The Organ Society of Western Australia

HomeAbout usMembershipContact UsEventsIn The PipelineLinksW A Pipe Organs


Restoration of the McGillivray Organ
Winthrop Hall, University  of Western Australia

By Bruce Duncan
June 2008

The University of Western Australia was established in 1911 as the State's first university.  It was also the first free university in the British Empire, actively promoting equal access to tertiary education for all social classes.  At the time of the University's foundation Perth's population was just 121,000.  The University began operation in 1913 as a group of timber houses in Irwin Street with 184 students.  They attended buildings with timber walls and corrugated iron roofs on a temporary site in what is now the Perth central business district.  The number of buildings at Irwin Street grew slowly to accommodate more students.

Once the First World War ended, UWA developed quickly.  This was largely due to the efforts of Sir John Winthrop Hackett, who had a long-standing vision and passion to provide Western Australia with a university.  Proprietor and editor of The West Australian newspaper, he chaired a Royal Commission which recommended the establishment of a university.  Later he was the founding Chancellor and bequeathed more than £425,000 (the equivalent of more than $32 million) to the University.

Thanks to the generous Sir Winthrop Hackett bequest, building began in 1929 on a 51-hectare site in Crawley, about five kilometres west of Perth.  The grand, Mediterranean-style Winthrop Hall with its imposing clock tower, Hackett Hall and administration buildings were completed in 1932.  By 1930 student enrolments had reached over 600 and the move from Irwin Street to Crawley was complete by 1932.

Shortly after the Second World War, the University enrolments reached 1000.  UWA achieved unprecedented growth from the mid 1950s through to the 1960s thanks to two concurrent factors: a booming economy and a spike in demand for university education.  The post-war baby boom had also created a larger and younger population which was enjoying a high standard of living and better secondary education.  As a result, more young people were not only eligible to enter the University, they also wanted a degree to improve their opportunities.  Student numbers grew to 2000 by 1956 and had almost doubled to 3,800 by the end of 1962, including 166 enrolments for master's degrees and 99 for doctorates.

UWA is ranked second in Australia for the quality of its undergraduate programs and also has the highest quality undergraduates of any university in Australia.  UWA now has more than 18,000 students enrolled for undergraduate and postgraduate courses as well as cross-institutional and enabling courses.  Sitting on the banks of the Swan River, the University of Western Australia Crawley campus is the oldest in Western Australia and among the most picturesque in the world with its grand sandstone and terracotta buildings sitting among elegant heritage-listed gardens.

Most stately among the many buildings is Winthrop Hall, the focal point of the property both visually and administratively.  It is a landmark and is, indeed, the jewel in the crown of The University of Western Australia.  Built in 1932, the cathedral-like venue welcomes guests with a marble and mosaic foyer and vaulted ceilings.  The auditorium combines stained glass windows and aboriginal motifs on the ceiling.  George Benson wrote in 1932 about his design for the ceiling, calling it “the most gargantuan canvas I have ever attempted.” He said the decoration of the beams followed a pure Renaissance tradition.  The Melbourne artist painted designs based on Indigenous motifs using a range of earth colours, creating an iconic ceiling that became the first major artwork in Australia based on Indigenous art.  Seating almost 1,000 people in air conditioned comfort, Winthrop Hall's bright acoustic is ideal for choral and classical music. 

Professor A D Ross, Chairman of the Music Advisory Board, first proposed in 1927 that a pipe organ should form an integral part of Winthrop Hall.  It was originally intended that the organ would be installed on the completion of the building.  However, due to the financial strain placed on the University during the Depression and World War II, they were forced to delay its installation.

In 1924 Dr William Sim McGillvray was appointed as head of pathology at the Public Health Laboratory; Perth, and he remained in that position for 17 years.  Dr McGillivray was a highly skilled medical man, including in the areas of bacteriology and pathology.  He was Government Pathologist and Chief Medical Officer of the West Australian Health Department.  At one stage in his career, Dr McGillivray was involved in finding a solution to the notorious Forrest River incident.  Dr McGillivray practised as a General Practitioner in West Perth in the 1940's and 1950's.  In 1959 a bequest of a portion of his estate allowed the Senate of the University of Western Australia to consider installing a concert organ in Winthrop Hall.  The rest of his bequest was used to buy land in Floreat where another campus of the University is situated and includes the McGillivray Oval.

