Mosman Voices - oral histories online

Alan Gamble

Interviewed by Shirley Page on Date unknown

Shirley Page. Would you like to talk about your time on Council once you got in? Which year did you get in?

Alan Gamble. In December 1945. Because of the fact that I was an architect, it was not unnatural for me to become a member of the Workers’ Committee. I think the following year, I became Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Committee, and that was my principle role for the whole time I was in the Council. It was the practice of Council then when perhaps there wasn’t as many building applications before us, to inspect almost every application that came along. That meant that we moved about the community or the area of Mosman to a very great degree, and came to know it quite intimately. It also meant that over that period, I personally saw a great many changes in the nature of the physical Mosman. It’s (indistinct) of course, for most people who have lived here, but the earlier development of Mosman and most of the harbourside suburbs was about the major roads, which adhered to the crest, because of horse-drawn vehicles and so on. By the time the post war period came along most of the land – the houses at any rate, on the crest had been taken up so that the development began to increase quite dramatically down into the valleys and towards the harbourside. It also meant that with the greater demand for building space within the municipality, there was a great deal of subdivision on what had previously been quite handsome properties, as far as the area is concerned.

In many cases, this meant the demolition of very fine gardens, which was a great pity. It also meant that we took a particular interest – perhaps ahead of most of the Sydney Councils in the remaining trees in the area. If I might jump ahead a bit, there was a time when the early town planning provisions, based on the English ones, made it possible for Councils to consider placing two preservation orders on trees within the municipality, on public property and on private. I remember making the first move in the Council to have the Council take advantage of this, and got no support whatever. In fact, many members of the Council were quite horrified that there should be any thought of restraining anybody from doing what he wished on his own land. So there was no support for that at all.

At a later stage, came the Council’s own development of the Chinaman’s Beach area, and here, I thought was an opportunity for us to apply that provision. Again, the Council was not interested, and yet within very few years after that, almost every Council round about Sydney had applied that clause in the Act.

Shirley Page. Were you in Council when the tree preservation order came in?

Alan Gamble. Do I recall when it was? No, I’m afraid I don’t, but it certainly was quite some time before it was generally applied. It came in, in fact, nominally with the Cumberland County Council. It was then that the provisions of the British Act were incorporated in the local conditions, but there were lots of other provisions that weren’t immediately applied, because we had not at that time become attuned to the idea of corporate decisions of that sort. Anyway, it is a fact, as we all know, that it is really of considerable significance now, not only in Mosman, but elsewhere.

Alan Gamble. But another important step that reflected the changes in the character of Mosman, of course, came when there was a demand for more flat buildings. It was, I think, in 1937, if I recall rightly, that there had been a zoning of Mosman to provide for flat areas in certain cases. Because of the fact that some flats had been built prior to that, there were what we called non-conforming flat buildings in places that where formally the plan said that there should be no flats. But then we devised a scheme, because of the demand for bigger and bigger flats, we devised a scheme, which limited the high-rise buildings to the ridges, and there was a great deal of controversy about this. It happened, although we did provide in our initial interim plan that there could be quite tall buildings, because of stricter regulations required – fire regulations and lift provisions – what did happen in fact, was that very few buildings went beyond eight floors, because once you got beyond eight floors then the requirement became much more strict and more costly. So that, whereas, we had provided theoretically, for quite high buildings on the ridges, they tended to be limited to eight floors. We did devise a scheme also for providing – even though they occurred on the ridges they didn’t occur in a continuous stream. There were areas set aside for high-rise on the main roads, but not going beyond the block of two, then they jumped to the other side of the road, so they didn’t have a concentration of sort of canyons of flat developments.

Shirley Page. You talked a bit about Chinaman’s Beach and the way it has developed. Can you give me an idea of what it was like before it was developed and how you remember it?

Alan Gamble. I’m not sure that I can actually remember the Chinese working in the market gardens there, but that’s, of course, how it came by its name. It is now an extremely attractive area, but there were some quite unpleasant swampy areas in the middle of the land, and it was when the Council took over two quite large estates there that it was able to give thought to the development of the whole area, and there was a good deal of earthworks undertaken by the Council. The actual reforming of the contours of land, and in my view it was done very nicely by the engineer at the time. It has, as most people know, a very attractive quality now, and the actual subdivision was done in quite an imaginative way, so it was a fortunate thing.

There was quite a bit of opposition to the Council’s acquisition of it. There was a bit of land that was landlocked and it couldn’t have been developed without Council being involved, but it was a fortunate thing that there were two major estates there that Council were able to take over. And incidentally, there was a value put on one of the blocks of land, the largest one there, of about two thousand pounds, and this was perhaps the most expensive block of land that anybody had ever heard about in Mosman. (laughter) I shouldn’t guess at that because that could be ascertained quite clearly, I guess.

Could I just say a word or two about the Mosman Art Prize? This came about in, I think, 1946, at the suggestion, first of Keith Cowlishaw, the then Mayor who proposed that the Council should set aside each year a certain sum of money to purchase works of art. He was quite a collector himself. I made an additional suggestion that instead of simply purchasing pictures we should conduct a competition and award prizes, but retain the prize winning pictures, and so that was the start of the Mosman Art Prize.

I think we handled it rather well from the beginning because at that time there were few artists certainly, working professionally, but we did get an immediate response from very well established people, and the manner in which we conducted it over a period of years was such that we continued to get the support from the very good artists. This was evidenced by the fact that on occasion we would find that artists had marked the selling price of their pictures at much higher figures than the actual prize money, which demonstrated that they regarded the Mosman prize as something worthwhile. It was, indeed, the first – perhaps not the first – of the municipal art prizes. I should say that the Albury Council in the same year as the Mosman Art Prize was established, conducted a similar competition just a bit ahead of us so that we weren’t strictly the first. But as far as I’m aware the Albury Council did not continue with its competition, but Mosman has continued, I think, with a lapse of only one year ever since that time.