John Harry Grainger: Architect and Civil Engineer
Western Australian Public Works Department
Finding mining town life hard to tolerate, Grainger left for Perth and applied for a position with the Western Australian Government. On 1 March 1897 he commenced working as Chief Architect in the Western Australian Public Works Department on a salary of £600 per annum – a position that was to bring stability back into his life.
Grainger’s role was to design public buildings or to sign off on the work of other architects in his department. The mining boom meant that substantial building activity was being undertaken – particularly in regional areas. Buildings possessing Grainger’s imprimatur included the Warden’s Court in Coolgardie, public buildings in Kalgoorlie, post offices at Guildford, East Fremantle and Boulder, the Albany Quarantine Station and an asylum at Whitby.
Grainger had little time for private commissions in his new role, yet in 1898 he was persuaded to design a large commercial building for a Mr Davies in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Called the ‘Australian Building’, the design was a two-storey arcaded structure housing ten shops at street level with office space above and was ‘slightly Indian in feeling’.
During his time with the Public Works Department he was engaged in two projects that gave him significant kudos and, he claimed, professional satisfaction. The first, started in 1897, was extensions to Western Australia’s Government House which included the design for a new ballroom which featured rolling Romanesque arches.
The second project was the design for the Western Australian court at the Great Paris International Exhibition of 1900. He visited Paris in that year to oversee the display’s construction. Amply showcasing the riches of Western Australia’s natural resources and designed to highlight native timbers, the court design led to Grainger becoming a member of the Société Centrale de Architects Français. This is the only professional body Grainger was known to be a member of during his working life.
Back in Perth at the end of 1901 Grainger was responsible for lavish street decorations to mark the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York for Federation celebrations.
In 1903 he took three months leave of absence to seek the curative powers of natural hot baths in Rotorua in New Zealand – he was experiencing symptoms he referred to as rheumatism.
Though dogged by ill health he became engaged in music again in 1905 and helped to organise the Perth Orchestral Society in his spare time. He suffered severe cramps in his fingers during that year, making drawing and writing difficult to the extent that he resigned his post with the Western Australian Government. He and Winifred Falconer set off for an extended journey to Europe where Falconer writes he made a detailed study of the architecture of Spain, Italy, France and Belgium and visited many important European public galleries. The couple also visited Harrogate in England where Grainger sought ‘the cure’ for his ailments in the town’s sulphurous baths.