In due course the English firm of J W Walker and Sons Ltd of Ruislip, England were invited to design and construct the organ and the final cost was £30,000.  It took one year to build, using eight miles of wire, and over sixty craftsmen in its construction.  The organ was designed as an instrument of the Organ Reform Movement – the fully developed principal chorus work on all manual divisions is of open toe voicing on fairly low wind pressure and the reeds are French in character.  It was one of the first of these “classical” instruments to be installed in Australia.  It is not a large scale cathedral or concert hall instrument, but depends on the character of each voice to produce its unique tone.  It was installed in time for a ceremony to mark its opening on the 18th of January 1965.  An all Bach recital followed on the same day as part of the 13th Annual Festival of Perth and this was performed by the then University Organist Michael Brimer.

The 1965 stoplist was:
Quintaton                            16’
Open Diapason                   8’
Principal                             8’
Spitzflute                             8’
Octave                               4’
Rohrflute                            4’
Tweltfth                              2 2/3’
Fifteenth                             2’
Sesquialtera                        II
Mixture                               IV
Trompette                           8’
Open Diapason                   8’
Gedeckt                              8’
Viola da Gamba                  8’
Voix Celeste TC                 8’
Gemshorn                           4’
Koppel Flute                       4’
Fifteenth                             2’
Mixture                               IV
Contra Bassoon                   16’
Cornopean                          8’
Bassoon                              8’
Clarion                                4’
Stopped Diapason                8’
Nason Flute                        4’
Principal                             2’
Blockflute                           2’
Tierce                                 1 3/5’
Larigot                                1 1/3’
Crummhorn                         8’
Trompette                           8’         Gt
Trumpet Real TC                8’
Orchestral Flute                  8’
Salicional                            8’
Vienna Flute                       4’
Double Open Diapason        32’
Principal                             16’
Bourdon                              16’
Quintaton                            16’       Gt
Octave                               8’
Bass Flute                           8’
Fifteenth                             4’
Octave Flute                       4’
Mixture                               III
Trombone                           16’
Bassoon                              16’       Sw
Trumpet                              8’

The organ had a three manual console made of Honduras mahogany, maple interior fittings, ivory keys and a fully mobile platform that could be positioned freely on the stage.  The five division organ with 47 speaking stops featured 2712 pipes  The Choir and Positive shared the bottom keyboard, having a thumb piston each for Choir ‘on’, Positive ‘on’ and Choir and Positive ‘on’.  The organ had the usual couplers for an organ of this size and had a full complement of performing aids of the day.

The organ contained a few features unique to Perth at the time:
  • it was the only organ with a 32’ front (and is still only one of the few in Australia, including the Ronald      Sharp organ in the Perth Concert Hall) and a full length 32’ stop
  • it was the first instrument with a horizontal reed stop
  • it had a mobile console capable of being situated anywhere on the hall stage.
In the 1980’s, whilst Organ Society of Western Australia patron Dame Gillian Weir was artist in residence at University of Western Australia, F J Larner and Co. made some changes to the Positive and Choir divisions – the Positive chorus work was developed further with addition of a 2 2/3 flute (made from the Nason Flute 4) and mixture, space being made for this by the removal of the Stopped Diapason, which was installed on the Choir in place of the Orchestral Flute.  The Choir swell shutters were removed.  The Trumpet Real pipes, with impressively long bell resonators projecting above the Positive division case, were also replaced with pipes thought to be more “civilised”.

The organ continued to function in this altered state, providing good service to the University despite the fact that much of the organ was not able to be serviced due to cramped conditions dictated by its installation siting on a shelf extending across the full width of Winthrop Hall.

A contract was drawn up in 2006 with South Island Organ Company Limited (SIOC) of Timaru, New Zealand, for the complete and overdue restoration of the instrument, which was scheduled to take place during 2007 with the organ to be reinstalled in time for the Graduations of April 2008.  The restoration project was managed by Kevin Hamersley, the Manager of University Theatres, UWA.

The work schedule was set up to entail:
  1. Deepening the platform on which the organ rests by 500mm to facilitate easier access to the instrument for tuning and maintenance – the current layout making it necessary to slide on one’s back or tummy for most of the journey into either side of the instrument!
  2. The Great Principal chorus will be relocated to the north windchest.  The Great chorus is presently planted on 2 chests on either side of the Rose Window, which leads to difficulty in keeping the Great in tune when the morning sun heats the south side.
  3. The Choir and Positive divisions will be made independent of each other: the Positive will again have its Stopped Diapason 8’ and Nason Flute 4’ but will retain its 1980’s additions; while the Choir will regain its orchestral and expressive character with a new Orchestral Flute 8’, Vox Angelica 8’ and Vox Humana 8’ and the reinstatement of its swell shutters.
  4. The Swell will gain a Bourdon 16’ and the Great a Clarion 4’.
  5. The whole scheme will be splendidly rounded off with the addition of a Contra Trombone 32’ to the pedals.  This will be the first full length 32’ reed in WA.
  6. The Walker windchests, stop actions and all associated machinery will be restored, as will the large 3 manual Honduras mahogany console with its beautiful maple and ivory fittings.
  7. The 1960’s electro mechanical switching system will be replaced by the most up to date computerised switching system available, which will allow the removal of the organ’s unwieldy “umbilical chord” to be replaced by a 2 wire data cable capable of being plugged in anywhere on stage.

