Curtin University Project

First site visit

Photo of Curtin students standing around old school site listening to the archaeologist.
Curtin students standing around old school site listening to the archaeologist.

Nineteen Masters of Architecture students and their lecturers from the
School of Built Environment, Curtin University, visited St Peter’s Gilgering for their first view of the place, as an introduction to their Integrated Buildings Research Studio and to receive a brief from the Friends of St Peter’s Gilgering.  It was a hot summer’s day at Gilgering, with many flies and very little shade: environmental factors that will hopefully help inform their designs.

Photo of Curtin students measuring inside wall of the church beside the font.
Curtin students measuring inside wall of the church beside the font.

The students received an introduction to the studio from their lecturers and Stuart Rapley, Archaeologist, who gave a talk on how an archeoligist would observe and thoroughly inspect a site for the aboriginal and colonial significance of the general location.  Glenyse and Emma from the Friends committee gave a brief history of the church,  cemetery and surrounding grounds and then outlined the scope of what was needed from a Master Plan, with emphasis on reactivating St Peter’s as a place of interest and for people to visit and participate in a range of activities.  The students ventured outside with tape measures and laser measures to document all possible dimensions of the church (inside and out), gravestones, probable location of unmarked graves, trees, school site, water well, church bell, sundial and roads. They even launched a drone with a camera to get a bird’s eye view of the area.

As the day progressed, the stories associated with the area helped the students to develop a deeper understanding of the complex layers of cultural and social history that had occurred during the past 159 years.

Master Plan

Friends of St Peter’s Gilgering engaged Curtin University’s School of Built Environment’s Masters of Architecture students to develop a Master Plan for the site of St Peter’s Gilgering.  They were guided by lecturers Katherine Ashe and Simon Pendal.  The students spent the next 4 months developing whole of site Master Plans which would include:

  • Mapping the site as it exists now including the probable location of unmarked graves;
  • Plans to rebuild the old schoolhouse, ablution facilities, storage space, scope to inter ashes or erect memorial plaques; and,
  • The possibility of the provision of power and water.

The students were to focus on architecture as more than just designing a building:

The objective of this speculative project is to examine how the understanding of place can act as a catalyst for strategic intervention.  The Gilgering Church and former school site is significant culturally, historically and environmentally …. The project will attempt to unlock the latent potentials of this place through provision of new infrastructure.

Each student was required to develop their own Master Plan including work drawings, building and planning permits.  Their designs needed to meet the requirements of the Friends of St Peter’s, Gilgering, The National Trust Australia (WA) and the Shire of York’s building and planning legislation.

The students received further input from:

  • Philip Narkle – a traditional elder of the Ballardong people;
  • Kelly Rippengale – Senior Conservation Architect from the National Trust of Australia (WA);
  • Ronald Bodycoat – Heritage Architect who contributed towards the preparation of the original
    Conservation Plan for St Peter’s, Gilgering in 2002;
  • Stuart Rapley – Archeologist;
  • Pip Munckton – Landscape Architect;
  • Dr Robyn Creagh – urban design researcher;
  • Steve Bennett – Senior Policy Officer, Outdoor Recreation, Department of Sport and Recreation
    (building cultural corridors to engage and activate spaces in a community); and,
  • Peter Baxendale – Consulting Engineer.

We endeavoured to have two events during the design process for members of the Friends of St Peter’s, Gilgering to view and comment on the students’ work.  The first presentation would be mid-way through the semester in York and the final presentation in Perth.

Second site visit

Photo of foundations of the Rectory at St Peters Gilgering with students in background.
Foundations of the Rectory at St Peters Gilgering with students in background.

The students returned with their lecturers for their second formal visit to St Peter’s Gilgering, many had already made informal return visits to further explore the site.  On this day they were accompanied by Glenyse, Caroline and Emma from the Friends, also Julie Wray and Kerry Feeney from the York Society/ Archives who were able to help with answering questions the students might have.

Philip Narkle deferred his talk for that day to the following Wednesday, when he visited Curtin University and spoke about the pre-colonial history of the St Peter’s area.  He introduced the students to the local Aboriginal concept of six seasons within a year.

Photo of the Curtin lecturers inside the church sitting at the front of the group.
Curtin lecturers inside the church sitting at the front of the group.

The weather was a little cooler for the second visit and green grass was now showing on the site.  Several of the students had camped out on the previous night at Avon Ascent, Gwanbygine and extensively explored the surrounding district, including a ‘spooky’ midnight visit to St Peter’s for photographs.  It was lovely to see groups of students scattered among the trees working on their designs.  Lecturers Katherine and Simon had a trestle table set up under the jam trees, where each group of students brought their work in turn for discussion and advice.

We had secured permission from neighbours, Frank and Lyn Matthew, to visit their property for a viewing of the foundations of the St Peter’s Rectory (built 1875). This building was used as a residence for the Reverend Lynch and his family. Before lunch, the group walked 300 metres along the Great Southern Highway to the Matthew’s property.  Frank explained the layout of the foundations including a post office and a second site which were the stables with a forge and a separate outside toilet.

