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Check out the document library and map of the property below to understand what's being proposed. You can have your say by:

After you are happy with your comments in the online survey, click on 'submit' at the end. If you have filled out the survey from the document library manually and saved the form, you can email it to heritage@act.gov.au or print it and mail it to:

The Secretary
ACT Heritage Council
GPO Box 158
Canberra City ACT 2601

Comments made through this website are formal statutory consultation comments and are given to the Council. The statutory consultation notice can be found on the ACT Legislation Register.

We are looking at:

The Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct has been provisionally registered on the ACT Heritage Register for its contribution to educational development in the ACT and its role in the local history of the Catholic Church, and now the Heritage Council want to hear your comments to see if they got it right.

Provisional registration is only the first step to let you know why the Council thinks a place or object is important to the ACT and you, its residents. Now the Council want to hear what you think about their initial assessment to see if you think they got it right, or if there is other information to consider.

The Council's initial view of heritage significance is in the survey, but you may find the following overview helpful.

Since the 1960s, the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct has made an important contribution to the educational development of the ACT, providing the rapidly growing national capital with teaching staff during a time of unprecedented growth of the Catholic school system in the ACT and region. The opening of the Blackfriars Priory and Signadou Teaching College occurred during a formative period of educational development in Canberra when the Catholic Church was making considerable investments in the sector. The place represents a distinct phase of local history in the Catholic Church, wherein different orders were consolidating and uniting with increased presence within the ACT.

We will use your views to:

This is the opportunity for you to say if you think the Council has it right or wrong, or if there is anything else they should have considered.

A common outcome of consultation is the Council confirming or rethinking what is included in their assessment, or what a final decision may look like. This can involve changing boundaries or adding or removing features that make up the significant fabric of the place.

Map

Proposed Heritage Boundary

Survey

Comments on the Provisional Registration of Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct, Watson.

The Council has provisionally registered Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct as a way to indicate that it intends to make a decision on whether or not to permanently put it on the ACT Heritage Register. The provisional registration sets out what it is about the place that the Council thinks is important to the ACT and why. This public consultation aims to find out the views of the ACT community.

Please read the Provisional Registration Decision and the Background Information documents before starting.

Section 1 - ACT Heritage Council considerations - place

The boundary on the map (refer to the Map tab)and the attributes listed below are what the ACT Heritage Council considers to capture the proposed heritage significance of the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct. Do you agree or do you have suggested changes you want the Council to consider?

Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct, also known as the Australian Catholic University, Watson, consisting of the following attributes:

  • The prominent siting of the Blackfriars Building and Signadou Building at the intersection of Antill Street and Philip Avenue, Watson, creating a sense of arrival and monumentality;
  • Motifs of religion integral to the aesthetic of the buildings, specifically:
    • the verticality in fenestration and blue-stone external detailing on Blackfriars and Signadou buildings, also contributing to sense of monumentality;
    • Blackfriars cloister, including:
      • continuous, ground floor walkway;
      • open air courtyard
      • wall-mounted mosaics, specifically:
        • St Thomas addressed by the crucifix (Father Maurice Keating, O.P.);
        • St Bernadette at the Lourde Grotto (Father Maurice Keating, O.P.);
        • St Catherine of Sienna addressing the Pope at Avalon telling him to return to Rome (Father Maurice Keating, O.P.);
        • St John the Evangelist. Latin: 'The word became flesh' (Father Maurice Keating, O.P.);
        • Our Lady (Brother Francis McKinnon);
    • Features made by Dominicans , specifically:
      • 'Romanesque' arches lining the cloister; and
      • Wall-mounted mosaics (see above);
    • St Dominic's Orange Tree;
    • Signadou Chapel, specifically:
      • choir loft intended for use by Dominican Sisters;
      • four rows of wooden stalls intended for use by Dominican Sisters;
      • stained glass windows, including those designed by Stephen Moor, depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary, and representations of the Dominican Order.
    • Signadou open-air courtyard ;
    • the names 'Signadou' and 'Blackfriars' which relate directly to the story and past of the Dominican Order.

Section 2 - ACT Heritage Council considerations - significance

A place or object has heritage significance if it meets with one or more of the eight heritage significance criteria as defined under section 10 of the Heritage Act 2004.

The heritage significance criteria are labelled (a) to (h), and your comments are most useful when addressed against each of these criteria, or you could focus on the ones relevant to your argument. However, you may choose to only leave a general comment by skipping to the General Comments section.

The ACT Heritage Council has determined that Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct is likely to have heritage significance under criterion (a) only. The criteria that are not met can also be commented on.

While the Council will independently assess and research any claims you make against the criteria, it may be helpful to refer to the Heritage Assessment Policy as a guide to providing the strongest argument with appropriate evidence.

