Architecture saved John Hunt’s life.
On Christmas eve, 1974, he had to quickly evacuate from his home with his wife, children and friends who were having dinner with them. Hours later Cyclone Tracy killed 65 people in and around Darwin, where John had been working as an architect. When its fury was gathering full pace John’s friend, engineer Rodney Hiscox looked out the window to see palm trees perilously bent over, reinforcing their view they had to escape.
But to where? John’s thoughts turned to the newly completed four-storey CML building in the city, which he had designed. “I had seen what the engineers had put into it, they were allowing for earthquakes, tremors,” he says.
His love of drawing, which had led him into architecture, had saved his family, friends and himself. Now retired he is still drawing, but has broken free of architecture’s confines, and experiences the joy of art in a group of like-minded people at Sandybeach Community Centre.
Racing to shelter from the tropical cyclone in 1974, the Hunts put their three sons in what they thought was a safe place inside the CML building, then moved them to the core of the building. They had inflatable mattresses for the children to sleep on. When water found its way into the building via services ducts the children ended up floating on their mattresses.
While looking about, his wife Jaqueline and her friend came across a couple huddled against the walls outside of the building. They had abandoned their un-tethered caravan just before the cyclone’s 250 kilometre -per-hour winds swept it away.
John was in Darwin for 18 years. In the cyclone’s aftermath people wanted accommodation and repairs. John had to continually explain there were no available materials. As well, any new buildings would be subject to new regulations and few skilled people were available to re-build.
These days his favourite pastime is wandering along the Shipwreck Coast in south west Victoria sketching and painting what he sees.
Once near Apollo Bay he stumbled on a wreck of an old Holden. Or maybe it was a Ford, it was hard to tell because the paintwork had long rusted away. This didn’t deter him from creating his most satisfying painting.
“My wife hates it, but I reckon it is one of my best,” he says. “I did it a couple of years ago.” Taking up the finished work he had said to his wife: “I will put this on the wall, it is so good.”
“Don’t you dare,” she said.
“It has a bit of character, it is not the ordinary thing you expect to draw,” John says.
As well as meeting good friends at Sandybeach Community Centre, John’s lecturers have nourished his artistic skills by teaching him new techniques. “I used to have trouble doing foliage, grass, trees, and have been taught different techniques,’’ he says. Sapling silver birches with clean white trunks and lustrous green leaves frame a stone shed in a scene he captured while attending a wedding near Moss Vale. His king Charles spaniel Tess stares out in another one of his works.
One of his paintings, a grand home with yellow sky and blue foreground, that reflects acclaimed artist John Brack’s style, shows his artistic and architectural inclinations on one canvass.
His son John, a manager at Crown Casino, helped organise a $4000 grant for Sandybeach, to buy a projector, screen and sound system for the art group, an invaluable resource for lecturers. Short films about a particular artist are screened during the group’s coffee breaks.
Graduating from Melbourne RMIT in 1961, one of John’s early briefs was designing new homes for Tallangatta, a town moved eight kilometres to make way for the new Hume Weir, a major dam across the Murray River downstream of its junction with the Mitta River.
As an architect, he enjoyed the variety of designing factories, homes, office blocks, sporting pavilions, nursing home and industrial projects. He worked for several firms, and in partnerships as well.