The work was to be carried out in consultation with the University Organist, Mrs Annette Goerke and it was intended for the end result to retain very much the 1965 Walker sound and spirit but with additions to enhance the impact of it as a concert instrument.

Work commenced early in April 2007 on the dismantling of the whole organ and sending it to Timaru, New Zealand, to be restored and enhanced by SIOC.  The rebuild of the organ was scheduled in such a way that it would be completed and returned to the hall in time for Graduations in 2008 – this task on such a large organ is one that only a large Company with the resources of SIOC is able to accomplish in such a short time frame.

The dismantling and packing of the organ went to schedule.  Even the weather was kind – the rain came as the doors of the shipping containers were being locked.  While the organ was away, the opportunity was taken to effect other general maintenance on the Hall.  The rose window was cleaned and some hidden paintings by George Benson, the artist who decorated the ceiling of Winthrop Hall in 1931, were rediscovered.

The instrument was unpacked in the factory of SIOC and restoration of the console was one of the first jobs to be commenced.  Both Patrick Elms and Colin van der Lecq, Western Australian based curators of the organ, travelled to New Zealand to work on the restoration of this important instrument.  Timaru, in the South Island of New Zealand, is a beautiful place.  The mountains are just an hour inland of Timaru and the West Australians enjoyed several trips to the alps and very good views of snow capped peaks every breakfast time from the kitchen window of their hosts home, John and Val Hargraves, proprietors of SIOC.

With the Walker organ in Winthrop Hall removed for restoration the need for a replacement instrument for the end of year Graduation Nights 2007 had to be filled.  An Allen digital organ was supplied for this important occasion.  The instrument used was a 2-manual Allen Renaissance model with 34 stops.  With 520 watts of audio and 10 external tone cabinets being utilised the organ spoke with a clarity and purpose.  The University was satisfied in every aspect of the organ and the way it was installed for such a short duration.

The process of restoration and enhancement of this organ at SIOC progressed according to schedule.  The many traditional skills, ranging from voicing both flue and reed pipes with voicer John Gray, releathering bellows in the traditional English manner with organ builder Gerald Green (both men learning their craft with the renowned firm Hill, Norman and Beard of London) and the artistry of the joinery of organ builder Neil Stocker all came together in a carefully orchestrated manner.

By January 2008 most of the organ was back in Perth.  All the restored slider windchests were in position on their respective building frames, the repaired zinc wind trunking was connected to the chests and various ranks of large pedal pipes were installed.  The wooden staying for the frontal display of Open Diapason pipes of 32’, 16’, 8’ and 4’ pitches had been altered to accommodate the enlarged internal layout which will allow much more freedom of access to properly maintain the instrument.  The reconstruction was undertaken by a team of four organ builders from New Zealand and two from Perth.  In all seven of the SIOC staff were involved throughout the nine week installation.

The installation of the McGillivray organ at Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, was completed exactly on schedule on Saturday March 8th 2008, some eleven months after it was removed from the hall in April 2007.  This is quite incredible given the scope of the work that was performed.  The actual work comprised:
  1.    A comprehensive restoration and refit
  2.    The six slider windchests and numerous off-note chests being completely restored according to their 1964 manufacture
  3.    The 13 “schwimmer” style wind regulators and five traditional single rise regulators were completely restored ( including complete restoration and reinstatement of their unique internal springing system with new constant force springs obtained from the same supplier that supplied springs in 1963 to J W Walker – thanks to the wonders of Google!!)
  4.    Complete cleaning and attention to the approximately 3000 pipes
  5.    Reinstatement of the independence of the Choir and Positive divisions
  6.    Reinstatement of the Choir expression shutters
  7.    Completion of the tonal scheme with carefully scaled and voiced stop additions
  8.    Replacement of the 1963 obsolete electrical transmission system with a modern state of the art computerised system
  9.    Deepening of the organ shelf and enlarging the organ frame by 600mm to allow for improved internal access
  10.   A new aluminium University crest made by artist Hans Arkeveld from the School of Anatomy and Human Biology now adorns the Positive Organ case
The result: The organ has far more presence in the hall – the necessary voicing adjustments and regulating to the Pedal 32’ and 16’ Principals, additions of a Swell Bourdon 16’ and Pedal Contra Trombone 32’ have all given the organ far more “gravitas”, as has the general slowing of speech of all the Principal choruses through out the organ which has further emphasised the fundamental tone of the organ.