(a) importance to the course or pattern of the ACT's cultural or natural history;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (a) and is satisfied that the place is likely to meet this criterion.

The Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct is significant for the role it has played in educating the teachers of the ACT and providing the ACT's schools with teaching staff, particularly during the growth and expansion years of the ACT under the administration of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC). The place represents an important time of change for the education system in Australia and an unprecedented period of cohesion and cooperation between Catholic religious orders in the ACT and region, which was focused in Canberra.

The Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct symbolises a notable level of dedication and commitment of the Catholic education system and its role in teacher training in the ACT. The place demonstrates distinctive design and artistic elements which are integral to its significance in this regard. These elements include motifs of religion critical to the aesthetic of the building, some of which were constructed by Dominicans themselves. Elements include the Blackfriars cloister, the Signadou Chapel, wall-mounted mosaics, internal timberwork, and a strong sense of verticality in fenestration and blue-stone detailing that contributes to a sense of monumentality.

The Signadou and Blackfriars buildings were completed several years apart, with Signadou being the initial focus for teacher training and tertiary education. Nonetheless the Catholic Church's investment in education and teacher training in the ACT is exemplified by the precinct as a whole, as the two buildings demonstrate an integrated vision, aesthetic unity and cohesiveness of architectural form.

Under the NCDC, which was tasked with completing Canberra as the seat of government, Canberra grew from a population of 40,000 to 300,000, with this population boom accelerating in the late 1950s. On average, the NCDC was building a primary school every year and a high school every second year. The Catholic population of Canberra and the diocesan primary school system was also growing, and the Archbishop of the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese responded to this concern by establishing a tertiary teaching college in the ACT.

On his appointment in 1953 as Archbishop in Canberra and Goulburn, Dr Eris O'Brien encouraged previously disparate religious orders to move their headquarters to Canberra and many did. Unusually for the times, he fostered close cooperation between religious orders such as the Dominicans.

The place represents a shift in the attitude towards government funding of non-government schools, and investment in education in the 1960s by governments in Australia. At the time Signadou training college opened in the 1960s, the Commonwealth Government was taking a stronger role in funding and accrediting tertiary institutions and their programs, as well as providing direct funding to non-government primary and secondary schools for the first time. State governments were under pressure to address funding issues in non-government schools, as evidenced by the well-known Goulburn protest of 1962 that led to the state funding of vital facilities at Our Lady of Marcy Primary School.

The Parish Church, Holy Rosary Church, Watson, on Block 6 Section 49, has not been included under the assessment. The church was constructed around a decade after the Signadou and Blackfriars Buildings, and not to original design. Further, it held a separate function as parish church, and its association with the training college, university, and priory is not considered strong or enduring enough to be included in this assessment.

Rosary School on (part) Block 3, Section 49, has not been included in this assessment. Rosary School was built as an observatory school in association with Signadou Training College. The school has since been refurbished, and any fabric relating to this function (such as observatory classrooms) is no longer extant.

(b) has uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of the ACT's cultural or natural history;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (b) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

The Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct is not considered rare in the context of the ACT. As with the ACT's other tertiary institutions, the Australian National University (ANU), and the University of Canberra (UC), the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct has an association with the history of the establishment and expansion of cultural/educational institutions in the ACT during the NCDC era.

(c) potential to yield important information that will contribute to an understanding of the ACT's cultural or natural history;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (c) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

There is insufficient evidence before the Council to demonstrate that the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct has the potential to yield important information that will contribute to a wider understanding of the ACT's cultural or natural history. The Council does not anticipate a reasonable likelihood that the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct contains substantial physical evidence – currently obscured and of high integrity – pertaining to a defined, significant research interest, and it is unlikely to provide key information that will fill an important gap in existing knowledge about the history of the ACT.

(d) importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural or natural places or objects;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (d) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

The Blackfriars and Signadou Precinct expresses aspects of monastic design. The Blackfriars building in particular demonstrates an exceptionally intact cloister for communing, studying, and taking exercise surrounding open areas that provided ample light and air for acolytes. Rodrigues (2015: 17) observes the importance of cloisters and the garden spaces they enclose as representing the cornerstones of monastic observance. Other characteristics include mosaics by Br Francis McKinnon O.P. and Fr Maurice Keating O.P. embellishing the Blackfriars cloister. These depict key spiritual and religious moments and themes, fundamental to Dominican philosophies, and further illustrate the place's function as a priory. However, while these key features relating to the place's monastic function are comprehensively represented and conserved, 'monastic buildings' are not readily identified as a class of place that has made a strong, noticeable or influential contribution to the cultural history of the ACT to a high enough degree to meet thresholds against this criterion.

