Peter Watts, Clive Lucas, Harry Seidler and an unknown guest at a function at Rose Seidler House, photographer unknown, c1991.  Sydney Living Museums. PEO91_0001
 
This is an edited version of a eulogy given by Peter Watts at Harry Seidler's Memorial Service at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, 6 April 2006


When Penelope Seidler asked me to say a few words today my first thought was 'what on earth would Harry think of that? Me, not only one of his accursed public servants but also one who has devoted a lifetime to conservation causes?

But Harry was a special donor to the Historic Houses Trust, a supporter in many different ways, a joyful sparring partner, a professional colleague, and ultimately a friend.

I came to know Harry after 1981 when Andrew Andersons had suggested to him that he might consider gifting the Rose Seidler House to the Historic Houses Trust. It was a truly remarkable act of generosity, gifting the house and its wonderful collection.

Until that time, like most in the community, I really only knew Harry from his public image. Of course I was well aware of his reputation for exacting standards, and his impatience with those who did not meet them. I was also well aware of his attitude to some conservation issues. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I read the clause in his Deed of Gift that he was offering his services as honorary architect - for life!!

But I had no reason for concern. Harry was the most gracious of donors and honorary architects and always generous, available and interested - indeed fascinated by our approach.

I cannot think of an occasion - and there were many - when he turned down a request to attend the house to speak at a gathering, or give advice about the building. He invariably made a special effort when a student group wished to visit.

Rose Seidler House meant a huge amount to Harry ñ and I donít think it was just because it launched his career in Australia. Although he never said so, I always felt that it represented something very deep for him.

Peter Watts is the former director of Sydney Living Museums.

 

Harry was the most gracious of donors and honorary architects and always generous, available and interested - indeed fascinated by our approach. I cannot think of an occasion - and there were many - when he turned down a request to attend the house to speak at a gathering, or give advice about the building.

Peter Watts, Director, Historic Houses Trust​

 

We need to remember how much his family must have suffered when they were dispersed from Vienna after the Anschluss of 1938. Harry was only 15 when he left Vienna and it was ten peripatetic years ñ at the most impressionable of ages ñ before he rejoined his family again in Australia.

They came together at Turramurra for the first time in a long while ñ Harry as architect for three houses: for his parents Max and Rose; his brother Marcell; and his uncle Marcus and his family. They established themselves in a family enclave around Rose Seidler House. It must have seemed like an extraordinarily safe haven for them.

Harryís public image was of someone confident and totally self-assured. He seemed such a larger than life character. But in truth, those who really knew him knew that he was shy, retiring and very private.

Harry drew so much of his strength from Penel as he affectionately called Penelope. He drew strength from her in his profession, in business, within his extended family and in the broader cultural world ñ both in Australia and elsewhere. They had a loving, supportive and stimulating 48-year partnership.
 

Diagonal B/W view of awesome white box-like house with large picture windws, suspended on poles and entrance lobby, with long sloping ramp connecting deck to ground and driveway area.
Rose Seidler House. Photo Marcel Seidler, 1951. Sydney Living Museums
 
 


Harry and Penelope added to Sydney, and beyond, a lustre, a polish and a finely tuned and rare urbanity and international perspective to all the arts ñ not just architecture but sculpture, painting, theatre and music. They were ubiquitous in popping up at concerts, theatres and exhibitions all over Sydney, and indeed the world.

There was a charming and urbane modesty and kindness about Harry. It emerged through a natural shyness and unease in unfamiliar company. Harry was a much more complex character and more multidimensional than his public image would suggest. Some may find this surprising for someone who had a very different public profile. But it is true. Harry stood firmly on matters of principle but never for personal gain or notoriety.

Harry was more than just a great architect and a willing and tolerant community punching bag for the highest ideals. He was also a warm and gentle husband, father, brother-in-law, uncle and friend to many. I, and I am sure many of you, regard it as one of the greatest of privileges that we could be regarded as one of the latter.

He will be missed by the whole Historic Houses Trust family.

 
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Rose Seidler (left) and Bea Evans seated in the living room, Rose Seidler House, 1965 Photograph © John Evans