The reeds are far brighter and prompt in speech – especially the swell reeds.  The Swell windchests have four wind regulators, each of which was found during the factory work to have had a different wind pressure due to breakage or misalignment of the internal pressure springs – none of the wind pressures being anywhere close to that recorded as being set in 1963.

The reinstatement of the independent Choir division should be especially useful in the realisation of Romantic repertoire (yes, organists do want to play Romantic literature on a neo classical instrument!) – the new Vox Angelica is a lovely contrast to the keener swell strings and the new Orchestral Flute (the original pipes, removed in the 1980’s, were unable to be recovered) a fine contrast to the other flutes of the organ, all of which have responded beautifully at the hands of SIOC voicer John Gray – all the flutes throughout the organ have a distinctly different character which was not so evident previously.  The new Vox Humana is also a fine contrast to its larger brother in the Positive, the Crummhorn.

The Positive organ has benefited from again having its own 8’ and 4’ foundations, rather than borrowing them from the Choir as was the case before the restoration.  The Positive is now far more cohesive and solid in its character.  This is also the case with the Great and Swell Principal choruses which, rather than being spread out over 2 different windchests in each division, have now been planted together on their respective windchests, thus speaking together from the same pallets.  They are much more solid and cohesive, especially in their tuning.  Visually the facade of the Positive division has been subtly altered to accommodate a new UWA shield in cast aluminium and the new display chest for the spun copper Trumpet Real pipes. This additional work was the happy outcome of a design idea and bequest by Dr Jim Rowlands who felt strongly that the original design was weak at this point.

Of course the crowning glory of the instrument is the new Trumpet Real.  It is voiced on 130mm of wind and has a very forthright round and very bright tone.  It also is full length to bottom C – previously it only went to tenor C and the lowest 6 notes had half length resonators which somewhat spoilt the tone.  The organ depended on it for impact but this is no longer the case – the organ now has plenty of impact in its own right and the new Trumpet Real gives the organist somewhere to go should a really emphatic point need to be made!

The organ was used for the first time, as planned, for the University Graduation ceremonies at the end of March with University Organist Annette Goerke presiding at the console.

To celebrate the return of the J W Walker organ to Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, a special function was held on Sunday 4th May.  The elite of Perth’s music and academic world gathered, along with the organ builder and his WA representatives, to share the first public display of this remarkable instrument.

Fine wines and an excellent selection of canapés preceded the official function before Dr Campbell Thompson, Director Development and Research Services, welcomed invited guests.  Professor Alan Robson, Vice-Chancellor of the University, then spoke.  He explained the process of the original organ grant, the aging factors of the 43-year-old instrument, and the manner in which the current rebuild had been approached.  He underlined that the $600,000 repair bill is minimal, compared with the cost of replacement of the organ, estimated to be about $3 million at today’s prices.

Professor Margaret Seares, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, was the final speaker for the University.  She provided a concise résumé of each of the organ works that were about to be played and introduced the University Organist.  Annette Goerke, one of Australia’s leading organists, was Organist and Director of Cathedral Music of St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, where she played for more than 40 years.  She also honed her skills when a Churchill Fellowship took her to Paris for advanced studies with Marie-Claire Alain.  Annette is a graduate of the UWA’s School of Music.

The programme offered a selection of works that demonstrated the new breadth and remarkable additions to the organ.  Improved winding has made a great difference to the way the pipes speak, and, as a result of the restoration, many of the pipes had not been attended to for the life or the organ are now heard.  It would seem that nobody in the gathering held any reservation that the rebuild had done anything else but provide Perth with an exciting and noble classical instrument on which a vast repertoire of music can be successfully executed.

Olivier Messiaen is a particular favourite of the organist, she herself being the leading exponent of his works in Australia.  Later this year Annette will present a celebratory concert to commemorate the centenary of the birth of this notable French composer.  But for this concert, we were given Transports de joie (from L’Ascension—a very appropriate selection for Ascension Sunday) and Joie et clarité (from Les Corps Glorieux).  Both these pieces explored the array of dynamics in the organ from mystical swell interludes to full reed acclaimations.  It is said that you either like or dislike Messiaen, but the audience was left in no doubt that his work is powerful in the hands of this organist, and on this particular organ.

