Monday, 9 December 2013

The Modernist Bob Simpson

Having promised myself I'd get to bed early and have a decent sleep tonight, I made the mistake of picking up the November 1970 copy of Australian Cricket that was sitting on top of a pile on my desk. It threw me into a strange, slightly disturbing time warp.

In an otherwise unremarkable issue this full-page photo of 34-year old retired cricketer turned finance manager Bob Simpson standing in front of Harry Seidler's 'Australia Square' building stuck out like the proverbial... well... Harry Seidler building. A student and acolyte of a murderer's row of Modernist masters including Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto and Oscar Niemeyer, Seidler moved to Australia in his 20s and along with Robin Boyd et al, immediately set about transforming the way the county looked. 

As something of a modernism trainspotter, I have a keen eye for Seidler designs though to be honest, probably prefer his early International Style houses (Rose Seidler House, his first Australian design and built for his mother, is both a psychologist's and design nerd's wet dream) than his later commercial work, which probably suffers from the sheer volume of dodgy knock-offs with which it co-existed. 

Looking at Australia's most sadistic fielding drill sargeant standing in front of this building, I couldn't help but be reminded of the time I chased a girl to Paris and ended up in a spirited argument with her out the front of the similarly-proportioned, Seidler-designed Australian Embassy building. Is this just sounding bizarre and a very tenuous reason for a blog post? I really should go to bed. 

Anyway, by the point I chased the girl to Paris I was already in London, so "chase" is probably too strong a word and makes me sound like the unbearably wet male lead in some twee Audrey Tautou film. In actual fact my romantic mission was typically shambolic and once I was in Paris I realised I hadn't booked a hotel. That was a bit of a deal-breaker if you were looking to impress this girl, so in a severely misguided attempt to redress the situation I checked in at the $400 per night Marriott, right by the Eiffel Tower and hence Seidler's Embassy building.

With hindsight I realise this probably wasn't a great move on a student budget but I thought it was a tactical masterstroke at the time. I remember precisely three things about that trip; (1) The argument out the front of the Harry Seidler building (I can't remember what it was about though, I was probably too busy looking at the building); (2) like every other time I have been to Paris, we went down to the Eiffel Tower and decided that the queue to go up it was way too long; (3) the girl was on a study tour with another girl who would not leave us alone, rendering my $400 per night outlay an utter farce. 

I just realised that there is no real ending to this story. The relationship with the girl went hot and cold for a while and then fizzed out. She did come and watch me play cricket once though. I bowled like an absolute drain and she missed the only wicket I took. The writing was on the wall.


  1. For some reason, reading this reminded me of the piquant anecdote in The Big Ship about Warwick Armstrong sitting (possibly at a piano) amid a raucous team bonding session in Paris (or was it Nice, or some other port?) with an unclad prostitute in his, itself possibly unclad, lap. Not sure Simmo would've approved.

    1. Ha, I definitely didn't have as many moves as The Big Ship at that point.