Current Issue #488

Endangered art of heritage restoration to find new life at Adelaide Railway Station

State Library of South Australia B 4898
Adelaide Railway Station, 1928

The city’s leading architectural stonemasons have united to undertake an ambitious restoration of Adelaide Railway Station’s western façade, creating opportunities for upcoming tradespeople to learn their dying craft and ensure it has a place in the future of the artisan trades.

The restoration effort is the largest that has ever been attempted at the station since it opened in 1928, and will see the careful repair of heritage columns, modillions, dentils, cornices, ornaments and windows.

Renewal SA has engaged national construction company Built to undertake this once-in-a-generation restoration project. Leading an expert restoration team – which includes the Heritage Stone Restoration (HSR) Group – Built is uniquely positioned to revive this important North Terrace landmark, having years of experience in heritage and cultural refurbishment.

Keith McAllister, managing director of HSR Group, is particularly excited about his role in the team and having the rare opportunity to work on such a treasured, state heritage-listed place.

“The station is one of the finest remaining examples of neoclassical architecture in Australia and as such has iconic heritage significance,” says Keith. “It’s a privilege and a joy to be part of its revival, and a wonderful opportunity to upskill aspiring conservators who are looking for a career in the elite artisan trades.”

With that in mind, Keith is working with Renewal SA’s Works Program to deliver up to 16 work experience placements for young people who want to develop their skills and knowledge in heritage restoration. Candidates may already have their Certificate II in Construction, but this is not a mandatory prerequisite.

Up to four of these work experience participants will be given the opportunity to become paid apprentices with the HSR Group, with a view to helping them attain their Certificate III in Stonemasonry (Monumental) and develop skills across a range of other traditional trades.

State Library of South Australia B 4599
Adelaide Railway Station, 1927

These arrangements have been brokered through the Economic Development Clause (EDC) in Renewal SA’s agreement with Built, which seeks to build community capacity and maximise social inclusion on Renewal SA-managed projects. The HSR Group, on behalf of Built, has gone above and beyond the terms of this clause to offer a significantly larger number people the chance to get a foothold in the restoration industry.

This is largely due to Keith’s passion for his craft and his commitment to supporting the growth of his professional field. “Unfortunately here in Australia we don’t have a national qualification in architectural stonemasonry, which is broader than monumental stonemasonry, and this means there isn’t an upcoming skilled workforce that can deliver the large-scale restoration and conservation of our built heritage in the future,” Keith says.

“Architectural stonemasonry has effectively become an endangered art,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is create a skilled community of artisan tradespeople who can learn the craft of architectural stonemasonry in a live, supervised setting and be inspired to become the next generation of heritage restoration experts.”

The station presents an extraordinary opportunity for work experience participants to be involved in the restoration of one of Adelaide’s most architecturally important buildings and experience first-hand some of the challenges encountered in this specialised field.

“When the station was first designed in 1924, it was intended to be an imposing and dignified building, uncomplicated but with mass effect – the station has certainly achieved that and it’s our job to uphold that original vision as part of the restoration.”

All selected participants will also have the chance to complete work experience at other HSR project sites in Adelaide as part of their two-week placement, exposing them to a diverse range of restoration tasks and settings.

The HSR Group is a leader in its field—having helped restore many other historic buildings around Australia, including Adelaide’s own Central Markets, the GPO Telephone Exchange and Bonython Hall—and is ideally placed to mentor emerging talent.

Importantly, the learnings from the Adelaide Railway Station experience will provide the restoration team with previously untapped knowledge about the fabric and nature of the station’s heritage features, which will become vital intelligence for future restoration efforts.

The scale of the project has involved the expert installation of 20-metre high scaffolding that will be progressively moved along the 80-metre-long western façade, which in and of itself has been a master feat. The next greatest challenge, according to Keith, will be colour matching any replaced elements with the station’s original render.

HSR Group managing director Keith McAllister

“The art of architectural stonemasonry is to leave no trace,” says Keith. “When the station was first designed in 1924, it was intended to be an imposing and dignified building, uncomplicated but with mass effect – the station has certainly achieved that and it’s our job to uphold that original vision as part of the restoration.

“Our work will have been successful if you can’t see where we’ve been and what we’ve touched – lesson one for the future graduates of our profession,” Keith says.

The restoration of the western façade commenced in earnest at the end of June 2020 and is expected to conclude in April 2021. It is anticipated that the first tranche of work experience placements will take place in August 2020.

The restoration project is part of a larger program of revitalisation being led by Renewal SA which will see the station and surrounding public realm uplifted and re-energised over a period of three years.

See more information on the work experience and apprenticeship opportunities being offered at the Adelaide Railway Station and other upcoming opportunities available through Renewal SA’s Works Program.

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