Modified on Tue, 10 Jul 2018 14:15 by Con — Categorized as: Heritage Items and Objects, Topic


See Also the Chapel Organ in the Geelong College Chapel.

Listen to The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ played by Tony Fenelon

Installed in the 'George Logie Smith Auditorium' of the Keith Humble Centre for Music and the Performing Arts, this pipe organ is a unique musical instrument, classified by the National Trust (Victoria) in 1992.

Built in 1917 by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of America, it came to Australia in 1921 as their demonstration organ for this country. It was the first Wurlitzer to be exported anywhere overseas and remains one of the two or three oldest existing organs made by this company which produced over 2,000 pipe organs. Eventually they were sent to every English-speaking country as well as the Continent and one to Japan. They were more expensive than others of comparable size because of their very high level of construction (for example all contacts were in sterling silver) and finish. This particular organ served its demonstration purpose in Sydney until 1928 when it was purchased by manufacturing pharmacist, Oswald C Hearne (1880-1950), a well-known Geelong citizen, for installation in his home ‘Montana’, The Esplanade Geelong, where it remained for the next fifty-three years.

The Victorian Heritage Database described the acquisition 'An organist, Oswald Hearne's dream was to own a home with an organ chamber. In 1928, he engaged the Geelong architect, Fred Purnell, to design the organ loft on the south side. ... An electro-pneumatic Wurltizer pipe organ was purchased from William Crowle, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, Wurlitzer's Australian agent. At the time, the Geelong Advertiser claimed that the organ was the first to be erected in a private house in Australia'

Wurlitzer Organ, 2011.

Wurlitzer Organ, 2011.

The organ gave pleasure to the many who played it at ‘Montana’, including distinguished organists such as Dr A E Floyd and William (later Sir William) McKie, who went on to become the organist at Westminster Abbey. All who played and heard it remarked on its tonal beauty. It was the first private residence organ in Australia to be broadcast, in 1930 over Victorian ABC radio station 3LO.

During the Second World War, concerts to raise funds for Red Cross and other causes were held at the house, the organ being the focal point as both solo instrument and accompaniment. When ‘Montana’ was sold in 2001, the trustees of the O C Hearne Estate were prevailed upon by 'Alan' Glover (1923-2017), son-in-law of the late O C Hearne, to offer the organ as a gift to the Geelong College. On hearing of this, the school enthusiastically accepted and Mr Max Gurrie, architect of the Humble Centre, was able to make provision for a chamber to house the instrument to play into the music auditorium.

Restoration, led by Julien Arnold of Melbourne, and funded principally, and generously by Old Collegian Bert Fagg (OGC 1929), a devotee of the Wurlitzer organ, and his wife Ruth, includes a solid state control system to replace the original relay (which was retained non-operational for its historical significance). Many hundreds of small ‘motors’ were re-leathered and the beautiful Honduras mahogany console was refurbished and polished. A Tuba Horn rank for addition to the organ was obtained from USA and has been exchanged for one of smaller scale from the Capri theatre organ, Adelaide, S.A., bringing this instrument to a complement of 10 ranks.

The horshoe shaped console is repolished Honduras mahogany, connected by cable to the organ proper, and on a moveable platform that can occupy a variety of positions on the floor of the hall as the occasion requires. When not in use the console can be retracted to its own room. The inaugural recital at Geelong College was played by theatre organist Tony Fenelon on 18 May 2010.

Sources: Alan Glover, Wonderful Wurlitzer-Ad Astra January 2005 p 18; Victorian Heritage Database (accessed 20 Sep 2017); Rod Blackmore's Australian Theatre Organs.