All the T&G Buildings

Published in Spirit of Progress, Journal for the Art Deco and Modernism Society of Australia, Spring 2016

The T&G Buildings found across Australia and New Zealand are, employing an overused word, literally iconic. The tall square tower, emblazoned with ‘T&G’, topped by that distinctive stepped ziggurat-like capping, creates an easily recognised symbol of the company.

There were 20 of these iconic pre-war (and one post-war) T&G Buildings in all, though sadly four have been demolished.[1] It was a smart, or perhaps hubristic move on the part of the company to build so many, and all in a similar style, over more than 30 years. Their towers remain a dominant presence in many medium and small regional towns, still advertising the company, as they were intended to do, long after it ceased to exist.[2]

The Temperance and General Mutual Provident Society (T&G for short) was first established in Melbourne in 1876, providing insurance of various types, and in the boom years of the 1880s become one of the larger insurers in Victoria. Others, like AMP, National Mutual, MLC, CML, and the Equitable Life Assurance all built prominent headquarters in or near Collins Street, but the T&G built theirs right next to the Town Hall in Swanston Street in 1890 – a seven storey structure including a high mansard roof, creating an eye-catching landmark, something that may have influenced the design of the later buildings.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the T&G went from strength to strength, and by 1930 had grown to become “the largest ordinary-industrial life society operating solely within Australia and New Zealand”, with 737,000 policies, an income of nearly 4 million pounds, and assets totalling over 16 million pounds.[3]  In the process, they opened offices in many cities and towns, at first renting, but also buying properties with the expectation of later building their own. In Perth in 1908 they bought a large Edwardian office building, the Moir Chambers in St Georges Terrace, and in Sydney they purchased a large late Victorian Building in Elizabeth Street in 1911 to which they added 3 floors in 1913.

Soon after the first world war, as business kept growing, they began to plan to build more large premises for themselves in other cities, the first being a nine storey Classically inspired ‘palazzo’ style building in Brisbane announced in 1922. Designed by A&K Henderson, Alsop & Martin (which soon became just A&K Henderson), it was described as a ‘handsome construction’.[4]  Similar, indeed almost exactly matching, buildings were soon announced and built in Adelaide, and Christchurch and Wellington in NZ, all employing the arched base levels, vertical piers, columned top storey and prominent cornice of the Brisbane one, all designed by A&K Henderson. While they all sported large neon T&G roof signs, and the name spelled out boldly along the top of the walls, none of these had the distinctive towers.

A&K Henderson are best known for their T&G Buildings, and through their sheer number came to rival Australia’s biggest interwar firms like Stephenson & Turner in the size of the practice and the reach of their projects[5]. Other notable designs, many in central Melbourne, range from the eclectic stylised classical Alcaston House (1931), the Commercial Gothic of the demolished Shell Corner on William Street (1933), to the striking Art Deco Hydro Building in Hobart (1938). Begun as a father and son practice in 1906, Henderson Snr died in 1922, so his son Kingsley Henderson who is likely responsible for all the T&G designs.

More very similarly styled T&G Buildings followed in the 1920s, and the tower idea emerged. First was a single room top floor as a kind of tower Bendigo in 1925, then in Rockhampton in 1928 the distinctive ‘ziggurat’ stepped top on a tower sporting the corporate logo “T&G” made its appearance. This style of tower was repeated (as a pair) on the first version of Melbourne’s T&G Building in 1929, in a much larger three storey high version.[6]

Then in 1930 the first stage of the reconstruction of the Sydney building was completed, topped with a multi stage stepped tower that culminated in an open logia and the ziggurat roof. Auckland’s T&G was also completed in 1930, but was a conversion of an earlier warehouse, and so is both more eclectic and simplified, but sports the stepped tower as a corner element for the first time.

Sydney, 1930
Image : State Library of NSW

With the onset of the depression no new T&G buildings were built for three years, and when they re-emerged, it was in a familiar form, but a completely Art Deco style (with two exceptions). The first was Geelong, completed in 1934, and along with Hobart (1938) and Palmerston North, NZ, (1938), these are the most strikingly Deco. They all feature corner sites with corner towers integrated into the architecture, a strongly vertical articulation, and towers that soar well above the main 4 to 6 storey block of the buildings.

Hobart is possibly the most striking, with accentuated verticality, provided by fluted lines which burst through the cornice to create the base for the tall, slim clock tower and stepped top. Geelong however is a personal favourite, something I often passed on childhood county trips – this was partly because of the soaring corner tower, so much higher than anything in Geelong, but perhaps mostly because I hoped to see the mysterious mechanical figures emerge out of the tower to ring in the hour – but I was usually disappointed. I haven’t seen them for years, and now I read that they have been dormant for some time, and only started moving again this year, after Deakin University bought the building and refurbished it for student accommodation.[7] They restored the figures, which research tells me represent a farmer and his son, symbolically passing on the wealth of the land, which sit on a sliding platform that pushes slowly out a window at the base of the tower. Their arms go up and down to clang a bell on the hour, though I seem to recall it as a little more exciting than that ! Locals sometimes call them ‘Dad and Dave’, and whenever Geelong makes the finals they’re dressed in club jumpers and scarves.[8] (you can watch them in operation in a YouTube video- just google Farmer and Son, T&G building, Geelong). These are reportedly the only mechanical clock figures of their type.[9]

