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05 May 2016

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A different take on history

While having only recently moved to Southbank, new Southside Towers resident Robin Grow said he and his wife had quickly settled into their new inner-city lifestyle.

“We’d just had enough of East Hawthorn we wanted a change and we wanted a place that had a pretty good life attached to it where people are coming in and going all the time,” he said.

“We like the building that we’re in. Most of the people are very friendly and I like the sense of community. We didn’t get a lot of that before and we certainly get a lot of it down here.  The building has its own little community feel.”

Having retired as an IT manager for the State Government’s land titles division some time ago, he said it was time for a new chapter and Southbank’s proximity to the city and the arts made it the ideal location.

However, unlike many other retirees, life has only become busier for Robin who, for the past 17 years, has been president of the Australian Art Deco Modernism Society, which has 700 members nationwide.

With a passion for history and architecture, Robin continues to spearhead the organisation by hosting a number of regular events and publishing a quarterly magazine.

“I really enjoy history of areas and what’s changed and what’s driven those areas and whom the forces were winning and losing out of places like that and I find it fascinating,” Robin said.

“Parts of the publication are online and I know people say print media is dying but it hasn’t been our experience.”

“We’ve obviously developed that into full colour and it’s a bit of that old thing how success breeds success. We’ve now got people that want to write for us quite regularly, which is good because it means I don’t have to do so much anymore!”

The heritage-inspired publication aims to cover a spectrum of subjects from architecture and restoration to furniture and fine arts in an effort to promote the value of preservation in Australia and internationally.  

His role as president of the society has seen him travel far and wide, networking with other organisations around the world and attending a number of international conferences.

He said, with Melbourne’s property market booming, it was an important function of his organisation to help preserve what little heritage we have left.

“There’s often really good economic reasons for preserving old buildings particularly as far as the environmental credentials are concerned you’ve got all of that embedded in buildings that you lose as soon as you knock them over.”

“We’re not anti-development but the solution that we favour most is reuse of existing buildings because then everyone wins I think.”

Southbank itself has few remaining art-deco buildings, with some rare traces of its history having been kept intact by developers through the preservation of facades.

Robin said another important part of his role as president was spending time advocating at VCAT, and while he said he was often fighting a losing battle it was always important to give heritage a voice.  

“The thing is you’re up against incredibly well-resourced forces when you take these people on and they’ve got deep pockets and we’ve been through this many times at heritage hearings.”

“We’re a not-for-profit local heritage group that does the best it can but sometimes it’s not a fight because we haven’t got any chance of winning.”

“Nevertheless, you’ve always got to try and get your point of view out there so we watch all of the heritage battles going on with a great deal of interest.”

Robin and the Art-Deco Modernism Society will be hosting a local heritage walk on June 5, which will journey through South Melbourne.

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