Our drive to Seggiano took a little longer than anticipated with our satnav, Holly, determined to take us through back lanes before doing circuits of the same mountain village a few times. The scenery was spectacular but we did wonder if we would ever find our way out.
Finally ignoring her, we chose to follow the reliable road signs and soon had the medieval village in our sights.
We parked the car at the edge of town and lingered a while, absorbing the breathtaking vista across rolling Tuscan countryside.
Wandering up Viale Santa Caterina, we arrived at Piazza Umberto and spotted the perfect place for lunch.
Despite our convoluted journey, we were too early for meal service so we set off to explore the village.
Seggiano is renowned for its extra-virgin olive oil, produced with the native olive cultivar grown in the region, Olivastra Seggianese. It would have been fascinating to visit the olive oil museum but it was closed. Instead, we followed Via Indipendenza,
passing Chiesa di San Bartolomeo. Built in 1216, the church has been remodelled several times and little of the original remains.
At the end of the road, we retraced our steps
and returned to Piazza Umberto.
The 18th century Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena is also known as the Church of the Company of Corpus Domini, dedicated to the Body of Christ. The interior is rather unassuming as far as Italian churches go but there are some beautiful paintings, a 14th century Madonna and Child and a reliquary that belonged to St Bernardino himself.
Still too early for lunch, we ordered coffee and a biscuit at Antico Borgo to await the magic hour of mezzogiorno e mezzo (that’s 12.30pm).
The restaurant was amazing, entirely carved out of stone and the meals were delicious but I will tell you about that another time. We returned to the car and one last look at the magnificent panorama
before continuing our adventure at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. From there, we could appreciate the magnitude of the town and realised we had covered a very small section.
Darwin has long been an important strategic outpost from a military perspective. In the early 20th century, the need to attract senior public servants to the town led to the construction of four significant houses between 1936 and 1939, now known as the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. Architect Beni Burnett was recruited from Malaysia, where he grew up with Scottish missionary parents, and was appointed the task of producing housing appropriate to the climate. The influence of his early years is shown in the tropical elements of the architecture of the three houses he designed. One was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, another was damaged and remained vacant and boarded up to prevent access from itinerants until it was restored in 1988. A year later, it became the headquarters of the National Trust and known as Burnett House.
The only two-story house on the precinct and the only surviving example of B.C.G. Burnett’s Type ‘K’ design, Burnett House survived the bombing of Darwin during World War II with two bullet holes in the front fence. The Australian Women’s Army services were based here during the war and it was also as a rest area for nurses. Nowadays, the National Trust hosts afternoon teas once a month in the beautiful gardens, a lovely setting to while away a couple of hours on a balmy Sunday.
We were invited to wander through the house before leaving, an offer too good to refuse. What would have been the original living areas downstairs are now occupied by National Trust administration spaces, we made our way upstairs where the bathroom greeted us at the top. The upper floor bedrooms are spacious with three-quarter height partitions between rooms, information panels and photographs tell the history of the house.
Presented as living areas, I could quite imagine enjoying a gin & tonic under the whirring ceiling fan with the scent of a tropical garden wafting through the louvres.
The bedroom exuded a peaceful ambience and has a spacious dressing area.
Outside, colourful tropical flowers abound in the immaculate garden.
Adjacent to Burnett House, Audit House was designed by the Commonwealth Government and is an example of a large-scale housing form used in Darwin during 1920-1940.
Built for the Commonwealth Auditor in 1938, this house was also used during the war as part of a rest home for nurses. After the war, the Auditor no longer used the residence and there was a succession of occupants from various Government Departments. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see inside but it looked very inviting, surrounded by a well-established tropical garden.
Remembering our first visit to Cortona and the strenuous postprandial walk to the top of the town, we opted to drive this time to explore the magnificent Basilica di Santa Margherita.
A church was built on the site by the Camaldolese monks in the 11th century, dedicated to St. Basil, but was damaged during the sack of Cortona in 1258. Efforts led by Margherita di Cortona resulted in the church and adjacent convent being rebuilt in 1288. The interior is spectacular.
There have been many alterations over the centuries, the large rose window of the façade is one of the few remaining original features.
A marble depiction of Saint Margaret and a chapel commemorating the Cortonese war dead are to the side of the main aisle.
The most impressive display is above, with vibrant ceiling frescoes and stained glass windows presenting impossible angles.
