A pipe dream

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PEELING back layers of insensitive additions was like an archeological dig and the treasure revealed was Australia’s oldest organ, says Graham Devenish.

His Bayswater-based Pipe Organs WA has been repairing and restoring organs for years, but none have been more exciting than the small chamber organ revealed to have been built around 1750.

“The oldest organ in Australia, including New Zealand,” he enthused, adding the next oldest was built in 1796.

The organ hails from Kent in the UK and was brought to Australia in the 1970s by Mt Lawley’s Dudley Bastian for a working life in a Kelmscott church.

White ants

After 40 years and an infestation of white ants it had come to the end of its playing life. But in stripping back damaged timber and additions to make the organ larger, Mr Devenish discovered a rare treasure lay beneath.

“We knew it was 18th century, but not how old. Every bit [of work] was research, putting it older than we had thought.”

Authentication through the Organ Historical Trust of Australia was made with the help of coded markings scratched on the pipes.

“Specific to different factories, workshop or artisans, each had a different way of writing,” Mr Devenish says.

Changes in style and the way the keys are laid out also helped date the organ: “These little things add up.”

The small instrument would have been made for a stately home, rather than a church.

“Handel would have known this [sort of] instrument and written music for them,” Mr Devenish says.

The Mt Pleasant resident has been the organist at Fremantle’s St John’s church for years.

It’s where he became interested in the inner workings of the instrument, learning enough to start his own organ repair business, which is busy enough to keep four people employed full-time.

He’ll be playing a recital on the restored chamber organ before an invited audience of enthusiasts at his Bayswater workshop May 31. Or you can catch him at St John’s with a special recital of the music played at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, as part of the Fremantle Heritage Festival June 2. Or at a free lunchtime concert on June 6.


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