guest, he should stand up, wipe his hands on his pants and shake hands. His response was: “I don’t know whether you are my boss or my Mum”. Andrew Gwynne who had come from Dawson’s Nursery became an outstanding foreman of grounds

47:30 Friends of the Grounds helped provide funds for the book Landscape for Learning, by George Seddon. In the Foreword to ‘Landscape for Learning’ Geoffrey Kennedy wrote:
“Some of the most attractive areas within the grounds of the University are Whitfeld Court, for the improvement of which Jean Verschuer was responsible, the Sunken Garden, Somerville Auditorium, the Great Court, the Tropical Grove, the Oak Lawn, Jackson Court, Prescott Court and Whelan Court.” The changes to Prescott Court were designed after Jean’s time at UWA and the original layout of the Great Court was part of the Wilkinson plan with the Hackett Memorial Buildings in 1927 but finally not implemented due to the graduate development of the ‘Grove’ which had developed from plantings to screen a gardener’s shed and the initial plantings for the Great Court, carried out in 1930 by George Campbell, with his assistant Oliver Dowell.

50:00 The other projects, large and small, were all part of our campus development between 1970 and 1980 to achieve a character which was appropriate for an important tertiary institution, that is, a tranquil park like setting for our beautiful buildings yet allowing for maximum future building space, covered ways and quiet internal courtyards. Their aim was; to achieve a place with a special relationship between buildings, spaces and vegetation, a place of higher learning with an uncluttered and tranquil park like setting, peopled predominantly by the University community.’

51:30 In 1973 there was pressure to use the Somerville Auditorium’s rather unattractive and largely unused space as a car park for University House. Jean was asked to report on this, she considered it was of vital importance to the University to keep this private space, to retain the cathedral of trees and restore it to an attractive grove, reinforcing the hedge of clipped Agonis flexuosa rather than have the present appearance of an unattractive outdoor picture theatre. The stage had deteriorated and was no longer safe. Jean undertook to provide work experience for the REDS work experience scheme. She set the participants to progressively work on 20 projects including the demolition of the stage. Initially not keen on the scheme, Jean says it was in fact very successful. The entrance to Botany was the last project worked on by REDS participants. The area was mulched but Jean was no longer there when the vegetation grew and could be selectively reduced.

Somerville Auditorium: The paving at the entrance, under the jarrah beams, Jean says, was dreadful. It was a combination of different coloured octagonal pavers which Somerville had considered should become standard paving. The entrance was repaved with terracotta brick bands set in the lawn and re-graded the auditorium site to provide a raised mound to replace the stage for use by guest speakers or events and by inserting sleeves to hold temporary support for the summer film screen. The bio box at the eastern end was demolished to provide temporary access for a caravan with the necessary film equipment. Jean designed the ‘jousting tents’ for the ticket box which was removed at the end of the film festival leaving the cathedral of trees.

59:00 Jean is most proud of Whitfield Court, although she does regret not completing the final stage. When Music was relocated and constructed to the east of the Auditorium, Jean formed spaces for Professor Calloway to use for outdoor music events. The architect wanted to remove the hedge on the north east side. Jean objected as it would have ruined the containment of Somerville. Jean solved the problems and thereafter she was given the job of preparing areas for new buildings. She wrote a standard that included that tree roots were to be treated as an underground service and not disturbed.

1:07:00 Whelan Court had been occupied by the telephone exchange building, shielded by a row of hibiscus species and adjacent to a through road above the Sunken Garden, which linked the western side of the Administration Building south to the entrance to the Bursars Office. There were several beautiful, mature trees of Celtis mississippiensis adjacent to the Prescott Room all at a level approximately 450 mm below the floor level of the Vice Chancellery. When the telephone exchange was relocated to the Reid Library extension the space was redesigned to:
• Improve visual and physical access to the Sunken Garden and provide an outdoor, reasonably private entertaining space for the Vice Chancellor at a level compatible with the floor level of the Prescott Room..
• The road was shown to be unnecessary and was removed, the hibiscus species were removed, soil levels were adjusted to build up the level around the Celtis species and east to the building.
• Improved access both physical and visual, into the Sunken Garden above the Shann Memorial, was achieved by replacing the original steps with a longer graded walk. The existing vegetation band east of the Sunken Garden, predominantly Rottnest Island Pines, was widened and other West Australian indigenous species, including several Xanthorrhoea preissii in a mature size and one Agonis flexuosa, ‘fairy foliage’, planted to the northern end of this group.
• A limestone wall was constructed to the north of the entertaining area to provide privacy from the footpath adjacent to the southern face of the northern extension, a brick paved terrace installed beside the western face of the building and additional privacy provided by increasing the level of the soil to the south and dense planting running to the entrance to the Bursars office. Professor Whelan used the new space for entertaining.
At a conference in Brisbane, Jean discovered a South African grass which would thrive under trees and which was subsequently used in the Great Court and Whelan Court.

1:14:25 Recognition of the changes made during the 1970s decade was received by The Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ Western Australian Chapter in 1979. The citation was: In recognition of the contribution made by the University of Western Australia to a consistently good standard of architecture. The last ten years have seen a major building expansion program at the campus which has enhanced the total environment by sympathetic relationship of buildings old and new and sensitively related spaces.

UWA was awarded the inaugural Western Australian Civic Design Award in 1986 for excellence in civic design. The submission was prepared using Jean’s work. I was unaware of the submission until the afternoon of the award when the Chancellor. When he accepted the Award he made it clear that it was Jean’s work on the panels which were on display.

1:16:35 After taking early retirement, she was later asked to sit on advisory committees and worked closely with Geoff Kennedy and a team to establish Friends of the Grounds. Jean is Patron of the Centenary Trust for Women She received the Chancellor’s Medal saying it was a great honour.

1:19:00 Jean took early retirement in 1980 as her husband wanted her to be able to spend more time with him. They found a small 100 ac property in the hills east of Harvey which they developed together. Jean says it was very hard to retire in 1981 and has been very fortunate to maintain links with the University. Jean has been an honorary worker for nearly 40 years during which time she re-designed the area around the Kalgoorlie School of Mines as a pedestrian precinct.

1:21:10 In 2001, Jean was awarded an Order of Australia for conservation and the environment. Jean says this is principally for her work in Kambalda. She also holds the 1990 biennial award from her Institute.

She feels fortunate to have lived till nearly 90: “what more could you ask for?”

ENDS 1:22:50

Files

Collection

Citation

Brodie-Hall, Jean, “Jean Brodie-Hall interview, 13 August and 24 October 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed November 15, 2018, http://oralhistories.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/100.