Margaret lived the last years of her life in a small room at the back of the church until her death in 1297. She was buried in a wall of the chapel of St. Basil and her remains were transferred when a larger church was constructed in 1330. Her body is now displayed in a silver casket at the main altar.
Canonized in 1728, Saint Margaret didn’t have an enviable portfolio, being the patron saint of the falsely accused, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren and tramps.
Beyond the rooftop of the neighbouring convent,
the vista across Lake Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana once again took our breath away.
After discovering the beautiful Federation Homes of Burnie and delving further into the history of the town, I set out to investigate the civic buildings from this period. These are by no means the only significant heritage buildings in Burnie, they are merely the example promoted by the ‘Federation Walks of Burnie’ pamphlet. The prominent Ikon Hotel was established as the Club Hotel in 1912 by J.T. Alexander. The Alexander family pioneered European settlement at Table Cape and with support from his family, J.T. built his own hotel after leasing the Sea View (now the Beach Hotel) from 1902 to 1910.
Known for his generosity to many needy families during the Great Depression, Alexander faced mounting debts and was forced to sell the hotel in 1933. The three storey building, dominated by the tall pyramidal tower, is an example of Federation Free Style architecture with very fine cast iron valances and balustrades.
Built by the Hobart Bank in 1921, the St. Luke’s building is on the site originally used by the Don Trading Company as their wood yard. ‘Burnie Brick’ was used in the construction of many buildings of this era, dug and fired in the Cooee brickworks until 1967 when the clay was eventually exhausted and the business closed. Federation Free Style often incorporated features from other styles such as the Romanesque semi-circular arches and Art Nouveau pediments above the downstairs windows seen on St. Luke’s.
In 1899, a Baptist Church was established in the town with services held in the Town Hall. Funds were raised to purchase land and erect a purpose built weatherboard church and adjoining two-storey brick manse. By 1925, the church proved too small and the new brick version was completed almost entirely by voluntary labour of the parishioners. There are some medieval elements to the Federation Gothic style including pointed arch windows and doorways, blind turrets and arrow slits and a parapet resembling a battlement.
The Christian Brethren began services in Burnie in 1875 and a simple timber building was constructed a year later. The current Gospel Hall, built in 1915 and enlarged in 1930, is another example of Federation Gothic architecture with a steeply pitched roof, arched windows and the inclusion of Art Nouveau leadlight.
The current SES Regional Headquarters is housed in a magnificent two-storey Federation Filigree home originally built for the Lucadou-Wells family as a combined residence and dental surgery. The ornamental screening on verandahs and balconies was usually timber but in this case it is cast iron.
Constructed in the Federation Free Style for the Commercial Bank in 1913, I think this sandstone and brick structure is looking somewhat neglected. Known as the T.G.I.O. Building (Tasmanian Government Insurance Office) through the nineties, it is now inhabited by Steadfast Taswide Insurance Brokers.
Another beautiful building sits sadly neglected. The former Burnie branch of the Launceston Bank for Savings opened in 1928 and was most recently the premises of the Spirit Bar, a welcoming hub offering Tasmanian beer, wine, cider and spirits as well as delicious fare and live music. The forlorn façade has deteriorated dismally since the unfortunate closure of Spirit Bar a couple of years ago.
My disappointment reached a new level when I saw the condition of the Old Post Office. Purpose built in 1898, it is considered an important example of Federation Free Classical architecture. An enthusiastic couple bought the property in 2014 with plans to renovate but I can find no further reference to that story and it certainly appears deserted and decrepit.
The former Bank of Van Diemen’s Land (V.D.L. Bank) building, just a few doors down from the Old Post Office, has been beautifully restored and maintained. Completed in 1892, the prominent corner position is ideal for what is now ‘Food & Brew’, a successful restaurant and wine bar serving Tasmanian produce and making the most of the stunning period architecture, both inside and out.
I fail to understand why some these buildings that are considered significant enough to be listed on the Heritage Register are not being maintained. Surely the conservation recommendation of, “this place should be retained” indicates an obligation to upkeep the premises? Perhaps some Council coffers could be allocated to restore Burnie’s historical buildings, especially those promoted in brochures to entice visitors to the town?
