The Holy Trinity Church in Gordon Street, pictured in June 1936. Photograph. Bob English collection
The Holy Trinity Church in Gordon Street, pictured in June 1936. Photograph. Bob English collection

Meet one of Mackay’s most influential architects

THE name Harold Vivian Marsh Brown may sound like a character from a Dickens novel, but this man was one of the most influential architects in the history of Mackay.

The majority of his architectural achievements are now recognisable landmarks of Mackay. Most of Brown's collection of buildings are entered in the local and state heritage registers for their significance of architectural achievement and contribution to the cultural development of the region.

Harold Vivian Marsh Brown was born in 1907 in Mackay, Queensland.

Harold was the fourth son of James Vivian Brown, who was born in St Austell, Cornwall, England in 1860.

James married Harold's mother, Ethel Marsh, in 1891. Ethel was the daughter of William Marsh.

Together with Charles Webster, Marsh co-founded the famous Mackay general store Marsh and Webster, which traded under that name until 1963 when David Jones purchased it.

Harold was educated at the Mackay State School and The Southport school then the Brisbane Technical College from 1926 to 1930 while being an articled pupil of Cavanagh and Cavanagh architects in Brisbane.


Young Harold Vivian Marsh Brown.
Young Harold Vivian Marsh Brown.

The Cavanagh brothers were responsible for the design of several schools, hospitals and churches in Western Australia and Queensland.

Specifically, they undertook several significant projects for the Roman Catholic Church, including the Bishop's Palace, Church of the Oblate Fathers in Fremantle, the Redemptorist Monastery, North Perth, and St John of God Subiaco Hospital and St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Kalgoorlie.

In 1932 at the heights of The Depression HVM Brown, as he styled himself; returned to Mackay and set up his architectural practice from the family home in Brisbane St.

In April 1936 he married Claire Hillman, the daughter of a local tailor.

Between 1932 and 1940 Harold designed at least 13 buildings in Mackay, including several excellent examples of the Art Deco style.

At the height of his career, Brown was associated with almost one-third of all building projects in Mackay.

Some of the most recognisable designs of Brown are the Holy Trinity Anglican Parish Hall, also known as Cloud Nine.

Its design and contribution to the cultural identity of Mackay are now protected by state heritage legislation as part of the Holy Trinity church complex.

Another of Brown's designs that is protected by state heritage legislation is the former Pioneer Shire Council building in Wood St, Mackay.

He was the architect of the McGuire's Hotel, the Oriental Hotel (demolished), the Hotel Mackay, the Imperial Hotel, now known as Wide Bay house as well as the Mackay Fire station (demolished).

The Pioneer Shire Council Chambers, in Wood Street pictured in 1950. Atkinson's Spring Works in next door.
The Pioneer Shire Council Chambers, in Wood Street pictured in 1950. Atkinson's Spring Works in next door.


Brown was the architect responsible for all the Catholic churches in Mackay south of the Pioneer River.

He was the architect responsible St Patrick's Catholic Church in River St St, Francis Xavier Catholic Church and Presbytery in West Mackay, St Mary's Catholic Church in South Mackay and Saint Michaels in Sarina.

His other significant works still standing include:

•His own home and office, Brisbane St

•Chaseley House, Sydney St

•CWA Building, Gordon St

•RSL Memorial Hall, Sydney St

•Black's Building, Victoria St

•The Shamrock Hotel, Nebo Rd

From the outset of his architectural career in Mackay, Brown was at the forefront of the new architectural movement sweeping the world.

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By mid-1920 there was serious interest in European, and United States modern architecture including the jazz-inspired Art Deco and then the Moderne, with its abstracted simplified forms and illusions to ships, fast cars and other contemporary machines.

Brown used these elements throughout his designs for hotels, places of worship and general buildings.

From the body of work Brown contributed to in Mackay, it is evident he favoured the Mediterranean style of inter war architecture, with its expanse of plain walls and limited detailing.

Influential Australian architects brought back the styles from Italy and Spain in the early 20th century convinced that Mediterranean techniques would be well-suited for the Australian climate and lifestyle.


HVM Brown in front of his home and office in Brisbane Street
HVM Brown in front of his home and office in Brisbane Street

Mediterranean style became popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

One variant, known as Spanish Mission or Hollywood Spanish, became famous as Australians saw films of and read in magazines about the glamorous mansions in that style that Hollywood movie stars had.

Spanish mission houses began to appear in the wealthier suburbs.

Elements of the Mediterranean style can be found in Brown's designs for the Parish Hall of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, McGuire's Hotel, the Blacks Building as well as the Pioneer Shire offices in Wood St.

His use of three arches is a common motif of his work.

More history:

Flashback: Farming dugongs for oil, meat and hide

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Brown was noted as preferring to work on corner blocks and used a rounded corner in many of his designs.

He used reinforced concrete to create his rounded corners and these can be see today in many of his buildings.

He used the skills of William Guthrie, who established his building company in Mackay in 1921 and constructed a large number of commercial and residential properties in the following decades.

It was Guthrie's expertise of forming reinforced concrete that made Brown's designs a reality. Brown revived his use of the aspects of Spanish Mission style for his design of the St Patrick's Catholic Church built between 1961 and 63.

As architectural styles developed in Australia throughout the 1950s and 60s, many of Brown's designs and prominent landmark buildings in Mackay changed with them.

Brown brought the modernist style of architecture to Mackay, in building such as the Returned Servicemen League building in Sydney St.

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Brown designed a second stage of the heritage-listed Sugar Research Institute at 239 Nebo Rd in 1963 that was built in 1966.

The first stage was designed by Karl Langer, supervised by Brown and constructed in 1953 by Don Johnstone.

Brown was the supervising architect for the Mater hospital and City Cinema projects.

He retired from practice in 1983.

His architectural practice of Harold Brown & Associate was taken up by his son Geoffrey Brown in the original office at 14 Brisbane St.

Brown & Associate created the designs for a number of properties in the Mackays districts as well as a number of Catholic colleges such as Mercy College and Saint Ann's in Sarina.

His wife Claire died in 1985, and Harold died in 1991.

Brown was one of the true gentlemen of the architectural profession and was held in high regard by his clients.

Harold Brown was recognised in 2012 for the significance of his contribution to the architectural development of Mackay as part of the 150th-anniversary celebrations.

Harold is buried in the Mount Basset Cemetery, Mackay.