The 1937 Newcastle building, rather than following this definitely Deco trend, instead looks back – the Society decided to remodel and add to an earlier building, which may explain a return to a version of their 1920s stripped classical style, featuring impressive solid piers rising though four floors. The corner is dominated by the 1920s style open belvedere tower form and stepped pyramid top, this time on the 45 degree angle. The other exception in this period is Napier, NZ, built in 1936 following the 1933 earthquake, where a three story base featuring vertical Art Deco ribbing is topped on the corner by a very traditional dome. Designed by Mitchell & Mitchell, architects from Wellington, it seems unusual that they chose a traditional form when most other rebuilding was in the defiantly new Art Deco style, and a stepped Deco corner tower would have been just as dominating – but the rounded corner of the building actually suited a dome better (and perhaps the architects wanted to distinguish themselves from the numerous A&K Henderson deigns). Another exception was the expansion of the Melbourne headquarters; the frontage was more than doubled in length, but the classical lines of the 1929 section were replicated (with the windows given subtle vertical emphasis by the addition of vertical lines in the spandrels), and the whole dominated the truly huge central tower

Newcastle, 1937
Image :

The third of the Deco designs to include a dominating corner clock tower is the 1938 Palmerston North example. This design, with its separately expressed square corner tower, ziggurat top and slightly more stripped classical lines seems to have become the model format for three of the last four ‘iconic’  T&G buildings, all designed c1939. The odd one out is Albury, a structure on a much smaller site than the others, so the tower is a smaller central affair, but has the same vertical ribbed windows accentuating the height of the tower that is used on the other three. Two are in Victoria’s Western District – Warrnambool and Horsham – both completed 1940. There must have been an idea that this was a growing area, and one where the Victorian based T&G should have a presence (though oddly none was ever built in Ballarat). They practically match each other, with blocky simple forms, dominant oversized corner clock towers, vertical ribbing within a frame, topped by the clock face section and stepped pyramid cap. They express a style that is more clean and ‘modern’, distinct from the delicate detailing of the earlier 1930s designs.

The last of the ‘iconic’ T&G buildings was also the furthest north, in Townsville, and was very similar to Warrnambool and Horsham. Like them, it was also designed in 1939[10], but unlike the Victorian examples, construction was not begun straight away – perhaps Townsville was deemed too close to the looming theatre of war. The plans however were dusted off in 1952[11] showing a design closely matching that of last Victorian examples, but some redesign in 1955[12] saw the tower become slimmer, taller and far more dramatic, and the base building more horizontal, with windows shaded by vertical metal louvres. The building finally opened in 1959, and for a brief time was the tallest in Townville, and become a local landmark, no doubt as intended. Sadly it’s late start and even later finish, at a time when even T&G themselves were commissioning modern curtain walled highrises (such as the 18 storey smartly modernist 1962 Perth tower) meant that when demolition was mooted in 2003, an emergency listing by the Queensland Heritage Council was struck down by a Planning & Environment Court judge who stated under the headline ‘architectural merit’: “In my view there is none.” [13]

The building was finally demolished in 2008, and replaced by a contemporary styled office block. That a building that could arguably be said to have national importance could be demolished as recently as this shows the persuasive power of the professional ‘expertise’ that commercial developers can afford to hire to undermine any idea of significance. The loss of the grand Sydney and Brisbane T&G buildings in the 70s is understandable given the period, but such a recent loss is truly shocking.[14]

Townsville, completed 1959

Extant and demolished T&G Buildings in Australia and New Zealand.


Architect s A&K Henderson unless otherwise noted

Brisbane, 1924 (9th mansard level added 1936, demolished mid 1970s)

    Adelaide, 1925

T -Bendigo, 1925

T- Rockhampton, 1928

    Wellington, NZ, 1928

    Christchurch, NZ, 1929 (demolished c2012 following Canterbury earthquake)

T- Melbourne, 1929, extended 1939 and 1959

T – Auckland, NZ, 1929 (alteration of 1880s warehouse)

T- Sydney, 1930 (north half with tower, southern half 1932, demolished c1976)

T -Geelong, 1934

    Napier, NZ, 1936, Mitchell & Mitchell architects Wellington.

T -Newcastle, 1937 (addition of two floors and alterations to earlier building)

T -Mildura, 1937

T -Hobart, 1938

T -Palmerston North, NZ, 1938

T -Albury, 1940 (tower front added to earlier building)

T -Horsham, 1940

T -Warrnambool, c1940

T -Townsville designed c1940, built 1955 (demolished 2008)

[1] Brisbane, Sydney, Christchurch and Townsville.

[2] T&G was de-mutualised, and then absorbed into National Mutual in 1983.

[3] Brisbane Courier, 10 October 1931.

[4] Brisbane Courier, 11 July 1922.

[5] Goad & Willis eds, Encyclopaedia of Australian Architecture, Cambridge University Press, 2012

[6] When the design for Melbourne was first published in 1926, the tower(s) were decidedly Edwardian, with a mansard roofed top; the ones as built in 1929 however looked far more like Rockhampton.

[7] Deakin has breathed new life into Geelong’s T&G Building, Weekly Review, May 12, 2016 

[8] AFL finals: Geelong colours on show at T & G building,Geelong Advertiser, September 9, 2016

[9] The only others I can think of are the 1893 Gog & Magog figures in the Block Arcade, and the 1950s Cat and the Fiddle in Hobart.

[10]  A&K Henderson – Townsville T&G, Architectural Drawings Collection, State Library of Victoria

[11] “Proposed T&G Building in Townsville”, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 7 May 1952

[12] A&K Henderson – Townsville T&G, Architectural Drawings Collection, State Library of Victoria

[13]  “REELAW PTY LTD. v QUEENSLAND HERITAGE COUNCIL” , 2004, Supreme Court Library Queensland

[14] If you want to be truly horrified, there is a YouTube video of the demolition entitled

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