October 29, 2013
Established as a reading room attached to Perth’s 1903-built state library, Hackett Hall at the Western Australian Museum is this year celebrating 100 years since its opening.
An important building of its era, Hackett Hall was designed by government architect Hillson Beasley to stand out from the original library complex.
In 1985, the then-new Alexander library replaced the original state library and saw Hackett Hall become a part of the museum instead.
The museum’s project director Trish McDonald says that much of the hall’s original furniture is now missing, but many original features of the building remain.
“We still have all of the original bookcases made out of local, native timber and they are just beautiful,” Ms McDonald tells Inkwire.
“It’s about keeping the past, not being frozen in time, but still looking back.”
Despite this flexible attitude toward heritage conservation, the inside of the hall remains the same as it was 100 years ago.
Along with the original bookcases, the hall has kept the spiral staircases, lecterns and dumb waiter lifts from its days as a reference library and reading room.
The main internal feature of the hall – its ceiling – was once completely covered with a false ceiling into which fluorescent lights were installed.
“We did a big restoration early in the 1990s,” Ms McDonald says.
“We took out the false ceiling …
“Quite a bit of work was done to repair the roof.”
Now, the original, ornate ceiling is on full display, replete with its pressed metal patterns, trusses and skylights.
“The building was built before electricity was a really big part of everyday life so they needed natural light to read by,” Ms McDonald says.
She says much research was needed to get the hall back to the original style and colour.
Layer after layer of paint was painstakingly removed to eventually reveal the original colours.
“You can still do ‘modern’ but you don’t want to obscure the features with modern coverings,” Ms McDonald says.
Hackett Hall was added to the State heritage register in 1992 and is one of about 250 State heritage-listed buildings in Perth.
Heritage Perth executive director Richard Offen says buildings need to be quite significant to be nominated for heritage listing.
Mr Offen says Hackett Hall is important as it is a remnant of buildings that were made possible by riches that flowed from the WA gold rush of the 1890s.
“Apart from it being a very nice building, it has an incredibly significant history …,” he says.
Mr Offen has noticed a growing interest in Perth’s heritage buildings and said it was important for people to learn more.
“If people understand them and more importantly enjoy them for what they are, then there’s a growing desire … to look after them, to enjoy them, to use them and make the most of them,” he says.
“The best way to get a building loved and respected is to use it and to make it useful.”
Hackett Hall is used for a variety of purposes including holding exhibitions, parties, performances and festivals.
Photos: Kiara Bonasera