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Project Profile


2004 Award of Distinction

Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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Project Title: Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Date of Completion: May 2003

Location: Mullewa, Western Australia

Size: 450 square metres

Cost: AUS$250,000.00 (US$187,500.00)

Client: Parish of Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

Heritage Architect: John Taylor Architects

Contractor: Roof and Wall Doctor Pty Ltd (masonry works), Admiration Homes (floor works)


The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and attached Priesthouse is one of many remarkable architectural works of John Cyril Hawes (1876-1956), an architect-priest from England.  Hawes’ work as an architect has an international context, having designed buildings in England, Australia and the Caribbean. 

Sensitive to the elements of the environment and the different cultures he worked within, Hawes developed an idiosyncratic and imaginative style.  He advocated that a church, regardless of size, should be of monumental character and that the design should be reminiscent of the past and also inclusive of the present.  The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a low-lying structure with a rustic masonry appearance, yet graceful and dignified in character, is a classic representation of this style.

In the early years of the twentieth century, the town of Mullewa was part of a rapid growth in population in that part of Western Australia due to the development of surrounding land for wheat and sheep farming which resulted from new railways making the land more accessible and viable.  It was during this time that Hawes moved into Mullewa as the first resident parish priest, a role he undertook from mid-1916 to December 1938.

In 1923, Hawes went on a study tour through France, Spain, and Italy, which greatly enriched his design palette.  When he returned to Mullewa, he incorporated some of the elements he saw in Europe into the design of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The style of the architecture of the Church as described by Hawes himself: “The architecture is of a Romanesque type, somewhat after that of the churches of the southern France at the period when the Romanesque was in a state of transition to the Gothic.  The exterior, in general aspect, with its long low proportions is reminiscent of the Spanish Franciscan Mission churches of California.” 

The restoration project has assisted to rediscover the timeless atmosphere of the church, which is so conducive to prayer and contemplation.  It has also uncovered much of the wealth of detail that was intended in the original design, especially the beautiful rough and rustic feel that is brought out by the absence of smooth mechanically finished surfaces.

Today, the church continues to be used as a catholic church. The Priesthouse is used as a museum displaying memorabilia relating to former parish priest John Hawes. 

The church and the Priesthouse are listed on the Australian Heritage Commission's Register of the National Estate, the Heritage Council of Western Australia's Register of Heritage Places, the Shire of Mullewa's Municipal Inventory of Heritage Places, and the National Trust of Australia (W.A.) List of Significant Heritage Places. 

Building History

The Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel and attached Priesthouse were built between 1921 and 1930.  The initial sketches of the church are dated 1920, but construction work did not begin in earnest until 1923. 

Initially, the work was done solely by volunteers from the parish working together with Hawes, with Hawes taking on the roles of architect, builder, construction labourer, general procurer of fittings, and fundraiser.  As the work progressed, the parishioners’ enthusiasm for the project gained strength and financing became easier.  In 1924, with the increase in funds, Hawes was able to hire paid labourers and professional help.  The pace of construction increased and the church was formally opened in 1927.

The Priesthouse was designed and built in the period 1927-1930 following the completion of the church.  It is connected to the main building by a colonnade and has many of the stylistic attributes of the church.

Later, in 1962, a north transept, which is reasonably sympathetic to the original building, was constructed to meet the seating requirements of the growing parish.

Over time moisture entering the buildings was causing the mortar to the masonry walls to deteriorate. By at least the 1950s, the mortar was breaking down and sandy sediment was falling out of the mortar joints in some areas of the church.   In an attempt to arrest the moisture ingress, repairs were made in the 1960s to the external walls.  These included placement of a cement-rich dado, and by complete internal cement rendering of the walls to the church.  Unfortunately, these repairs were made without expert advice and only increased the deterioration of the masonry as well as altered the appearance of the buildings.

In the early 1990s, the continuing deterioration of the masonry, transmission of moisture through the church floor and walls, and increasing vandalism of windows lead the parish to seek advice on the ongoing care of the place.

Project History

The project was undertaken over a ten-year period from 1994-2003.  In 1994, John Taylor Architect prepared an assessment of the place which led to its entry on the Western Australian State Register of Heritage Places.

In 1995, John Taylor prepared a conservation plan for the place to guide ongoing work, as well as undertaking the task of designing and implementing window protection measures.  Once the conservation plan was approved and adopted by the Parish and the Heritage Council of Western Australia, work was undertaken over an extended period of time – to allow for funds to be raised and to minimise the disruption of church activities

In 1996, John undertook a masonry investigation with the assistance of a materials chemist. Since that time, he has directed a number of phases of masonry restoration and reconstruction, and these works are part of the ongoing conservation of the place.

Project Scope and Framework

The objectives of the project were:
- preservation of the original fabric in its existing state and the retardation of deterioration
- removal of intrusive and destructive elements
- recovery and restoration of missing elements to their original location
- restoration of damaged or weathered fabric
A conservation plan for the place was presented to the parish by John Taylor in January 1996.  The parish acted immediately to secure further conservation funding from the Heritage Council of Western Australia for the priorities identified in the Conservation Plan.  Funding was secured for investigative work in August 1996.

Using Taylor’ conservation plan as the guide, the project then progressed in the following stages:

- Stained Glass Windows Repair and Protection I (the most urgent work, carried out concurrently with the preparation of the Conservation Plan in 1995);
- Stained Glass Windows Repair and Protection II (1996);
- Chemical examinations of the masonry and recommendations for future works, (1996);
- Removal and replacement of the floor to the nave and narthex of the church, (1998);
- Removal of external cement rendered plinth and cement rich mortar pointing and replacement of fretted stones and mortar (April and December 1999);
- Removal of internal cement render to the stonework and concrete blocks in the nave, choir loft, porch, baptistery and pulpit (2000);
- Removal of cement render from the sanctuary and south transept walls of the church (2002);
- Removal of cement render from the sanctuary dome and sacristy, re-pointing of the bell-tower masonry and dome repairs to the church (2003).