(e) importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by the ACT community or a cultural group in the ACT;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (e) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

As with all seven of the Australian Catholic University campuses in Australia, Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct houses a collection of artworks. These include free-standing pieces as well as stained glass windows and mosaics. The Australian Catholic University as a whole has contributed to the Catholic intellectual tradition through its collection, display, patronage, and support of art and symbol, and in the context of religious life/vocation, aesthetics and beauty are considered to be important in the development of spirituality.

The Council may consider the Catholic Church and its adherents to constitute a cultural group in the ACT, however there is insufficient evidence demonstrating that the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct exhibits particular aesthetic characteristics – such as art or architecture – which are valued by this cultural group to a degree high enough to distinguish it from other religious institutions, churches or ecclesiastical buildings. It is noted that all seven campuses of the Australian Catholic University have contributed to Catholic artistic and intellectual tradition in Australia, however, there is no evidence before the Council that the collections and characteristics within the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct are valued by the Catholic Church and its adherents more than those at other campuses.

Further, the Council may receive some anecdotal accounts of how the Catholic Church or its adherents appreciate certain aesthetic attributes, such as stained glass windows, mosaic artwork, or the interior layout, informal, undocumented accounts do not constitute evidence that the Catholic community as a whole strongly values a place's aesthetic characteristics.

(e) importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by the ACT community or a cultural group in the ACT;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (e) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

As with all seven of the Australian Catholic University campuses in Australia, Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct houses a collection of artworks. These include free-standing pieces as well as stained glass windows and mosaics. The Australian Catholic University as a whole has contributed to the Catholic intellectual tradition through its collection, display, patronage, and support of art and symbol, and in the context of religious life/vocation, aesthetics and beauty are considered to be important in the development of spirituality.

The Council may consider the Catholic Church and its adherents to constitute a cultural group in the ACT, however there is insufficient evidence demonstrating that the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct exhibits particular aesthetic characteristics – such as art or architecture – which are valued by this cultural group to a degree high enough to distinguish it from other religious institutions, churches or ecclesiastical buildings. It is noted that all seven campuses of the Australian Catholic University have contributed to Catholic artistic and intellectual tradition in Australia, however, there is no evidence before the Council that the collections and characteristics within the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct are valued by the Catholic Church and its adherents more than those at other campuses.

Further, the Council may receive some anecdotal accounts of how the Catholic Church or its adherents appreciate certain aesthetic attributes, such as stained glass windows, mosaic artwork, or the interior layout, informal, undocumented accounts do not constitute evidence that the Catholic community as a whole strongly values a place's aesthetic characteristics.

(f) importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement for a particular period;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (f) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

The place houses a collection of artworks by notable, eminent artists including Stephen Moor, Jose Espelta, Leopoldine Mimovich, Linda Klarfeld, Guy Boyd, and Father Maurice Keating. Potential future nomination and assessment of individual pieces may reveal that they meet thresholds to a high enough degree to meet this criterion. In order to do so the pieces must demonstrate breakthroughs in design, represent an innovative departure from established norms in art, or expand upon established method or technique. An example in the ACT of where this has been achieved, is the Expansion Mosaic Mural Wall (Braddon), registered on the ACT Heritage Register. The mural represents one of the earliest examples of mosaic mural in Abstract Expressionist style in the ACT, constructed from hand-cut, irregular shaped glass, vitreous and porcelain tiles laid closely on a full-sized painted cartoon. There is no evidence before the Council at this time that suggests pieces in the art collection at Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct demonstrate high levels of creative achievement.

The Council acknowledges that the Signadou and Blackfriars buildings demonstrate some degree of creative achievement. At the outset, buildings were required to fulfil several functions: as residences for those in religious vocations, as a national headquarters for the Dominican Order, and, in the case of the Signadou building, also an educational facility. The challenges of these multiple functions are reflected in certain elements of the buildings' design. For example, both Signadou and Blackfriars buildings incorporated ground floor cloisters. In the case of Signadou, this was especially important as it allowed for segregated movement for Sisters while leaving the rest of the building relatively communal to accommodate pupils of the teacher training college. The chapel in this building, too, was designed for general access at the same time as enabling segregation for the Sisters. This is evidenced most strongly by the small balcony on the upper level, a choir loft designed to provide access to the chapel for sisters who were unwell in the infirmary on the first floor. Both the Signadou and Blackfriars buildings achieved the provision of gender segregated space, spaces for worship, and public, administrative areas in a single building, while still creating a sense of community by including open courtyards at the centre of each building.

However, the place does not meet this criterion, as these aspects of creative design cannot be said to be of a high degree, within the context of the ACT or more broadly, for the period in which the place was built. The internal layout of the Signadou building has been significantly altered, and while the open courtyards and nun's balcony remain, the ground floor cloisters have been built in and are no longer continuous.

