Warwick heritage walk

The weather became cooler, and suddenly I was ready to venture further than Stanthorpe. Shortly after daybreak, I set off for Warwick along the back road through Cullendore. The mist was still hovering along the valleys, the macropods still forming a guard of honour along the verge, the blushing pink trunks still alight in the early sun. I bounced over corrugations, dipped down to cross dry creeks, and curved my way through the bush to the open country. It took me a while to extricate myself from the backblocks of Warwick, but I was parking in deep shade in front of the Criterion Hotel by 7 am, too early to pop into the bar to see the owls eyes and rams heads in the stained glass of the public bar, images intended to ward off evil spirits.

My plan was to visit a glorious oversupply of heritage buildings, guided by the invaluable aussietowns. A quick read had already showed me that I’d need to develop a glossary of architectural terms to deploy knowledgeably on future architectural explorations: pilasters, deep string course, hipped roof, clerestory windows, lancet arched openings, pediments, half-squared pilasters, crenellated parapets, acroteria, purlin, spandrel – the list goes on.

I had the town pretty well to myself, and, as I feared, the sun was haloing the buildings I wanted to photograph.

Town Hall

I began at the Town Hall. Like many of the buildings of importance in Warwick, it is built of local sandstone, “a comely edifice … standing where once a humpy reared it’s unpretentious head”, according to the local newspaper in the late 1880s. In 1900, it witnessed crowds cheering for Baden Powell after the relief of Mafeking; in 1908 the precursors of modern movies were screened there; in 1914 it hosted Australian singer Peter Dawson; in 1952 Sister Kenny, who developed a controversial treatment for polio, was guest of honour on Anzac Day; and in 2019 an ageing woman from Potato Point paid it photographic tribute.

Post Office

The Post Office, also built from local sandstone, was added to the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List in 2011. Although it’s an architectural mongrel, it draws together influences in an original way: “contemporary Baroque Revival” – contemporary for the late 19th century, that is – with “some Federation elements”. It introduces me to horseshoe-shaped Saracen arches, a cupola, and the unfluted Tuscan columns at the entrance. It was too early to go inside.

St Mary’s Presbytery

This building has been on the Queensland Heritage Register since 2008. It’s part of an extensive site owned by the Roman Catholic Church, spreading over two blocks. It was originally constructed of red brick (not sandstone) although the exterior is now rendered and painted. A description of the presbytery in 1888 noted the “charming panoramic view” from the belvedere, and the fourteen “handsomely furnished” rooms.

I wonder what I’d need to do to get inside to admire the decorative metal fireplaces grates, the marble and timber mantelpieces, the moulded panel doors, the etched glass fanlights, the finely turned balusters and newel posts. I’d love to walk through the unpainted timber door into the belvedere viewing room, and climb the steep timber ladder to its roof-space, and then the narrow step ladder through the removable hatch to the open viewing platform. From there I’d have a great view out over the city of Warwick and the surrounding countryside. However, I don’t want to move to Warwick permanently, or become a member of the Catholic parish, whose office the presbytery now houses.

Stone kerb and channel

Just outside the presbytery, a sign draws my attention to the kerbing, sandstone of course, not something I’m in the habit of noticing.

Old St Mary’s church

Old Saint Mary’s Church, now relegated to the status of church hall, is a substantial sandstone building, built between 1863–1865 and designed by a prominent Brisbane architect, Benjamin Backhouse. Above the porch is a rose window, then a ventilation opening in the form of a cross and at the apex of the gable a carved stone Latin Cross. When the new church was built next door in 1926, this building became a schoolhouse. Now it suffers from rising damp, and from a bland internal makeover to suit its current purpose, but it is one of the earliest extant sandstone buildings in this city of sandstone buildings.

St Mary’s Catholic Church


This church, “a fine example of early 20th century Gothic Revival”, is unfinished, which explains its odd proportions. Every pinnacle is crested with a sandstone cross. Its architectural details include Bangor slate gabled roofs; a crenellated parapet; clerestory windows; an octagonal spire; sandstone fleur-de-lis; tracery and carvings.

As I circumambulated it I realised there was a service happening inside. I managed to photograph through an open door, and then slipped in briefly. While the priest was consecrating the host, I admired the plainness of the whitewashed interior, a far cry from Warsaw Baroque.