The town of Burnie in northwest Tasmania began to boom after the discovery of tin at Waratah in 1871. Two years later,the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Company was floated and in 1875, the VDL Company moved its headquarters from Stanley to Burnie. The tin was transported to the Burnie Port, the horse-drawn wooden rail tramway was replaced in 1884 with steam trains and steel rails. The relevance of this (yes, I’m getting there) is that it brought the wealth and impetus to build the magnificent Federation architecture that abounds in Burnie today. Some time ago, I came across a leaflet for ‘Federation Walks of Burnie’ and only recently, on a sunny afternoon, indulged in a journey of discovery. It transpires that many of the buildings from this period are reflective of the Federation Queen Anne style, a fine example being the house known as Wyona.
Built in 1914 for Edward Alfred Joyce, a leading Tasmanian manufacturing jeweller, the house sits in a prominent position above the town on William Street on a bend where the name changes to Queen Street. Bow-windowed bays with prominent gables face both streets and a verandah projects diagonally between the two, making the most of views across the city and sea. The Tasmanian State Institute of Technology established a study centre at Wyona in 1983 and it is now the private residence of the Mayor of Burnie.
Continuing down Queen Street, Kandaha is a magnificent home built in 1888.
Set in an acre of immaculate gardens, the wide verandah is decorated with intricate cast iron brackets, fringe and railings. This was becoming rare, as cast iron was replaced in favour of machine-cut timber for balcony and verandah decoration by 1900.
Outbuildings include the original laundry with Huon pine washtubs but I’m not sure if this is it.
Queen Street was originally called Chaff Street and apparently became known as ‘Rotten Row’ due to the sub-standard housing at the time. Obviously, the area improved and in 1907 the street was renamed after Queen Alexandra of Denmark, wife of King Edward VII. In a region of rich timber resources, weatherboard became the preferred building material. Many Federation Queen Anne residences are an ‘L’ shape plan with a front room projecting forward toward the street and a verandah extending along the remainder of the frontage. Concealed within a mature garden, number 30 Queen Street was constructed in 1906 and has many of the additional characteristics of the era such as a prominent gable with half-timbered effect, valance and bargeboards with finial.
Francis Tallack is credited as being the ’architect of Burnie’ and was responsible for the construction of hotels and numerous business premises as well as private homes. Number 24 Queen Street was built by Tallack in 1910, the large front room windows face the sea and double verandah posts and curved timber have been used to create the decorative valance.
Just around the corner on Princes Street, number 1 is the house where Francis Tallack lived. The remarkable keyhole entrance is surrounded by decorative timber that continues along the verandah railing and the front door features Art Nouveau leadlight.
Princes Street is not a long street but the houses are stunning. It was originally the private driveway of a well-known homestead, Berthonville, and was renamed in 1907 after the three sons of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Carinya (number 3) is beautifully maintained, decorative timber embellishments, tall chimneys and simple leadlight enhance the façade.
I would love to see inside these homes. The decorative timber continues into the hallways, mantels and wall panelling and some have the Art Nouveau touch of pressed metal ceilings. Number 5 Princes Street has an interesting turret, though I’m not sure if it is original or a later addition.
Heritage listed number 7 has all the features of the Federation Queen Anne style and is, again, superbly presented.
Across the road, another keyhole entrance leads to the verandah at number 2.
Back on Queen Street, number 22 was built in 1908 by Joseph Alexander who also built the heritage listed Ikon Hotel in Burnie. The warm red of ‘Burnie brick’ makes a change from the weatherboard façades of the era and is complemented by the paint colours on trimmings.
Nearing the end of my ‘guided’ stroll, number 20 Queen Street is a late example of the architectural style, having been constructed in 1923.
At the bottom of Queen Street, running parallel to the ocean, is Olive Street. This was the former driveway to the property known as Olive Grove, home to Joseph Law who built the Burnie Inn, the first licensed premises in Burnie that opened in 1847. Manresa, at number 7 Olive Street, was built around 1900 by Captain William Jones, a prominent local identity known as the ‘King of Burnie’. Jones was a very successful Burnie business owner and entrepreneur, owning the Burnie brickyard, hotels, butter factory, abattoir, cordial factory, timber and mining holdings and several farms. He lived in his mansion, Menai, in South Burnie and built Manresa for one of his sons.
As I delve further into the history of Burnie, I am boggled by the enterprising people who had vision for this town nearly two hundred years ago. Hopefully, the heritage of this region won’t be lost and will come to be appreciated by future generations.