Before we had arrived in Canberra, Eccles, Ennor and I had been provided with a block of land on which to build our houses. In contrast to the very large blocks given to Eccles and Ennor, mine was a rather small block in Hotham Crescent,
Deakin. I had asked a Melbourne architect, Robin Boyd, recommended to me by Professor Brian Lewis, the ANU architect, to design my house (Serle, 1995).
Figure 5.1a. Two prefabricated wooden buildings were juxtaposed and a passage constructed where the adjoining roofs touched. Laboratories or rooms for experimental animals opened on each side of this passage.
Figure 5.1b. The laboratories of the Department of Microbiology are on the right; there was a similar double building for Biochemistry behind a double-width coffee and seminar room on the left.
When we called for tenders, the design was so revolutionary that only one builder submitted a proposal, at a price (£25,000) that I could not afford. After living in the house in Torres Street for a few months and getting to know and like our neighbours, I eyed with interest the empty block immediately to the east of our house, on the corner of Torres Street and Monaro Crescent. All land in Canberra was on leasehold, and the law at the time was that the lease-holder had to commence building within six months of being granted the lease. The responsible authority, the Department of the Interior, told me that this block had been leased for six years, and that if I immediately surrendered my existing lease, they would transfer this lease, for Block 1 Section 3, Red Hill, to me. That done, Robin redesigned the plan for the new, much larger block, making it a single storey house, facing slightly east of north, with large windows and wide eaves to make the most of the winter sun while excluding the sun in summer. This time, Karl Schreiner, who was now constructing the permanent John Curtin School building, tendered for the building, without the heating system, at a reasonable £8,500. I signed the contract a few days before I went on my first study leave overseas, in May 1953, leaving Bobbie with any problems that might arise before I was back at the end of October.
Figure 5.2a. Designed by Robin Boyd, in early 1955; the terrace at the front had been completed but the trees had not started to grow.
Figure 5.2b. The front wing of the house in 2004; the terrace is obscured by the sessile junipers, the trees are now quite large, and the garage of the extension built in 1982 can be seen on the right.
The house (Figure 5.2) was an outstanding success, both architecturally and as a place to live in. It was awarded the first Canberra Meritorious Award for Architecture in 1956 (Figure 5.3), and subsequently declared a Heritage house. There were long illustrated articles about the house in the November numbers of The Australian Home Beautiful and Australian House and Garden, and there are illustrations of it and a good description in Martin Myles (2002) website. An old school and university friend of mine, Lindsay Pryor, then Keeper of Parks and Gardens and later Professor of Botany in the ANU, designed the garden, which I still maintain, giving special attention to the large vegetable garden.
From left to right: Karl Schreiner (builder), Vicki Fenner, Mrs Schreiner, E. J. Scollay, (Canberra Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects), Frank Fenner, Marilyn Fenner and Bobbie Fenner.