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ROBERT & ARTHUR BUNNING, W.A. TIMBER MERCHANTS & J. TALBOT HOBBS

This common Western Australian ½d postcard was postmarked with a duplex PERTH/ 1/ JL 5/ 92 with the G.P.O obliterator and was addressed to Messrs. Bunning Bros, Goderich St., Perth (Figure 1).

The reverse had an interesting manuscript, as follows: Dear Sirs, The result of Tendering for Mrs. Lefroys Houses is as follows: Olsen & Hay £2,273.00. Hurst & Son (accepted) 2,560.0.0. Bunning Bros. 2,715.0.0. F. Collett 2,795.10.0. Templar Bros. 2,918.0.0.

Arnold & Brown 2,950.0.0. Adams & Montgomery 3,000.0.0. J. Greig 3,133.0.0.

Caskie & Donelly 3,150.0.0. Wright & Co. 3,270.0.0. Yours faithfully, J. Talbot Hobbs,

Architect (Figure 2).

Robert Bunning, timber merchant and sawmiller, was born on 13 December 1859 at Hackney, London, son of Joseph Bunning, carpenter, and his wife Jane, née Bain. He was apprenticed as a carpenter, and in June 1886 Robert and his younger brother Arthur (1863-1929) arrived in Fremantle, W. A. in the Elderslie to join a married sister, and set up as building contractors.

Next year they won contracts for additions to the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and for the Roebourne hospital. In 1889 Robert married Georgina Taylor at Strathdon Scotland. When Arthur fell from a horse in1888, Robert became the driving force in the business for 50 years, for Arthur’s injuries precluded him from making business decisions. The partnership built the Weld Club (1892) and Trinity Congregational Church (1893) in Perth and the Coolgardie warden's quarters (1895).

A boom during 1896-97 in the export of jarrah turned Bunning's attention to timber. Although his income of £156,756 for the year came partly from four brickyards, he was anxious to sell them. He bought his first sawmill at North Dandalup in 1897 and was involved in the newly formed Timber Merchants and Mill Owners' Association of which he was president in 1904-25.

Despite a constant shortage of capital Bunning established sawmills throughout the south-west, imported the first band-saw in W. A. and was the first to instal a timber-drying kiln. He also imported a locomotive known as 'Dirty Mary' for use on steep grades, and was one of the first to use a tractor for log-hauling in the business. Bunning’s wife died in 1897 leaving him with two children. In 1902 he returned to Scotland and married Helen MacRae in Edinburgh; they had five children. On 12 August 1936 during a dinner to celebrate his fifty years of business in Western Australia, Bunning collapsed and died while replying to a toast.

Robert’s sons Joe, Charles and Tom took over the business and enlarged it. Bunning Bros Pty Ltd rode the post-war housing boom and became the largest logging operators in Australia. Bunning Bros opened its first retail store in West Perth in 1961 followed by Bunning’s Super Centre in Albany in 1962. The second generation ran the business through the 1970s and the third generation, cousins Bob and Gavin Bunning came on the Board in 1974. A Bunning’s Super Store is shown in Figure 3.

The original write up of this paper gave much more information on Bunning Bros. until the architect signed on the postcard’s reverse was identified, as General Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs, a distinguished soldier in WWI as well as an honoured architect,.was born on 24 August 1864 in London, son of Joseph Hobbs, a journeyman joiner who became a clerk of works, and his wife Frances Ann, née Wilson. He worked as architectural draftsman to a builder, John Hurst, with whom he migrated to Perth in 1887. There he began work as a carpenter but soon set up practice as an architect. In 1890 he married Hurst's daughter, Edith Ann, they had three sons and four daughters. He was first treasurer of the newly formed West Australian Institute of Architects in 1896 (president, 1909-11). His success in the competition for the design of the Weld Club in 1891 began a series of commissions for important buildings, both public and private, in Perth and Fremantle. In 1905 he set up the firm Hobbs, Smith & Forbes in which he was the senior partner.

In spite of his small stature and seeming frailness he was a keen sportsman, interested in fencing, gymnastics, rowing, sailing and boxing, and was deeply involved in the affairs of the Anglican Church. Above all he was devoted to soldiering which became virtually a second career parallel to architecture, and his military career began with service in Artillery Volunteers in 1883, and he was commissioned in 1889. In 1913 he rose in the rank to colonel. On the outbreak of war in 1914 Hobbs was given command of the artillery of the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force at Gallipoli.

In March 1916 Hobbs went to France with the increased 1st Divisional Artillery which he commanded successfully throughout the heavy fighting for Pozi res and Mouquet Farm. His promotion to major general followed on 1 January 1917. For two years Hobbs 'commanded a division with great distinction, made fewer mistakes than most, and earned the undying affection of 20,000 men. Looking back to 1917-18 in 1938, he declared those years to have been the most momentous and wonderful of all.

In April 1918 Hobbs was largely responsible for the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux. In the offensive battles opening on 8 August 1918 he won further laurels especially in the capture of Péronne on 2 September and the piercing of the Hindenburg line at Bellicourt. He temporarily commanded the Australian Corps when it was withdrawn to rest in October and succeeded Monash in command on 28 November 1918 as acting lieutenant-general. Appointed K.C.M.G. in January 1919,), the French Croix de Guerre (twice) and was mentioned in dispatches eight times. A painting of Talbot Hobbs is seen in Figure 4.

Even before he relinquished command of the Australian Corps in May 1919 Hobbs became deeply involved in the erection of memorials to the Australian divisions, having been appointed to select sites, prepare designs and arrange for construction. Four of the five designs were his. He had hardly resumed civilian life when, in February 1920, he was called to Melbourne as one of a committee of six generals advising the government on the organization, size and equipment of the army. On his return from the war, Hobbs was busy with his profession; the architect now vied with the soldier but the two were united when he was chosen to design the Western Australian War Memorial which was dedicated in 1929.

In April 1938 Hobbs left for France with his wife and daughter to attend the unveiling of the Australian war memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, the competition for which he had adjudicated. He suffered a heart attack at sea and died on 21 April. His body was brought back from Colombo to Perth for burial with state and military honours on 14 May after a service at St George's Cathedral. He was survived by his wife and children..

 

This paper relies on the entry for Robert Bunning in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and an article that appeared in The Age February 28, 2004. Similarly, the description of Talbot Hobbs is a greatly reduced version of that in the A.D.B. I am greatly indebted to Carol Smith , Information Services Librarian, State Library of Western Australia, Perth.

 

 
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