The Southwest region of Western Australia owes homage to both indigenous and colonialist settlers. Having spent my early life growing up in Albany it was only until recent years that I was educated on the fact that Albany is the oldest settlement in Western Australia. Caught off-guard, an intrigue started my investigation into the architectural and cultural identity that the Southwest beholds.
From memory Albany was always a small town, everyone knew everyone and no secrets were safe. The surrounding towns in the southwest were merely facades highlighting small pockets of beauty in the instances of natural landscapes. The beaches, bushwalks and natural phenomena were contrasted by bogans that lined the streets with southern cross tattoos; and the frail old people who outnumbered the youth by ten to one. School days were spent as most children do, and when we were let loose a 5-minute walk resulted in us causing mischief in the shopping center that could fit barely more than 100 people. Nowadays the Southwest has become a tourist mecca, with Albany becoming a larger city. After being away for years I barely know anyone. Not much has changed, a few new shopping centers and fast-food outlets now further the circumference of the town center. The same locals can be found at the footy every Saturday spending their pay check on the magical liquid that makes them forget their mundane nine to five. However, one thing that has completely changed is my perception towards the architectural identity that Albany upholds. No longer do I walk by a single building and not take notice. Whether old or new there is an aura of time that has somewhat molded together tradition and change to create a unique region of Australia. The oldest pub in Albany (& Western Australia) has just as many visitors as the newest. The old town hall still stands proud amongst the newly constructed plaza and streetscape surrounding. The new entertainment center is situated beside the ANZAC peace park; the architecture does not want to conform to either traditional or modern, yet it sits somewhere in between.
My understanding of culture has changed. The architecture precedes Albany’s reputation as being a beautiful historic town. I now understand the desire to settle in Albany. Rolling red bricks contrasted by non-defined archways, steep hillsides populated by countless verandas, valleys that frame picturesque views, even the people that inhabit these spaces seem happier and livelier. I think this owes respect to the architectural lifestyle that has been developed since the birth of Western Australia. There’s a strong sense of community, yet people seem to embrace solidarity. There’s an understanding of wanting greater, larger iconic ‘things’ yet people are humbled by what Albany has to offer.
In my mind there is no clear direction for the architectural identity of Albany & the southwest; and to the architects, I honestly salute your contributions. To design and cater for different ideals, beliefs, attitudes and values is no easy task in itself. The architecture of little old Albany (and surrounds) seems to produce buildings and spaces that embrace a non-defined pocket of time, seamlessly catering for all; just idling through.
West D.A.P. 1976, The Settlement on the Sound – Discovery and settlement of the Albany Region 1791–1831, Western Australian Museum, Perth, reprinted 2004. pp. 55–115
Albany | Bibbulmun Track “Albany | Bibbulmun Track”. 2021. Bibbulmuntrack.Org.Au. https://www.bibbulmuntrack.org.au/trip-planner/track-towns/albany/.
Albany Advertiser. 2019. “The Freemasons’ Hotel”, p.3, 2019. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/69938766.