City's streetscape is not what the doctor ordered

ERIC Ratcliff can't remember a time when he did not look at and love Launceston buildings.

"I learned at my father's knee," he says.

Dr Ratcliff's father, Vaughan, was a French polisher and frustrated architect.

"He wanted to be an architect but was prevented from training by family responsibilities during the Great Depression," Dr Ratcliff says.

"We used to walk around town together and he would show me things, point out features.

"I was probably six or seven - we lived at West Launceston and used to walk to church, the old Baptist Church in Cimitiere Street.

"You can just imagine all the things that you could see on the way.

"Town was much more interesting than it is now."

Dr Ratcliff is pleased now at the other end of his life that his parents urged him to choose medicine as a career rather than architecture which - like his father's - has always been his other great love.

"If I'd done architecture, I would have been practising during one of the worst architectural periods in Australian history - the 1950s and '60s," he says.

"The 1950s and '60s were dominated by the `fleas that bite' modern movement - imitators took up superficial ideas.

"One of them was that decoration is evil, but what they really meant was that it was commercially cheaper not to have it."

Dr Ratcliff's quiet manner can be misinterpreted as reticence but ask him why Launceston was more interesting to walk around as a small boy nearly 70 years ago and there is nothing vague about the answers.

"There has been much demolition since then," he says.

"Quite apart from the individual buildings, whole populations have been moved out of places like Margaret and Bathurst streets - hundreds of families.

"There were all sorts of houses, quite a few terraces but they were regarded as slum areas so they were all moved from what was regarded as one bad environment to another bad environment called Mayfield."

Dr Ratcliff is not just angry about the buildings that were lost.

"You disrupt real communities when you do that," he says.

"They should have upgraded inner urban housing instead which would have preserved the cohesion of society."

Dr Ratcliff was one of the first members of Launceston's National Trust as he pursued a lifelong passion for preserving everything that was good about the city - with the emphasis on the good.

"I'm not saying that nothing should be changed (about a city) but nothing should be changed unless it is replaced with something better," he says.

He and his wife Patricia mounted many a formidable two- person campaign to save buildings of interest, such as Macquarie House in Civic Square and the former Union Bank building on the corner of Paterson and St John streets.

He also undertook a one-man campaign to record the buildings of Launceston before they were lost, painstakingly drawing so many that an exhibition of them was organised.

Dr Ratcliff still wanders the streets of Launceston admiring the buildings, looking for points of interest.

He regards the city as a beautiful book with many of the pages torn out.

He has several suggestions for those who believe they know how to protect Launceston's architectural integrity:

•He says that too much space has been given to "bloody" car parks in the CBD.

"If there have to be car parks in the city, set them in behind something," Dr Ratcliff says.

"They knocked down a good set of terraces to make way for Vincent Street car park and the area is now basically garden - they could have left the houses."

•Loss of character with residential buildings has coincided with the death of the fireplace. A hip roof with no chimney to hold it up droops.

"There should be ordinances passed that people have to get permission before they knock down chimneys," Dr Ratcliff says.

•Something needs to be done about the "roof dandruff," - air conditioners and other modern infrastructure that have gradually engulfed roofs and fronts of buildings.

"They have just appeared - even above the awnings when they used to be hidden away," he says.


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