ABC Australian Sound Broadcasting and Television Studios
Built in 1960, the ABC Sound Broadcasting and Television Studios on Adelaide Terrace represented the modernist ideals of Post-War International architecture. Most people associate the building with the heydays of local television and radio broadcasting, family events and the former home of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO). But the construction of the Studios was the subject of much controversy from the time the ABC announced its plans in 1944 until the building was finally completed. The controversy was around the works being proposed when Australia and the world were still in the grip of World War II, when there was a huge shortage of labour and building materials and housing and hospitals considered much more of a priority over brand new studios.
When the Studios were finally completed after being put on hold for almost 10 years, it was held in very high regard across the Nation as the most modern and integrated operation and the ideal complex with radio and television on one site. One real feature was the Basil Kirke studio, named after a former ABC manager, which is said to be based on the famous Abbey Road studio where the Beatles recorded in London. The studio was the first major in-house ABC sound recording studio in Australia and its superior acoustics made it one of the finest studios in Australia for many years. The Oscar-winning soundtrack for the film Out of Africa was recorded there. The Basil Kirke Studio was also home to WASO, which used it for rehearsals, recordings, broadcasts and concerts from the time the studio was constructed until the orchestra was relocated to the Perth Concert Hall in 1973.
Another highlight of the Studios was the broadcasting-themed mural especially created for the entrance to the administration building by renowned West Australian artist Robert Juniper.
After the ABC left the site in 2005 for its new purpose-built offices and studios in East Perth, the Adelaide Terrace site was purchased by developers in 2008. After negotiations, it was agreed to retain the façade of the main entry building (including the Juniper mural) and the famous Basis Kirke Studio, with a 38-storey apartment tower to be constructed behind.
In 1944, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) officially announced it was going to build brand new studios in all capital cities. Although the decision was in response to the advances in broadcasting, particularly in anticipation of the imminent arrival of televisions into Australian homes which required bringing all studios up to date, there was another event of significance going on a this time that would inevitably hamper these plans. With World War II still being fought, this announcement was met with much criticism not least of all in Western Australia. Many articles appeared in local newspapers criticising the ABC’s decision about spending money on brand new studio facilities in Perth, accusing the ABC of colossal impertinence and being out of touch when the building of houses and hospitals was much more of a priority:
We will be glad to have a new ABC studio, and welcome Commonwealth expenditure on this matter, when the urgent needs of houses and hospital have been met. But our point has been that this building must wait until women and children, particularly families of servicemen are provided with decent accommodation.
There was also a huge shortage of labour and building materials, especially bricks, delaying many other building projects.
On top of this, controversy would also emerge over the site selected for the new Studios. The land purchased by the ABC in 1943 was a large block on Adelaide Terrace which contained the historic three storey Georgian mansion called “Rosehill”, built in 1854. As with many large residences built in central Perth during the early days of settlement and up until the early 1900s, “Rosehill” had been converted to flats but was still considered an important remnant of Perth’s grand homes and now serving an important role when housing was in short supply. In early 1945, when the ABC issued notice to the occupiers of the flats to leave as plans to demolish were underway, the local press again piped up and called for the ABC to cease ousting tenants from the flats, many of whom were soldiers’ dependents.
As a result of the agitation particularly from the press, the Deputy Director of Manpower refused to supply labor for the ABC, and demolition of “Rosehill” and construction of the new Perth Studios was indefinitely postponed. However, in mid-1945 the ABC were again in the news for all the wrong reasons when it was reported that it had started building on the vacant lot next to “Rosehill”. Although it hadn’t ejected the tenants, the ABC were still being accused of using valuable bricks, mortar and labour “…which should be put to erecting housing for dependents of our fighting forces”. Despite the bad press, work on the preliminary construction of the Studios continued until it was completed, however the completion of the remaining works was suspended by the ABC indefinitely.
