If you’ve ever passed through Belmont may have wondered about the large brick chimneys and domes near the Ascot Racecourse. The structures are Bristile kilns, built in 1929 by the states largest pottery firm Brisbane & Wunderlich. Initially the company were manufacturers of terracotta tiles but over the next 53 years also produced glazed stoneware, sewerage pipes, crockery, glass, crucibles, bricks, vitrified clay pipes and various steel products until the sites closure in 1982.(1) At that time the factory was the first specialized pottery works in Western Australia and one of the main industries in the area. (2)
After its closure the structures were assessed by the National Trust of Australia in 1989 and were entered in their register of heritage buildings. The trust described the site as, “An exceptional assemblage of a group of kilns of types commonly used in Australia in the first half of the twentieth century… and are thought to be the largest such group surviving in the country.” (2) The assemblage includes eight downdraught kilns (more often described as beehive kilns for their analogous shape), five stacks, the related ducts and ventilation and a covering structure made of corrugated iron.
The site has aesthetic and cultural significance; its five chimneys have become a landmark for the area visible throughout the suburb. The kilns also are of scientific significance for their demonstration of the manufacturing process for clay products.(2) Soon after its assessment the structures were fenced off to prevent entrance by the public. However since that initial act of conservation no further efforts have been made to preserve, restore or reconstruct the kilns.
According to local member Glenys Godfrey, “over the years the site became an eyesore and the cause of numerous complaints about graffiti, litter,broken fences and vagrants using the kilns as shelter.”(3) The site, because of its location, is often subject to unauthorised access by homeless, drug users and vandals. Numerous efforts have been made to deter these visitors including the barbed wire fence, security cameras and a plethora of trespass signs. However these measures seem to have had little effect, the fence now a patchwork of mended entrances. Inside the domes the remains of the activities of its nocturnal occupants can be seen from bedding to brooms to bongs.
The lack of maintenance over the last 35 years has caused significant deterioration to the bricks of the kilns. Salts used in the glazing process are now causing the surface of the bricks to flake off. The iron bands of both the stacks and kilns are completely rusted and severe cracks are visible in their walls. This has allowed for grasses, weeds and even small trees to grow on the surface speeding up the deterioration. The roofing structure seems in fair condition, though the most of the iron is rusted and timber elements appear rotted.(4) The site overall is now considered in poor condition and unless action is taken soon, it is likely we will just see its demolition via neglect.
1. Eddie Marcus, Old Belmont: Our heritage our story (Perth: Belmont Museum, May 2015), pg8. http://www.belmont.wa.gov.au/CouncillorPortal/CouncillorMinuteAndMeeting/Minutes%20and%20Agendas%20Documents/Tabled%20Attachment%201%20-%20Item%2010.3%20refers%20Local%20History%20Publication%20Landmarks.pdf
2. “Bristile Kilns (fmr), Belmont” stateheritage.wa.gov.au, Modified on February 23, 2017, http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/67a74768-189d-428b-9a8c-528d526fcabc
3. Tim Slater, “Future Stacking Up.” Southern Gazette , May 10 2016, URL. https://www.pressreader.com/australia/southern-gazette-belmont/20160510/281479275626719
4. “Bristile Kilns” stateheritage.wa.gov.au, Modified on December 31, 2016, http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/PrintSingleRecord/d745e197-2e6c-40a2-b236-57b1bf0dd4a5