Pipe Organs in WA

Pipe Organs in Western Australia The Organ Society of Western Australia

Western Australia has an eclectic and colourful collection of pipe organs, as described in this excerpt from Robert Elms and Bruce Duncan.

It was nearly 50 years after the first settlement of the State that the first pipe organ was installed in a church. In 1875 two were built in quick succession, a Bishop and Son instrument of two manuals and pedal with 15 speaking stops and an organ of two manuals and pedals and 15 speaking stops by Hill and Son.

The next four organs to be installed were built in Western Australia by Robert Cecil Clifton, a clerk in the Lands Department of the colony with a passion for building pipe organs.

In the period from 1890 to 1900 several organs were imported from the United Kingdom. These organs by Hill, Monk, Atterton, Bishop, Kirkland and others were mainly small English-style instruments, with two larger instruments, a Bishop and Son and a fine Norman and Beard, being the exception. The only contribution from an Australian builder during this period, apart from Clifton's opus V, was from the Melbourne builder, Alfred Fuller.

During the period from 1900 to 1923 quite a few organs came from the Adelaide builder J.E. Dodd. Most of these consisted of two manuals and pedal with less than a dozen stops. Two well-endowed two manual instruments of about 30 stops were sister organs and notable exceptions. Later, in the 1920s, some good quality instruments came from another Adelaide builder, Roberts Ltd. Early in the century a small organ was imported from George Fincham in Melbourne. English, American and German organs were also imported in the 1920s and a Whitehouse Brothers organ came from Brisbane. There was only one known local organ builder during the 50 year period from 1908 to the 1950s.

The firm of J.E. Dodd & Sons Gunstar Organ Works, based in Adelaide, carried out much work in Western Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. This firm built some new organs and rebuilt a number of others.

The local builder Paul Hufner commenced operations in 1951. Through his work pipe organs were installed in many churches which would have put in electronic instruments had it not been for his efforts in promoting the effective small pipe organs he built at a very low price. Hufner built more than 30 instruments, which were mostly small, of one or two manuals, with one to four extended ranks. A few were larger: of five or six extended ranks. Paul Hufner completed his largest, and final, organ in 1990, a three-manual instrument of 57 speaking stops.

F.J. Larner commenced work as an apprentice in the Hufner firm in the late 1950s, and later branched out on his own. Larner's first instruments were also extension instruments with electric action along the lines of those built by Paul Hufner. However, these were the years of the neo-classical reform movement, and Larner became interested in building classical organs with mechanical action. In all Paul Hufner and John Larner have between them, or together, built or rebuilt more than half of all the organs presently in Western Australian churches, more than 50 instruments: a remarkable achievement in a little over 30 years.

An organ by J W Walker & Sons was built for Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia in 1965, the largest instrument to be installed in Perth for 50 years and not surpassed for another ten years.

Geoffrey Revell, trading as Bellsham Pipe Organs, moved to Western Australia in 1975 from Melbourne. Bellshams have contributed a significant number of new instruments, mostly of two widely divergent types. First, there have been some very small chamber organs of one or two manuals, with pedals, and with five to 12 classically voiced ranks and a light mechanical action. Second, there are some of the largest organs in the State: these are well appointed three-manual instruments. Bellsham's largest work of four-manuals has electric action to slider soundboards and is the largest organ in Western Australia and one of the largest in the Commonwealth.

In 1976 Ronald Sharp built the large neo-baroque organ for the Perth Concert Hall, eclipsing the Winthrop Hall organ in size and providing a very different forum of musical style and expression.

South Island Organ Company Ltd of New Zealand rebuilt the large Bellsham organ in 1998 and it now consists of eight divisions, including a two manual transept organ. The completed organ is arguably the largest church organ in Australia and one of the biggest organs in the Southern Hemisphere. The two organs can be played from either a two manual console in the transept, or a four manual console in the gallery. South Island Organ Company Ltd has also rebuilt or reworked several other of Perth’s large organs over the following decade.

A history of West Australian organ builders would not be complete without mention of the work of University of Western Australia mechanical engineering lecturer, Lynn Kirkham, who has built one organ on the lines of the Dutch 17th century school, and another of French classical design. Lynn has been pivotal in the restructuring of other notable instruments in Perth.

Victorian Knud Smenge built three organs in the 1990s for a cathedral in Perth. Orgues Létourneau Limtée in Canada built two organs and a large German-built von Beckerath organ was installed in the first years of the new millenium.

In the most recent iteration of pipe organ builders in Western Australia are two separate firms: Pipe Organs of WA and Patrick Elms & Co. Between them, the organs in the state are well maintained and many have been enhanced by their efforts. Pipe Organs of WA have constructed several new instruments and undertaken significant reconstructions of older organs. Patrick Elms works with South Island Organ Company and has been involved in several of their significant restructuring projects as well as relocating and rebuilding other organs in his own right.

Click on the selections below for an index that suits you to find out more about the organs of Western Australia.

Langford residence organ