Mareeba Methodist, 1960 photograph (photographer: Richard Stringer) 

Site Overview

site name:
The (former) Mareeba Methodist Church
former name:
The Mareeba Methodist Church
architect:
Edwin Henry (Eddie) Oribin (1927-2016)
others associated with building:
Les Tinsley (builder)
date of completion:
1960
address:
189 Walsh Street (corner Rankin Street), Mareeba, Queensland, 4880
classification/typology:
Religious (REL)
heritage listing:
Queensland State Heritage Listing (QHR 602643)
fiche author:
Dr. Lisa Marie Daunt / 15 September 2023

Description

This remote regional Australia church is inventive in plan, form, geometry, detailing, craftsmanship and construction methods. It directly considers its local setting and tropical climate, while also addressing emergent global changes in worship practices.

The Mareeba Methodist church was designed with a square plan and on a diagonalthe entry on one corner and the sanctuary opposite with a diagonal central aisle. It adopted a noticeably different approach to the three other churches by Oribin, which all had tall volumes and rectilinear plans. When opened, in 1960. it was amongst the first modern church-buildings in Queensland (and also Australia) to arc the seating around the sanctuary. Contemporary periodicals praised the church for its closely gathered plan arrangement, its brick and timber detailing, its structural system, and its adaptation to the local climate. Building Ideas writing:

The Methodist Church at Mareeba, on the Atherton Tablelands is designed to seat 200, so that the congregation is grouped round the preacher, the furthest seat being 30 feet [9 metres] from the pulpit. The building is constructed with red brick structural columns and tower, and natural finish timber elsewhere. The roof is supported internally with an inverted tetrahedron tubular steel space frame, sheeted with tongue and grooved natural timber. Two sides of the church have vertical 12” [300mm] by 2” [50mm] timber louvre blades with glass between, with some movable sections to give sun control and ventilation.

The church was positioned on the corner of an intersection, which it addressed through the rising of the roof structure, thus covering its dual front entries, each of which faced one of the two streets. The tightness of the site likely led Oribin towards this unconventional kite-shape plan. A source of inspiration for the Mareeba church was likely Kevin J. Curtin’s (of Curtin & Cameron) St Dominic’s Catholic in Flemington (NSW, 1956). It has a similar plan arrangement, dual entries and is also positioned to face a street corner. However, Oribin’s design is arguably more rational, with the diagonal arrangement neatly contained within a square plan.

Mareeba Methodist’s design also evidences Oribin’s admiration of Wright’s organic and geometric designs and craft-based detailing; in particular, Wright’s First Unitarian Society Meeting House (1952, Madison Wisconsin, US), which can be recognised in the angles of Oribin’s design. The connection between the works of Wright and those of Oribin were noted by various Queensland architectural commentators.

Construction

The building is predominantly constructed of brick and timber, with steel roof framing concealed within the roof structure.

The church’s foundations were dug by hand and often required water to be poured onto the hard ground to ease the shovelling. The concrete floor was laid and trowelled by hand. Most components of the building were taken on by as few as two tradesmen, with the brickwork, timberwork and window casement work all taking some time, as complex cuts needed to be made to achieve the angles embedded in both the building’s plan and section.

After Mareeba Methodist opened, contemporary Australian construction industry journals brought attention to the church’s inventive structural solution: ‘The roof is supported internally with an inverted tetrahedron tubular steel space frame’(Building Ideas, 1960). However, this part of Oribin’s design is not actually on display – this steelwork is all hidden above the timber ceiling boards and the structure reliant on it is also hidden in the roof soffits. Local memories and a few construction photographs explain this intriguing feature for us now. The steelwork framing of Mareeba Methodist comprised only a few columns, the feature ceiling’s framing – the inverted irregular tetrahedron (triangular pyramid) – and the ridge beam with lugs to receive the timber roof rafters. Temporary supports held the steelwork in place while the brickwork walls were built under and then the timber roof framing was installed. The main roof is a gable, with the ridge on the diagonal and pitched upwards at the dual front entries. The timber ceiling boards (that disguise the steelwork) appear to float over the congregation and sanctuary. They are folded into a kite-like form that rises to meet the soffit surface within the church’s interior at the entry end, fall towards the sanctuary, but then folds upwards above the sanctuary subtly defining the sanctuary space from the congregation. The form of the building, enabled by its adoption of a steel frame and other design features, like the windows, give this quite small church its landmark qualities and dignity as a sacred worship place.

Inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (as noted above), Oribin’s own rich detailing is evident in both the timber and masonry detailing, both concealing the building’s steel structure. Prominent details within the church’s exterior facades are the bespoke window – the angled and tilted casements to the non-street facades, and the textural combination of glass and timber to the street facades. The street façade window details are highly inventive – using ‘complex geometry’ they are ‘meticulously detailed 300 mm x 50 mm operable timber blades sandwiching glass to temper light, ventilation and solar gain’ (Hampson, 2019). With many of the fixings concealed, the design was truly craft-based in its construction methods and predominantly built by hand.

