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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 142


Senator FERRIS (7:20 PM) —Tonight I want to speak about an extraordinary woman to whom this city can be grateful, even today, for her part in its remarkable design. Earlier today, the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads launched the Griffin legacy, enhancing Walter Burley Griffin's original plan that created what he termed the `ideal city', although some of us might sometimes disagree. On this occasion it is important to remember that the woman who helped Walter Burley Griffin win the commission to design this city was his wife, Marion Mahoney Griffin.

I want to speak about Marion Mahoney Griffin tonight. She was a pioneer in the field of architecture and design. Marion Mahoney was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1871. In 1894 she became only the second woman to graduate in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1898 she became the first woman in the world to practise as an architect. She truly was a trailblazer. After graduating, Marion Mahoney began work for Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the world's best known architects. She worked for Lloyd Wright off and on for 14 years and at times she was his only employee. Her Japanese-influenced architectural presentation drawings, which she produced while working for Lloyd Wright, were instrumental in enhancing her early reputation.

During her time with Lloyd Wright she became one of his primary designers. She was responsible for many of the furnishings of his beautiful houses, including his murals, the mosaics, the furniture, the leaded glass and even the lighting. She gained a reputation as an outspoken, dramatic and individualistic woman. Much of the beautiful and now world famous architectural presentation drawings and watercolours that helped Lloyd Wright promote his practice were in fact drawn not by him but by Marion Mahoney. I have been fortunate to see some of these pieces that are now in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and I went a couple of years ago to view a beautiful exhibition of some of her early work. When Lloyd Wright sold his practice the new owner recognised her influence on Lloyd Wright's designs and realised that he needed someone better than him to finish off some of the work to please Wright's clients. Marion Mahoney Griffin had oversight of the completion, and in some cases the design, of some of his very well-known unfinished commissions.

But her working life with Wright had another serendipity that still has an effect on our city today, 100 years later. She began to work with the very mild-mannered Canadian Walter Burley Griffin. She fell in love with him and she married him. Their professional relationship ended in a marriage ceremony in 1911. She then went to work in his practice and became his partner both professionally and personally. Soon she was the chief draftsman in the office.

While her architectural work became well known, it was the exquisite hand-coloured presentation art that accompanied her husband's entry for the 1912 design competition for the new Australian capital that really put her on the map. The quality, the colourings and the design details, without doubt, would have had a very persuasive impact on the panel of assessors, as they judged it to be the winning entry. This is all the more remarkable because, as colleagues would know, neither Marion Mahoney Griffin nor her husband, Walter, visited the site for the national capital or the land surrounding it, or even set foot in Australia. The brilliance of their combined design and talent was that this prize winning design was produced from their Chicago offices.

When Burley Griffin was appointed federal capital director of design and construction, his wife moved with her husband to Australia, and they managed an architectural practice in Melbourne while Walter focused on the planning of the new national capital. While in Melbourne, Marion designed buildings for Canberra. However, sadly, very few of the modest workers cottages that she designed were ever built in Canberra. Their departure from the implementation team was an unhappy one, but much of the work they did subsequently in the Sydney suburb of Castlecrag remains today. Marion moved with Walter to India in 1935 and lived there until his death in 1937. She then returned to Chicago, where she died at the age of 91.

It is to me a tragedy that Marion Mahoney Griffin, one of the first female architects in the world and a significant contributor to our beautiful national capital, remains unrecognised in this city 100 years later. Not a plaque, not a peaceful garden, not a building, not even a roadway has been named after Marion Mahoney Griffin—nothing. And today's exciting enhancement to the Burley Griffin plan continues to overlook her. A glossy brochure was released today and there is only one mention of Marion Mahoney Griffin, in passing, on one of the pages, yet we reproduce some of her drawings in that pamphlet. I think it is a tragedy.

I appeal to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories of the parliament to please recognise the talent of this quite remarkable woman. This glossy brochure, which was produced by the National Capital Authority, highlights the Griffin legacy. It was released today in this building on the Queen's Terrace overlooking his plan. Why is there no mention in all of the announcement of the upgrade, which extends the Burley Griffin legacy, of Marion Mahoney Griffin? What has she done in 100 years to deserve to be so tragically overlooked? This is despite the fact that in this brochure some of her original drawings have been reproduced. Marion Mahoney Griffin, a remarkable woman, a talented woman, deserves at the very least a significant profile in this town, in this national capital—recognition of the work she put in with her husband to win the design almost 100 years ago. We enjoy it today. Where is the recognition this woman deserves?