Arthur Andronas Conservation Project Wins Victorian Architecure Award

It may look like a big old corrugated iron shed, but there was a lot more going on behind the recently restored, historically significant Keilor Police Hut; the work of Andronas Conservation Architecture which won the Award for Heritage Architecture – Conservation in the Victorian Architecture Awards 2022.

The director of Andronas Conservation Architecture, Arthur Andronas, said it took up to 12 years to locate on a farm what had once been a portable Victorian police hut imported from England in 1853 as a flat pack of corrugated iron, cast iron supports and handmade bolts and rivets. Once set up, the hut was used to house police officers to maintain law and order in the goldfields and also to collect taxes and tolls. It was one of 10 imported by the Victoria Police Force at the time.

“It was placed on site in 1853 for two police officers, but was eventually used to house an officer and his family,” Mr Andronas said. Neos Cosmos

It eventually fell out of favor with Victoria Police, but the quality of the materials meant it was used for other purposes over the years. The cabin that had been converted into a barn when it was found 12 years ago on a farm on the High Plains in Keilor.

“It has been there since before the Second World War, we thought it was like a shed with straw in it and tools with a (pit) toilet attached. Half of it was collapsing but was held in place by the (quality of the) corrugated iron. A lot of conservation work was needed,” Mr Andronas said.

The Keilor Police Hut before restoration where it was used as a barn on a High Plains ranch near Keillor. Andronas said the structure was built on the farm before the start of World War II. Photo: Peter Casamento

That and a lot of research was needed. Although the corrugated sheets were originally numbered, time and weather had removed those guides that would have aided in the reconstruction. Some plates were squashed and the undulations had to be reshaped.

An archaeologist was called in to determine how the building was supported and how it could be safely moved to its current location.

“The biggest problem was the reduction of corrosion on the bolts and metalwork. If we had used modern materials it would have accelerated their corrosion, so we had to do our own research.

The survey and investigation took up to two years, the work was slow as many details had to be covered before the structure could be transported and slowly reconstructed at its current location on Wurundjeri Country at Harrick’s Cottage in Keilor Park, where the original residence still stands.

“We faced a series of challenges in moving and restoring the cabin, including taking it apart and putting it back together,” said Mr Andronas.

“It was the ‘Ikea’ of its time. It was really innovative and an example of brilliant engineering from England that followed in the rest of the world,” he said. “After the 1880s, prefabricated buildings were common, but this one was made in 1853.”

The Keilor Police Hut has also been included as part of a submission to UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization) to place all of Australia’s 19th-century portable buildings on the World Heritage Register. Andronas said there were 70 vintage portable buildings in Victoria and 20 in the rest of Australia.

The police cabin now rests on a concrete slab for extra stability. One half of the building is finished as it would have been in the 1850s with wood cladding on the inside and corrugated iron on the outside. The other half of the building has been left as it was found, allowing the visitor to see the complexity of the cast iron supports, bolts and rivets.

The interior of the restored Keilor Police Hut, showing on the right half of the building as it would have looked in the 1850s with its wood-clad walls. The other half is left as is to show how the structure is assembled. Photo: Peter Casamento

“It was a great honor to build it and to respect the thought and attention to detail that went into making it. It was this complexity that probably got us the prize,” said Mr. Andronas.

“We are honored to have received recognition from colleagues for our conservation efforts at the Keilor Police Hut. We would like to thank Brimbank Council and Keilor Historical Society for entrusting this gem.”

The jury’s quote for the project stated: “The combination of conservation, historical interpretation and the discreet insertion of a technological prosthesis to facilitate the authentic re-establishment of this archaeological relic is a considered study in the science of architectural preservation, allowing the Keilor Police Hut a worthy winner of this year’s Architecture Award for Heritage – Conservation.”

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