We recently had the privilege of working with heritage tiler, Michael Hathaway on the Bishop’s Parlour Foyer restoration works. We spoke to him about his craft and the experience of working with the Convent’s history.
1. Heritage tiling is a job that requires a fine eye and lots of patience. Where did you get your start?
I was born and raised in country New South Wales. Both of my parents were earthenware potters and farmers. As a child, growing up on the farm, I would help in the pottery shed, making vases and casserole lids. My father was also a geologist and used to create glazes that he sourced locally, from rocks found in the area.
So, you could say that working with ceramics was fundamentally in my blood.
I came across a local ad to work alongside a 3rd generation Italian tiler and jumped at the opportunity to further cultivate and hone my skills. From there I secured my apprenticeship and on meeting my wife and business partner of 34 years, I moved down to Melbourne where I was instantly drawn to tessellated tiling; the process being much the same as laying mosaics, which was covered in my training.
2. What sort of work have you done in other buildings?
After working in tessellated tiling for 45 years, both reproduction and original, your name tends to get known in the industry. Some of the historical sites and buildings I have worked on include the University of Melbourne, the Capitol Theatre and the Grand Hotel.
3. The Bishop’s Parlour is one of the Convent’s most ornate places, with its detailed styling and heritage floor tiling. What attracted you to the task of restoring it?
Repairing and restoring old tessellate to its original grandeur is one of the greatest joys and privileges in my line of work. Having worked on restoration projects for Abbotsford Convent in the past, it felt only natural to continue working on the Bishop’s Parlour.
4. Being on the National Heritage List, the Convent is one of Melbourne’s most celebrated heritage buildings. What are some of the challenges that presented themselves while working on the tiling?
The most difficult part of working on old tessellate is removing the fixed tiles with the smallest amount of damage. This can be an incredibly risky and difficult task, not knowing how they were originally attached in the first place.
Afterwards, I need to carefully clean the edges and base of each individual tile before they are ready for relaying. In this case there were over 10,000 tiles to work with. This part of the process has its own range of problems. Even after removing the tile successfully, the tile can fracture in two during the cleaning process or fracture during the relaying process.
Over the years I have accumulated an impressive stock of old tessellate, which enables me to supply and carry out works, like that in the Bishop’s Parlour.
5. How does it feel to have made such a tangible impact on the Convent?
Possessing the ability to restore the beautiful old, tessellated works around Melbourne fills me with great pride in the work that I am able to produce. The knowledge that this floor is going to be enjoyed by countless others for another hundred years, well, that is a gift in itself.
The Bishops Parlour Foyer project has been supported through philanthropic grants from the Copland Foundation and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation through the Eldon & Anne Foote Trust, alongside an in-kind partnership with FDC Construction & Fitout.
This historic room is available to hire for meetings, events and workshops. Click here for more information.