Photo of students and lecturers reviewing the site.
Photo of students and lecturers reviewing the site.

An enjoyable day was had by all and we are looking forward to seeing the development of the student’s designs.

Night view

Not too many people would have visited St Peter’s Gilgering at night.  Several of the diligent Curtin students visited one night and they have given us some stunning night photos of the church and cemetery.

Final Submission

Friday 16th June, 2017 was the final presentation day for the students, displaying and describing the merits of their project to both the Friends of St Peter’s and their lecturers Katherine and Simon.  Each student had 20 minutes to convince their audience that their project could be the chosen one.

Artist's impression of view inside shelter toward cemetery and church.
Artist’s impression of view inside shelter toward cemetery and church.

The standard of work was exceptional and the students had clearly put a lot of time and effort into their projects.  Some students had not only mapped every single tree on the site and also the variety. We learnt a few things, e.g. the three main varieties of trees on the property are generally grouped with their own sort – the York gums, the jam trees, and the sheoaks?

There was a diverse range of final designs from subtle installations gently hiding in the bush to large pavilions cleverly melting into their surrounds to a seven-storey tower: what would the views be like from there!

Artist's impression of exterior of shelter looking toward the river.
Artist’s impression of exterior of shelter looking toward the river.

Key components of the brief by The Friends were shade, toilets, power and some direction for the memorialisation and interment of ashes.  Some students addressed the memorial need very well by incorporating this into their pavilion structures or utilising the old fence line.  Most included solar power and rainwater harvesting, the toilets were many and varied.  Triangles and circles were popular designs for the buildings.

Drawing of Teik Lean's swale design.
Drawing of Teik Lean’s swale design.

One student observed the water erosion at the back of the church and came up with a swale / terracing solution with stairs turning it into a usable space and managing the erosion at the same time.  Another linked St Peter’s to walking trails along the Avon River by diverting the pathway up to a picnic space and ablutions.  Several students incorporated camping facilities often on raised platforms.

Nearly every project had some element that could harmonise in a final design:

  • Walking paths, not only from the Avon River, but throughout the site;
  • Relocated parking;
  • Low memorial walls;
  • Shaded pavilions;
  • Erosion control; and,
  • Circular toilets.

The students observed the site with a fresh outlook and saw things that we had never noticed during our past visits to the site.

These projects have created many avenues for subtly reinvigorating this special place.

Conservation funding – Lotterywest Grant

In March 2017 Friends of St Peter’s Church, Gilgering became the proud recipients of a Lotterywest Grant.  We were awarded $81,422 and, together with the generous donations from several members, would cover the funds allocated for the complete conservation and restoration of St Peter’s Church.

We would like to thank Lotterywest and their staff who were incredibly supportive of us during the application process and are grateful to have been successful in our application for a Lotterywest grant.  We are hopeful the works will be completed by the end of the year, in time to celebrate St Peter’s 160th birthday next year.


Photo of plaster removal inside the church.
Plaster removal inside the church.

Peter Baxendale, consulting engineer, visited Gilgering to examine the walls and foundations of the church. He took a number of soil samples to be analysed at a laboratory in Perth. One of his recommendations was consideration for the added structural support with the use of long lengths of helibar situated horizontally into the walls. This distributes the structural loads and will overcome various problems caused by foundation movement.  This became part of our conservation plan.

All the furniture was removed and safely stored before commencement of stripping the old plaster from the internal walls. Vaughn Bisshop visited Gilgering to carefully remove and package the ten leadlight windows, ready for transport to his Nedlands glass work studio. He boarded up the windows for security and to give protection for the interior from the weather.


Restoration work at St Peter’s progressed at a great rate of knots.  The builders assured us they will be substantially finished by Christmas, with the exception of the filling in of the external mortar joints. This has to be left until the return of the cooler weather (probably April), as the traditional lime mortar cannot be mixed in York’s summer heat.

Photo of the church with the original roof removed.
Replacement of the roof.

All of the corrugated iron roof (circa 1890’s) was removed and we were told that the rafters underneath were in almost pristine condition none needing replacement:we were so pleased to avoid this expense.  Evidence of the nail holes from the original shingle roof could be seen.

A small section of the old corrugated iron roofing was cut into a smaller piece and an inscription was added before placing under the new roof, to be discovered by future generations.

Photo of a piece of roof iron with the following text handwritten underneath: "Roof iron replaced November 2017. Section of original iron roof from 1890's. Earlier roof even after 1880 renovations was shingles. Eric Hancock - National Trust. Glenyse Broadbent (Fleay) - Chairperson, Friends of St Peter's, Gilgering Inc.
Roof tile inscription.

Bisschop’s Stained Glass were on track to have the windows finished by the end of January.  Restoration of the windows would include the installation of security screens.

Photo of Vaughn Bisschop holding repaired window to the light. The diagonal patterns of yellow, green and blue panels are clearly defined.
Vaughn Bisschop and repaired window

All conservation work was finished in June 2018.