Further, neither the Blackfriars nor Signadou buildings demonstrate a breakthrough in design, represent an innovative departure from established norms in architecture, or expand upon established technology. The place is not recognised in the field of architecture as important for demonstrating elements of creative design.

(g) has a strong or special association with the ACT community, or a cultural group in the ACT for social, cultural or spiritual reasons;

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (h) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

The Council considers the Catholic Church to constitute a cultural group in the ACT, and does acknowledge that Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct has some social, cultural, and spiritual association with the Catholic Church, as it functioned as a combined place of residence, worship, learning and teaching for its adherents from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. However, there is no evidence suggesting the Catholic Church claims a social, cultural, or spiritual association with the place that can be considered strong, special, or above the ordinary in the context of its other facilities and institutions in the ACT and Australia.

While the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn retains operational and financial ties with the place as an educational institution, there is no evidence demonstrating a broader Catholic community attachment to the place that is enduring, nor is there evidence suggesting it is valued as the site of an event has had a profound effect on the Catholic Church, or the adherents to its faith. For example, the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct is not a place where there are known associations with important figures in Catholic history in Australia such as, for example, Saint Mary MacKillop.,

There is no evidence that the place symbolically represents some aspect of the past which contributes to a sense of identity for the Catholic community. For example, it is not recognised as the first, oldest, or most spiritually important Catholic place of administration or worship in the ACT, nor does the Catholic Church consider it important, above the ordinary, or critical in the context of the contribution of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic story, of the ACT.

(h) has a special association with the life or work of a person, or people, important to the history of the ACT.

The Council has assessed Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct against criterion (h) and is satisfied that the place is not likely to meet this criterion.

The Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct was designed by Fr Bonaventure Leahy, with assistance from Kevin J. Curtin and Partners.

Fr Bonaventure Leahy had undertaken architectural training before he joined the Dominican order in Ireland. Prior to working on the Signadou and Blackfriars buildings, he collaborated with other architects on the design and planning of the Chapel at Santa Sabina Convent, Strathfield NSW. He designed the Toodyay stone Church of our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Woodlands, WA. This church is listed on the local heritage list for the City of Sterling, Western Australia as an excellent example of Late Twentieth Century Organic architecture. However, there is insufficient evidence before the Council suggesting either the Signadou or Blackfriars buildings are widely recognised as Fr Bonaventure's most commendable work. Further, his architectural contribution cannot be said to have contributed to or shaped the history of the ACT to a degree high enough to meet this criterion.

Kevin Curtin designed churches, office buildings, schools, public buildings, and hospitality buildings in the ACT during the course of his career. He was awarded a papal medal for his architectural service to the Catholic Church. While Curtin made a strong contribution to the architectural fabric of the ACT, there is no evidence suggesting the association between Curtin and the Signadou and Blackfriars Precinct is special or above what would ordinarily be expected of an architect and their work. Of the ecclesiastical buildings Curtin designed, or helped design, neither Signadou nor Blackfriars is regarded as his most commendable work. This stands in contrast to places such as Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Curtin, and St Joseph's Church, O'Connor, the latter of which is listed on the ACT Heritage Register, and the Australian Institute of Architects considers to be one of Curtin's finest church designs, appearing on the Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture (ACT, Item No. R135).

Section 3 – General Comments

I support the proposed heritage registration?

Section 4 - Demographics

Your personal details are confidential and will not be publicly visible, but this is required for you to be kept informed and to be counted as an 'interested person' (refer to the Privacy Statement at the beginning of the document).

If you do not provide your identity or contact details then the ACT Heritage Council will be unable to give you notice of decisions as an interested person under the Act. Also, you may not be able to be identified as an interested person entitled to appeal rights under the Act.

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Privacy Statement

Privacy Statement

This survey fulfils the role of public consultation under section 37 of the Heritage Act 2004 (the Act), and the collection of personal information as authorised by the Act. If you make a comment using this form, you will be considered an interested person under section 13 of the Act. For this reason, the survey requires respondents to provide contact details so functions under the Act relating to notification of interested persons can be fulfilled. If you do not provide your identity or contact details then the ACT Heritage Council will be unable to give you notice of decisions as an interested person under the Act. Also, you may not be able to be identified as an interested person entitled to appeal rights under the Act.

The personal information on this survey is collected by the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) and provided to the ACT Heritage Council. All personal information provided will be collected, used and stored in accordance with the Information Privacy Act 2014 and EPSDD's Information Privacy Policy, which contains information about how you may access or seek to correct your personal information held by EPSDD and how you may complain about an alleged breach of the Territory Privacy Principles.