The Masonic Centre

The Masons have a definite mystique, and it wasn’t diminished for me when I noted that this building has a Hebrew inscription on the facade. What exactly is going on? It’s a double-storeyed sandstone building with a classical facade, and a corrugated iron hipped roof. Inside (and no! Again I didn’t go in) the upper level, reached by beautifully carved cedar stairs, is richly appointed for ceremonial meetings. Three arched diamond-glazed windows with stained glass borders are inset with masonic symbols, and the floor has a black and white linoleum centrepiece in “Masonic pavement” design. It too is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register.

The court house and police station

More sandstone in this city of grand sandstone buildings, although on a slightly less grand scale. I’m not so eager to enter these two: partly because of their function, and partly because their interiors have been adjusted over the years for practical purposes. Their heritage listing says “this is a highly intact working example of a turn of the century police complex with adjoining late nineteenth century court house” and is “evidence of the consolidation of Warwick as a centre for the surrounding district during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

By sheer happenstance, a few months after my Warwick ramble, I came across a description of the Warwick courtroom in Bri Lee’s “Eggshall skull”. She was in Warwick in 2015 as associate to the circuit judge.

There was something really special about the courtroom in Warwick. It was the only room in the courthouse building with heating, and it hadn’t been open to fresh air for such a long time its smell of leather and books was overwhelming. Stepping inside from a morning too cold for me to smell anything, a cold that stung the inside of my nose, into that quiet, reverent place, and setting up for the day’s work ahead, felt nice. Wigs sat on each end of the bar table like sleeping pets, waiting patiently for their master’s return. Light refracted through the glass of the dock box, turning it into a thing of beauty rather than a cage for beasts. Some buildings and rooms feel empty without people inside them, but an old courtroom is different. Being there is like holding an ancient coin. Too many things have been absorbed over time – too much human contact for it just to disappear when people leave.

St Andrew’s Uniting Church (originally a Presbyterian church)

Swathed in a tracery of early morning shadows, this is one of the simplest sandstone buildings in Warwick and no less charming because of that. It’s divided into six bays separated by buttresses: between each buttress are lancet arched openings, each housing a pair of lancet windows with a circular window above. The steeply pitched roof is clad in red terracotta tiles with small decorative stone pinnacles located in each corner and a metal fleche, a slender spire, at one end. It’s my favourite sandstone building.

War memorial

Every Australian town has its war memorial, even very small ones. Warwick’s is predictably grand, sandstone, granite and Celtic cross. Elsewhere in the town is a plaque. commemorating the Dungarees recruitment drive that saw 125 men march to Brisbane to enlist in 1915. They probably weren’t marching thinking of “the ultimate sacrifice” or of their memory being “cherished and perpetuated.” But that’s how many of them ended up.

Langham’s Hotel

By the time I reach Langham’s Hotel, there are other people out and about, intent on business and unaware of being immortalised in a stranger’s photo.

I’m mortified that I wasn’t better prepared to notice details, which I was only alerted to later. I needed to zoom in so I could record the detail on the cast iron balustrade, a woman in a flowing classical robe in the centre of each panel. However, despite my obliviousness, my photos show the slatted timber valance; the filigreed verandah; the balustraded parapet topped with ball motifs

The hotel was built in 1912-13 and it contains another interior I’d like to penetrate, with its “substantial amounts of original fabric including pressed metal ceilings and plaster mouldings.” Later in the day I could have walked through the “double doors of silky oak and etched glass” into the public bar with its pressed metal ceiling, featuring roses, and what has become an anachronism, a telephone lobby.

The unknown building

These are all heritage listed buildings one way or another, but I’m a bit partial to the anonymous. So I’m going to end with this graceful anonymity.

My inside information and the architectural terminology comes from Wikipedia, which is in fact quoting the descriptive section of the relevant entry in the Heritage Register.

I set out on this walk armed with tips for photographing architecture. My tendency is to focus on detail, so this time I decided to record context a bit more: the building in its streetscape. However, I was still seduced by detail.

PS I have no idea why a few sections have appeared highlighted in white. It means nothing!

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