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Annals of Hotham Volume 5
Pride of Hotham: A Tale of North Melbourne and a Red-headed Architect
Hotham History Project, 2006. $45.

A Town Hall and its people
Old-time residents of North Melbourne grew uneasy if they could not see the Town Hall clock. Fortunately Hothamís Town Hall - a fine building from boom-time Melbourne Ė is still there. Its colourful architect, George Raymond Johnson, deserves more credit than he gets.

Pride of Hotham is the story of Hothamís Town Hall. It opens with a description of the beautiful site that the settlers took over in 1851, and gives an entertaining account of the squabbles and scandals that accompanied the building not just of one, but of two town halls in North Melbourne (known in the 19th century as Hotham). It includes much little known detail about the place and its chief architect.

The book is the fifth in the Hotham History Projectís Annals of Hotham. It was launched on 27 June, the 130th anniversary of the opening of the Town Hall, by the Hon. Barry Jones. About 200 local history enthusiasts crowded into the supper room of the Town Hall to hear the launch and sing with the author the hit of 1876 My Grandfatherís Clock.

About Bill Hannan, author of Pride of Hotham
Author, Bill Hannan, has lived within sight of the North Melbourne clock for forty odd years. He and Lorna have four daughters and eleven grandchildren. He has been a teacher, unionist, editor, art critic, bureaucrat, and writer. Among his recent publications are guides to French Gothic and Ancient Greek art and architecture. He started to write about the North Melbourne Town Hall because it was there, and became obsessed with it and with Victorian architecture.

About Gil freeman, illustrator of Pride of Hotham
Gil Freeman has been a rugged country footballer, a maths teacher, and a high school principal. He is now a grower and promoter of indigenous Australian plant foods and a keen water colourist. This last skill, once applied mainly to landscape, was extended to architecture and thus provided Pride of Hotham with wonderful pen-and-wash illustrations.

About George Raymond Johnson, architect of Hotham
The architect of Hotham Town Hall was also responsible for the Town Halls of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Northcote, Kilmore, Daylesford and Maryborough. His great great grandson, Peter Johnson, also an architect comments in his Introduction to Pride of Hotham:

George Johnson was a very prolific architect and in my opinion a significant one. His contemporaries knew of him especially as an important designer of theatres, and a large number of municipalities thought he was the man to endow them with a set of municipal buildings that they could show off proudly to the rest of the colonyís local councils.

Despite his prodigious output, George Johnson has gone largely unnoticed by modern historians. Local histories tend to mention him only in passing and to devote more space to the financing and political intrigues involved in getting a local monument built. His career and works are commented on in documents such as conservation studies, but these are not easy to get hold of. A book such as this one, therefore, is a real contribution both to local history and to the history of architecture in colonial Victoria.

I usually expect such works to be rather dry affairs, but in Pride of Hotham we have a most entertaining account of an architect, his buildings and his clients.


:: last modified: 05 July, 2012.