All the ABC’s studios across Australia were designed by Hugh Vivian Taylor F.R.I.A. architect and acoustics consultant. Taylor started practice as an architect in Victoria in the early 1920s. In anticipation of the arrival of talking pictures in Australia in 1929, Taylor also received qualifications in acoustics, becoming proficient and highly sought after particularly in the design of cinemas. From 1930 to 1941 he was consultant for at least 434 theatres and public halls in Australia. Taylor’s original plans for the Perth studios comprised a three-storey administrative building on the Adelaide Terrace frontage and a group of 10 studios of various sizes in detached units connected by colonnades at the rear.
It took a while to catch up after the war restrictions and priorities and implement the capital works across the nation, but finally by 1954 the ABC could progress its new Perth studios. Demolition of Rosehill was underway by 1954. In 1958, the Federal Minister for Works, Mr Fairhall, formally announced that work would commence on the new ABC studios and offices – now comprising a five storeys – at a total cost of £683,000. Calls for tenders followed for the construction of the studios as well as other components such as internal fittings and furnishings, electrical services, sprinkler systems and lift installation. In December 1958 the tender of A.T. Brine and Sons Pty Ltd of Perth was accepted to build the television studio in Perth for £125 838 with works completed by November 1959.
In 1960, the ABC moved from their original studios, Broadcast House, in the Supreme Court Gardens (located where Council House now stands) to its new state of the art facilities in Adelaide Terrace. The Perth Studios were held in high regard, at the time being the only modern integrated operation apart from Canberra, and was promoted by the ABC as the ideal complex with radio and television on one site.
The main recording studio, Basil Kirke Studio (Studio 620) was the largest sound studio of its type and acoustic quality in Western Australia and one of the finest benchmark studios in Australia. The studio, believed to be based on the famous Abbey Road studio in London where the Beatles recorded, featured a 10 metre high ceiling, brick patterning and timber panelling which not only add to the aesthetics of the studio but also its superior acoustics which was suited to a wide variety of music types. The Oscar-winning soundtrack for the film Out of Africa was recorded in the studio. Basil Kirke (often referred to as “Uncle Basil”) was manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Western Australia from 1932-36 and again from 1952-1958, and was instrumental in the establishment of the new ABC Perth studios. The Studio was named after Kirke in recognition of his service and important contribution with a plaque unveiled in February 1961. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) used the Basil Kirke Studio for rehearsals, recordings, broadcasts and concerts from the time the studio was constructed until the orchestra relocated to the Perth Concert Hall in 1973.
There were other attractive and important features integrated into the Perth studios. A fine example of the Post-War International style, the external glass curtain-wall cladding was designed to reflect the sky and immediate surrounds during the day and then transform in the evening to enable passers-by to see the interior lit up. Renowned Western Australian artist Robert Juniper had been commissioned by the ABC to create a broadcasting-themed mural at the entrance.
By the early 2000s, the studio and office facilities in Adelaide Terrace were becoming outdated and inadequate, particularly with the transition from analogue to digital technology rolling out and the centralisation of many of the radio and television productions to Sydney and Melbourne. Rather than upgrade and modify its existing facilities, the ABC decided to build a brand new studio. The new location would also consolidate all the operations into a single building as opposed to the spread out nature of all the different studio units and other ancillary buildings at the Adelaide Terrace site.
After 45 years, in 2005 the ABC vacated its old studios for its new headquarters in East Perth. The Adelaide Terrace site was purchased by developers in 2008. After negotiations, it was agreed to retain the façade of the main entry building (including the Juniper mural) and the famous Basis Kirke Studio. The remaining buildings and transmission tower were all demolished to make way for a 38-storey apartment tower.
Sunday Times 8 April 1945 p. 3
Sunday Times 6 May 1945 p. 3
West Australian 8 September 1945 p. 8
West Australian 27 February 1954 p. 7
The Canberra Times 1 August 1958 p. 2
Government of Australia Gazette, 15 January 1959