Government Printing Office
Richard Pether, the first Government Printer from 1870, was responsible for the printing of parliamentary papers, the Government Gazette, stationery for various departments, as well as scientific and professional papers prepared by the Government Geologist and other officers. The gold boom of the 1890s and the development of representative government meant the workload of the Government Printer grew very rapidly.
A new three-storey building, designed by architect George Temple Poole, was erected in 1894 to cater for the growing needs of the department. However, the department’s workload continued to increase, resulting in a new four-storey wing in 1899, including a lift and electrification of the whole complex.
By 1907, further additions were required because of the rapid expansion of State Government services. A fourth storey was added to the 1894 building, making it the same height as the 1899 extension, and a two-storey addition was erected on Pier Street. These improvements created the façade of the building much as it is today.
After a brief life as a telecommunications museum, today the Government Printing Office houses Curtin University’s Business School and extensive restoration has ensured that this landmark heritage building will continue to have a use long into the future.
Richard Pether commenced his trade as a printer at the age of 13 at the Inquirer newspaper in 1852. In 1870, he was appointed Government Printer and relocated three printing presses from Fremantle Prison to the newly built Government Printing Office on the corner of Pier and Murray Streets, previously the site of a home for destitute women. On 2 August 1870, a two-page Western Australian Government Gazette was issued, the first publication to be produced by the new office.
As Government Printer, Pether was responsible for the printing of parliamentary papers, the Government Gazette, stationery for various departments, as well as scientific and professional papers prepared by the Government Geologist and other officers. The gold boom of the 1890s and the development of representative government meant the workload of the Government Printer grew very rapidly.
As a result, the offices and workrooms at the Government Printing Office became inadequate and plans were drawn up to extend the building. The original offices were described as crowded, badly lit, unventilated, “sweltering in summer and draughty in winter” and “jumbled together like a rabbit-warren”. A new Government Printing Office was designed by the Colonial Architect, George Temple Poole.
The old building at the rear of the new one, was annexed in such a way so as not to block the light into the former offices, and both buildings were joined at the ground floor. When the extension, in effect a new building, was opened in 1894, the newspapers were full of praise:
“Another new public building, which will considerably add to the beauty of the city, and will provide much needed accommodation, has just been completed. We refer to the additions to the Government Printing Office. This building, which has been in course of construction for some time, is an ornate brick structure of three stories, comprising offices and spacious and lofty printing rooms. The ventilation so much required in this colony, has had especial attention, and light, which is always a necessity in a printing office, has been amply provided for. Both internally and externally the building reflects great credit on the department under the control of the Colonial Architect, Mr. Poole.”
The ground floor was partitioned into a series of offices, and areas where the public could enter to consult statutes and other parliamentary papers. A large portion of the ground floor was available for the printing machines, which needed replacing every now and again to keep pace with the growing requirements of government.
The first floor was the compositor’s room where the typesetting was carried out. It was the envy of other Perth printers, since it was purpose-built and up-to-date in its design. The top floor was the “stitching, binding, and miscellaneous department”, and the overhanging roof was designed to ensure that the employees remained cool during the summer months. In fact, the whole building had been designed with Perth’s climate in mind with “Hill and Son’s patent regulators” fitted to every window.
The external features of the building, especially the three turrets with domes on the Murray Street façade, were described as “not showy, but certainly interesting for its ingenious variety, and artistic relief”. It was, said the newspapers, “highly suitable for its use, moderately ornamental without expensive show, and an artistic addition to the street architecture of the city”.
Even so, by 1898 the new building was already proving inadequate for the needs of the Government Printer. In response, a new four-storey wing, with one large room on each floor, was added on Murray Street in 1899, together with a lift and electrification of the whole complex.
By 1907, further additions were required because of the rapid expansion of State Government services. A fourth storey was added to the 1894 building, making it the same height as the 1899 extension, and a two-storey addition was erected on Pier Street. The architect was Hillson Beasley, Chief Architect of the Public Works Department. These improvements created the façade of the building much as it is today. The classic features of turrets, domes and the Murray Street entrance demonstrated the changes in Western Australia from a small colony in 1870 to a modern state in 1907.
In 1959 the Government Printer relocated from its original Murray Street premises to Wembley and Government Printing Office was sold to Telecom (now Telstra). In the 1980s, the building was used as a telecommunication museum and offices by Telecom but after the museum closed the contents were dispersed to regional centres. In January 1995, the Government’s printing requirements were privatised and sold as a going concern to the Coventry Group, a Western Australian company.
Today, Government Printing Office has been repurposed by Curtin University as its Graduate School of Business, and remains a landmark on Murray Street, and one of Perth’s most distinctive buildings.
State Heritage Office, assessment of Government Printing Office
‘News and Notes’ West Australian 15 February 1894
‘The Government Printing Offices.’ Inquirer 23 February 1894
‘News and Notes.’ West Australian 8 June 1898
‘Government Buildings.’ Inquirer 10 February 1899
Kalgoorlie Western Argus 25 February 1908
Western Mail 3 June 1911
State Law Publisher, ‘History of the State Law Publisher and The Government Printer’ (www.slp.wa.gov.au)