Telling Stories in Stone
The Pentridge site is an outstanding example of the kind of heritage that keeps people falling in love with history. It is imposing, with dimensions intended to evoke a response. It is monumental. It’s no wonder then that we’re seeing a renewed appreciation of its construction, its craft and material elementals.
It’s the sort of response that has become more common. In tandem with a growing artisan movement and respect for the hand-made, people have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the architectural legacy of Australia’s past, and increasingly wish to see it preserved and repurposed with sensitivity and intelligence.
Such qualities have are hallmarks of the restoration work performed thus far by JBM Group and its construction manager Bryce Barker. We’ve spoken to Bryce before about the team’s efforts on the restoration of A Division and H Division roof areas, and with the recent completion of one of the guard towers, we thought it was a good time to delve further into what it is that makes the restoration efforts at Pentridge so special.
Rhapsody in bluestone
When asked about Pentridge’s signature element, its famous bluestone, Bryce reflects upon the location-specific mystery of what lay beyond those walls, but also the sheer heft of its construction. The physicality of the place itself, its presence and substance, is very much a part of its character.
‘I think people like bluestone because of its size,’ he says. ‘The average piece of bluestone at Pentridge would be 400kg. You can look at a large chunk and think, how did they manage all those years ago to carve and install that?’
Working with bluestone however brings significant challenges. ‘The stones are very hard,’ Bryce observes. ‘It takes triple the time to shape a bluestone compared to, say, sandstone’. The presence of what Bryce calls ‘a fantastically skilled stonemason’ on the team has clearly been of immeasurable benefit, given the heritage trade skills shortage facing the industry.
‘It’s a huge challenge,’ says Bryce of the shortage. For him, the solution lies in younger folk picking up the tools and know-how to keep the industry alive and dynamic. ‘We need to have more young kids coming through learning the trades.’ The benefits of mentoring and application are life-long. ‘I personally learnt a lot throughout my apprenticeship,’ reflects Bryce, ‘particularly the need to be creative and problem solve.’
Crafting a new chapter
When asked how JBM Group felt to be bringing life back to such a site and helping reshape its legacy, Bryce’s enthusiasm is evident. ‘We are so excited to see the buildings integrate together,’ he says. ‘It’s going to be fantastic. The developer has spent a long time working on making sure the heritage is kept for the community.’
Speaking of heritage, when asked about the appeal of working in stone Bryce paints a romantic picture of the practice of stonemasonry itself. ‘The colour, the craftsmanship… it’s grand.’ As one of humanity’s longest enduring practices, carving in stone clearly resonates with Bryce on a heritage level of its own.
Sometimes such craft challenges us in personal ways, or reveals things previously hidden from ourselves. For Bryce, it has opened up a whole new appreciation for the things of the past, and the deep ties we have to the places that are part of our collective story.
‘It’s just much more rewarding to finish a restoration project that has so many stories and tales,’ he observes. This is certainly true of Pentridge, a larger than life character in its own right. ‘You can talk to just about anyone in Melbourne and they have their own little story about Pentridge,’ he says.
And now, fittingly, JBM and Bryce are very much a part of that larger story. Their contributions to the site thus far have been master-classes in heritage restoration. We can’t wait to see what else they will achieve as their work proceeds over the year to come.