A very dignified Introduction and Toccata on the Easter Hymn Lasst uns erfreuen by Nicholas Choveaux provided both a wonderful contrast to the French works and highlighted the strident bass, now undergirded with a new and powerful reed stop on the organ.   The melody line is carried entirely by the pedal in this setting and the hallelujahs rang from every rafter in the great hall while the intricate dexterity of the manuals wove the tapestry of this marvellous hymn.

Récit de Tierce en Taille, a delightful Nicolas de Gringny work, demonstrated the very delicate mutational stops available in the resources of the new organ, proving it to be eminently suited to the Baroque style of music. This piece is the fourth part of the Gloria from Organ Mass IV, and is an exquisitely expressive solo in the tenor voice.

Broader, Pièce Héroïque by César Franck , originally written for the inauguration of the organ of the Trocadéro in 1878, served faithfully to inaugurate this organ in Perth 130 year later.  The softer reed solo lines carried clearly and led flawlessly into the climactic crescendo parts.

Gammal fäbodpsalm by Oscar Fredrik Lindberg came to the public attention 20 years after his death when the Swedish pop group Abba used it as a feature piece in their concerts.  The haunting melody reproduced on the organ (for which it was originally written) held the audience spellbound and demonstrated yet again another special aspect of the dynamics of this organ.
There is probably no more fitting piece to show off a grand organ than the Charles-Marie Widor Toccata from the Fifth Symphony.  The stunning triplets and the strong pedal lines leading to the ending tuti, complete with the fiery Trumpet Real (which we had heard in other selections, but not over the full organ) provided a wonderful finale to the program.

The specification of the Winthrop Hall organ as rebuilt in 2008 is:

Great Organ:
Quintaton                            16’       D
Open Diapason                   8’
Principal                             8’
Spitzflute                             8’
Octave                               4’
Rohrflute                            4’
Twelfth                               2 2/3’
Fifteenth                             2’
Sesquiatera 12.17                II
Mixture 19 22 26 29             IV
Trompette                           8’         G
► Clarion                           4’
Swell Organ:
► Bourdon                         16’       H
Open Diapason                   8’
Gedeckt                              8’
Viola da Gamba                  8’
Voix Celeste TC                 8’
Gemshorn                           4’
Koppelflute                         4’
Fifteenth                             2’
Mixture 22 26 29 33             IV
Contra Bassoon                   16’       A
Cornopean                          8’
Bassoon                              8’         A
Clarion                                4’
Positve Organ:
Stopped Diapason                8’
► Nason Flute                    4’
Nazard                               2 2/3’
Principal                             2’
Blockflute                           2’
Tierce                                 1 3/5’
Larigot                                1 1/3’
Cymbal                               II
Crumhorn                           8’
Trompette                           8’         G
► Trumpet Real                 8’
Choir Organ:
► Orchestral Flute              8’
Salicional                            8’
► Vox Angelica                 8’
Vienna Flute                       4’
► Vox Humana                  8’
Pedal Organ:
Double Open Diapason        32’       B
Principal                             16’       B
Bourdon                              16’       E
► Echo Bourdon                16’       H
Quintaton                            16’       D
Octave                               8’         C
Bass Flute                           8’         E
Fifteenth                             4’         C
Octave Flute                       4’         E
Mixture 22 26 29                 III
► Contra Trombone           32’       F
Trombone                           16’       F
Bassoon                              16’       A
Trumpet                              8’         F
► indicates new stops

Wind pressures:                   75mm
Contra Trombone                90mm
Trumpet Real                      130mm

Three manuals and Pedal – Choir and Positive share the lowest manual but Choir can now be played from the top manual through a “Choir on Swell” piston. Great and Positive key boards can be reversed so that the French keyboard layout can be used.

UWA will make the McGillivray organ available for frequent concerts, thereby enriching the lives of those fortunate to live in the great state of Western Australia.   The next event will be In Praise of the Organ, a celebration of the reinstallation of the McGillivray organ, on Sunday 25th May 2008.  This will be a concert of choral and organ music with the University of WA Choral Society under the leadership of Burhan Guner and with organist Dominic Perissinotto.  The concert will feature:

Kodaly - Laudes Organi
Marco Enrico Bossi – Etude Symphonique Op 78
Howells – Like as the Hart
Parry – I was Glad
JS Bach – Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor BWV 542
Handel – Coronation Anthems

In December 2008 there will be a featured organ recital to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen.

My special thanks to Patrick Elms (Patrick Elms & Co) and John Hargraves (South Island Organ Company Limited) who have been generous with information and photographs about the organ rebuild.  My thanks also to staff of the Office of Development and the University Theatres departments at The University of Western Australia for the information they have provided.  The University Archives have assisted with historical material.

DGI Web Design