The Barracks Arch is one of Perth's historic landmark buildings.  The area around it was land marked for a freeway.  Ok, so it might be missing 120 rooms, but this means it doesn't bite too heavily into your travel itinerary.

Located at the western end of St Georges Terrace, the Barracks Arch resembles a rather large misplaced jigsaw piece. No matter how hard you look, it just doesn't seem to fit.  Only when you study the building's history, can you start to put the pieces together.

The building was originally a much grander structure known as the Pensioner's Barracks. It was built in 1863 to house a special force of soldiers called the Pensioner Guard. With nearly 10'000 convicts sent to Perth between 1850 and 1868, the task of keeping them in order was assigned to the Pensioner Guard. These guys were the veteran soldiers of conflicts such as the Crimean War, and the Indian Mutiny. They were offered the chance to settle in Perth, provided they guarded the convicts. Wearing their bright redcoats, they added a distinctive flair to colonial Perth.

Barracks Arch.

 

The Barracks Arch.

The Pensioner Guard marching out of the barracks during the 19th Century. The pensioner force was disbanded in 1878, but it was not until 1904 that the last guard walked out of the building. Some say he was forcefully pushed....., in a wheelchair that is. The building was then adapted for use by the Public Works Department. They moved out in 1965, and that spelt trouble for the empty barracks. With the old boys long gone, the wings of the Barracks were demolished in 1966, to make way for the Mitchell Freeway. Perth was expanding, and it seemed like nothing was going to stand in its way.

The "Redcoats" were so vivid they even stood out in black & white photos.
The Pensioner Barracks in the good old days.  
Only persistent public outcry saved the front arch of the Barracks from total destruction. The State Government was sent a clear message, that it could no longer freely demolish Perth's heritage buildings, without prior public consultation.  The lonely arch stands today, where it did in 1863.   It provides a glimpse into Perth's convict heritage, and is a constant source of bewilderment for passing tourists.
 
The Straight & Narrow.
The Pensioner Barracks were designed by Mr Richard Jewell. He was responsible for many of Perth’s original buildings, which included the Town Hall, Cloisters, and Wesley Church. The brickwork was laid in the Flemish Bond style, common in Perth between 1858 and 1890. Construction commenced in 1863, and was completed in 1866. From an architectural perspective the original building was a fine example of 19th Century Gothic Revival, with a solid underlying Tudor influence.  Put more simply, it looked like a three story castle, with 120 rooms.
From 1966 onwards it looked just weird. The building is now the world's Narrowest Unoccupied Military Barracks. After losing 120 rooms, the Historic Day Tour was consolidated into a commemorative wall plaque. The building is no longer open to the public, though you can still walk under the arch. Some people measure historic buildings by their cultural significance. You can measure the Barracks Arch with a household ruler. It is approximately 435cm wide at its base, and narrows even further as you move up the brickwork. The reduced dimensions, and location on a busy traffic intersection have prompted many alternative uses for the building. As recently as 2010, it was suggested modifying Barracks Arch into a drive-through coffee business.  However, it was later determined that the building was even too narrow for a skinny latte. The full 435cm.
  The building is so narrow it has to sway in the rain to get wet.
 

 

"The brickwork is Bond.....

   .......FLEMISH BOND"

 

The Brickbarrel.

The way in which bricks overlap when they are laid is called the bond. When a brick is placed with the longest side exposed it is known as a stretcher brick. Those bricks laid with the smallest end exposed are called header  bricks.

 

Flemish Bond is created by laying headers and stretchers alternatively in a row. The row above is laid so that the header is placed in the middle of the stretcher below. The visual appeal of the Barracks Arch has been enhanced, by using a range of mellow tones in the headers and stretchers. The colour variation was created by firing the bricks in wood fired kilns, at varying temperatures.  Flemish Bond is probably the most decorative bond, though it can be quite difficult to lay successfully.

Good Flemish Bond Brickwork.

Not so good Flemish Bond Brickwork.

 

Examples of Flemish Bond brickwork.

 
The Parliament House of Western Australia.
The Parliament House of Western Australia.  
Have you ever felt the urge to chop down that annoying tree in your neighbour's garden, just because it blocks your view? Our politicians in Parliament House once did. The old Pensioner Barracks obstructed their view down St Georges Terrace into Perth. The barracks were built well before Parliament House, and were located in a prominent position overlooking the city. After all, the Pensioner Guard had the responsibility of protecting the colony. An opportunity arose in 1966 to demolish the barracks to clear land for a new freeway. It seemed like the old problem was soon to be addressed. However, public opinion demanded that the front arch of the building had to be saved. After the dust had settled, it was with some dismay that the State Government discovered the remaining arch still blocked their view into the city. Likewise, the office workers on St Georges Terrace were unable to enjoy an unobstructed view of Parliament House. Surprisingly no one has yet complained! Blocking the view down St Georges Terrace into Perth.
  The interrupted view as seen from the grounds of Parliament House.
 
Barracks Arch.
Looking through Barracks Arch to Parliament House.

Looking through the arch to
Parliament House.
Barracks Arch.
"After losing 120 rooms, the Historic Day Tour was consolidated into a commemorative wall plaque."
 
C.Y. O'Connor
The Office of C.Y. O'Connor.


A gentleman named C.Y. O'Connor was the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department at the time they occupied the Pensioner Barracks.  He was responsible for planning the Goldfields Water Supply, and constructing the famous water pipeline to Kalgoorlie. His office was located immediately above the archway, and was one of the few rooms to survive the demolition.
C.Y. O'Connor's Office Window.
C.Y. O'Connor - The Man   C.Y. O'Connor - The Office.
 
Looking down St Georges Terrace. So next time the traffic lights turn red at the western end of St Georges Terrace, why not lower the car window, and take a quick visual tour of Perth's Barracks Arch.


LOCATION:  Corner of
Malcolm Street, St Georges Terrace, and Elder Street in Perth.

 

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View of Barracks Arch looking down
 St Georges Terrace.