Additional advice, regarding ancillary matters, has been provided to the parish.  These conservation related issues include advice on the installation of a security system, installation of a termite control system, lighting design, archiving of historic artifacts, artwork restoration, boundary wall reconstruction, and restoration of the choir loft organ and bellows.

Conservation Methodology and Materials

The philosophical basis for the conservation work undertaken at the church and Priesthouse followed the Burra Charter (the Australia ICOMOS charter for the conservation of places of cultural significance) principles.

The conservation plan prepared in 1995 by John Taylor was based on site inspections and extensive historic research, which provided a foundation of physical and documentary evidence upon which recommendations could be made.   A search of photographic archives was made for evidence of the original fabric prior to changes and modifications that had been made over the years.   A video recording and photographic records were made of the fabric of the place prior to the commencement of the restoration work.  This enabled comparisons to be made between existing fabric and the available historic documents and drawings.  Anecdotal oral evidence was also gathered from conversations with parishioners.

The test applied to the church and Priesthouse to assess the significance of any modification was: if a modification was reversed, to what degree is one’s understanding of the significance of the place changed?  If the answer was that the removal or reversal of a change, regardless of its degree of sympathy to the original fabric, did not adversely affect the cultural heritage significance of the place, then that modification was of little significance.  However, if the removal or reversal of a change increased one’s understanding of the place, then that change was assessed as being an intrusive element. 

Applying this test, the cement rendering to the internal and external walls (including the external cement dado), cement-rich mortar pointing applied to cracked and fretting joints in the stonework, unsympathetic screens over the windows and other repairs using cement were assessed as intrusive.   In this way, the restoration works concentrated on removing the intrusive elements followed by repairing and preserving the significant original fabric.  

The masonry walls of the two buildings were constructed with a combination of randomly coursed local stone and coursed concrete blocks, bonded by a lime, cement and sand mortar.  All efforts were directed to match this now uncommon construction fabric.  Authentic materials were used in a carefully calculated mortar mix to ensure repairs were made which allow the masonry to sufficiently lose moisture to the atmosphere.  In addition, the original rock quarry was located, facilitating the project’s efforts to exactly match the construction fabric.

The joints were also re-pointed with a more appropriated mortar mix after the cement-rich mortar was removed.  Once the removal of the grey cement render covering the masonry walls was complete, the rustic character of the masonry was restored, which was the intent of the original design. 

The deterioration of the stained glass windows was arrested by the installation of frameless ultra-violet light resistant polycarbonate screens, which reduce the transmission of UV rays while allowing for thermal movement.  Strong light had caused the paintings to fade with time.  These protective screens were selected to be as sympathetic and unobtrusive as possible using appropriate materials.  They also serve to protect the windows from damage by vandalism or accidents.

The concrete floor of the nave and narthex in the church was removed and then redone in order to add a waterproofing membrane underneath. 

Important Issues

Mobilization of resources and people

The townspeople of Mullewa expressed their support for the project from its inception by providing labour for jobs, such as shifting furniture and removing debris from the site, and raising funds to assist the grants provided by National and State governments.

In addition to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, the Australian Heritage Commission, Heritage Council of Western Australia, and Lotteries Commission of Western Australia all provided direction, support, and most importantly, funding to allow this work to occur in an otherwise economically depressed rural community.

The conservation architect, John Taylor, has dedicated himself to researching and documenting the works of John Hawes.  His respect for the original architect’s work is expressed in faithful and meticulous interpretation of the historic and physical evidence. His research, including his book Between Devotion and Design, has made a significant contribution to the restoration of the Mullewa church and Priesthouse.  In addition, throughout the project he was the liaison between the parish, government bodies and contractors.

Project Sustainability and Viability

Given the non-commercial, religious nature of the building, there was no need to prove future economic viability.  The ongoing value of the project is in its social and spiritual benefit to the community of Mullewa, and the conservation of cultural heritage in the Asia-Pacific region.

Funding came from Our Lady of Mt Carmel Parish, Australian Heritage Commission, Heritage Council of Western Australia and Lotteries Commission of Western Australia.  It is hoped that future works may be funded by these bodies, with a continuing search for sources of additional support.

Maintenance of the mortar has been noted as a continuous process.  Depending on its quality and the site conditions, it will need to be replaced at (relatively infrequent) intervals throughout the life of the buildings. This project’s chemist's analysis of the mortar mix is on record at the parish and the Heritage Council for future maintenance of joints and re-pointing when necessary.

Project Impact

The project has set a benchmark for guidance of the practice of restoration and preservation buildings in Western Australia, particularly for religious and regional places. A report of each stage of work on the project has been logged with the Heritage Council of Western Australia library so that it can be used as a reference for future restoration and preservation work. The importance and integrity of the project in Australia has been acknowledged by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RATA) with the national Lachlan Macquarie Award for Heritage in 2003.  It is anticipated that the conservation work on the Church is likely to spur additional projects of similar nature in the local community and surrounding districts.

Moreover, the restoration works have provided a more conducive environment for prayer and worship as well as enhancing a familiar landmark for the Mullewa and Mid-West Region communities.  The church has given the community an increased sense of pride in their town and plays an important role in the history of the town.   

The community has also benefited economically through indirect employment opportunities based on the tourism factor.  The church is central to the Monsignor Hawes Heritage Trail, a world-renowned conducted tour that commences in England, his birthplace, and continues through the Bahamas and Australia.  The influx of tourists provides added opportunities for revenue generation within the town.