Context

The building is located on a site that is within a statutory heritage conservation jurisdiction of the Queensland, and the local Mareeba Shire Council.

Evaluation

The building is of Technical Significance:
The building in its highly intact form, scale, materials, and details demonstrates a high degree of architectural excellence, employing standard building materials and elements in a highly-creative and carefully-detailed manner, achieved with a high-quality construction finish. The high architectural quality of the church was recognised in contemporary published reports on the building.

The building is of Social Significance:
Used as a church for more than 60 years (from August 1960 until January 2021), the building is of local social significance as a community and religious building.

The building is of Aesthetic Significance:
The building is of aesthetic significance as a building of exceptional architectural quality. Prominently located on a corner site and highly intact, it possesses beautiful attributes derived from its symmetry, form, scale, materials, detailed and meticulous assembly, careful manipulation of light and shadow, and cohesive Modernist style. The alle encompassing decorative aesthetic of the place includes coordinating original furnitur

The building is of Iconic /Canonical Significance:
The (former) Mareeba Methodist Church is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a post-WWII Modernist church in Queensland. Highly intact and an exceptional example of its type, it retains its: bold Modernist architectural style; incorporation of traditional Christian spaces (nave, chancel, vestry), configurations, and motifs in non-traditional forms; minimal material palette; tower; and original church furniture (holy table, pulpit, lectern, baptismal stand, presiders’ chairs, communion rails, pews, and plant pots). The place is also important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of Oribin’s work. Embodying architectural concepts Oribin developed and refined over his career, Mareeba Uniting Church (former) is remarkable for its complex architectural simplicity, incorporating: the use of a rational plan grid and geometry; unconventional roof form; a high degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail; triangular decorative motifs; screen walls of glass and timber; simplified building forms and spatial arrangements; minimal material palette; creative manipulation of natural light and ventilation; and custom-designed, hand-crafted furniture.

The building is of Historic Significance:
The building is important in demonstrating the growth and expansion of the Methodist Church and the evolution of church architecture in Queensland in the post-World War II (WWII) period. Its Modernist design reflects the postwar mission of the Methodist Church to become more relevant to modern society through liturgical change and extending its services across the state.

The church, in its form, scale, materials and details, is an outstanding example of the contribution of renowned architect Edwin Henry (Eddie) Oribin (1927-2016) to the evolution of Queensland architecture through his range of innovative and unique buildings produced in northern Queensland from 1953. His contribution to Queensland architecture is recognised by the Australian Institute of Architects’ Eddie Oribin Building of the Year Award for the Far North Queensland region. Incorporated in the church is a mid-20th century memorial tower dedicated to those who served Australia during World War I (WWI) and WWII, which is important in demonstrating the community’s involvement in these major world events. War memorials are a tribute to those who served, and those who died, from a particular community. They are an important element of Queensland towns and cities and are important in demonstrating a common pattern of commemoration across Queensland and Australia.

Documentation

principal references

1960 – ‘Churches are so different’, The Courier-Mail, 29 Oct 1960, 19.
1960 – ‘New church at Mareeba’, Methodist Times, 8 Sep 1960, 16.
1964 – ‘Atherton Tablelands: Church at Mareeba’, Building Ideas, Vol.2, No.10 (Dec 1964), 14.
1997 – Martin J Majer, E H Oribin: the work of a Far North Queensland Architect, B Arch thesis, University of Queensland, 1997.
2012 – Alice Hampson, ‘Eddie Oribin’ in Philip Goad and Julie Willis (eds) Encyclopaedia of Australian Architecture, 2012, 519.
2015 – Margaret Lawrence- Drew, ‘Eddie Oribin: a man of the Present and the Future’, in Chris Osborne (ed) Australian Modern Design: mid-20th century Architecture and Design, Brisbane, 2015, 46-49.
2019 – Alice Hampson. ‘Mareeba Memorial Methodist Church’ in Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad, eds. Australian Modern: Architecture, landscape & design. Port Melbourne: Thames & Hudson Australia Pty Ltd, 2019, 171.
2020 – Lisa Marie Daunt, ‘Communities of Faith: Regional Queensland’s Innovative Modern Post-War Church Architecture’ in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, p.36; ‘Distance Looks Back’, in Jackson Wyatt, Andrew Leach and Lee Stickells (eds), Victoria, SAHANZ, Sydney, 2020, 65-78.
2021 – Lisa Marie Daunt, Communities of Faith: Modern Church Architecture in Queensland 1945-1977, PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, 2021.
2021 – ‘Mareeba Uniting Church (former)’, Queensland Heritage Register listing 602643 https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602643