There is always enough for the needy, there is never enough for the greedy.Mahatma Ghandi, My Picture of Free India, 1965.


The Reserve Bank of Australia has to be the most malevolent of institutions.

House prices spiralling, the cause of so much pain for some of the population, was said to be a cause of inflation.  Something the RBA had to lower. But it is in fact a result, and the RBA’s actions have made it much, much worse, inflicting hugely damaging pain. A vicious feedback loop of misery.

Most economists blame excessive profits from large companies and fat cats as the source of inflation. But the RBA doesn’t haver tools to address that. The only lever it has, interest rates, punishes the innocent. It’s a pea and three-thimble act:

A: One third of Australians own a home outright. And, on average, another one or two. Rising interest rates don’t affect them hardly at all. If they have a mortgage over their second or tenth home, they jack up the rent to cover it.

B: One third of Australians are buying a home through a bank. For them, the rising rates spell doom with a capital D. They, the mostly middle-class workers, must struggle to hold on to their home, hoping to get from thimble B to A. It is they who must bear the weight wrought by the blunt instrument that the RBA wields.

C: One third of Australians rent, almost all privately - from those in thimble A. Their rents go up and up, to cover the wealthy owner’s mortgages and negatively geared incomes. The poor subsidise the wealthy.

The RBA has two indicators that inflation is ‘under control’: spending declines so that inflation is between 2 and 3%. And unemployment rises to 5%. Oh dear. Thimbles B and C of society must bear all the pain of a plan to make them poorer, whilst the rich get richer.

The RBA, whose Board members are probably private school Class A, is the greatest driver of (further) inequality in our society. Class war? No, class terrorism.

RBA mad

In a touching irony, the rising costs of construction may mean that the RBA will have to abandon the refurbishment of their HQ in Martin Place. The original estimate of for the project launched in 2020 was $250m, then it went to $500m in 2023, and is now expected to cost $1.1bn.

No architect or PM in the private sector could survive that blow out, or the incompetence it suggests. That’s a lot of asbestos bearing the blame. Makes the $500m for the Canberra War Memorial look like a doddle.

In further irony, the RBA is losing heaps on its own investments, as a result of its own rate hikes. The RBA is self-funded, how it spends money alters the size of the dividend it can return to the Feds. The government is unlikely to receive a dividend from the RBA for at least a decade after its balance sheet plunged into negative equity of $17.7 billion in 2022-23, when sharp interest rate rises smashed its financial portfolio.

RBA sad

One sideline for the RBA is the design of the currency. In sad news for royalists, (presumably some of the RBA Board toffs), King Charles will not replace Queen Elizabeth II on our fiver. Instead, indigenous motifs will be incorporated. Back to the future from ‘66 when the introductory $1 note had the Queen on one side, indigenous graphics on the other, all in Dorothea McKellar’s wide-land brown.

Gordon Andrews, the great industrial/graphic designer, gave an insightful rendering of the opposites in Australia's history. You can read notes about his designs for the other notes in ToT here, including how he managed to get Francis Greenway, convicted of forgery, on to the tenner.

But, as with most matters indigenous, there is sadness at its heart. The artwork is based on photographic prints made by Max Dupain of the Karal Kupka collection of bark paintings from Arnhem land. The key painting is by Malangi, who was paid a reproduction fee of $1000, risible then as now.

If that’s how the RBA acted under the redoubtable ‘Nugget’ Coombs, what hope will the new aboriginal artists have in the current regime?

The RBA was made so tarot card readers look good.

Vale Swetik Korzeniewski

I note the passing of Swetik Korzeniewski, long time teacher at the University of Sydney. His early work with Louis Kahn, and his deep studies of history, gave his teaching and lectures considerable gravitas. There were devoted students whom he inspired, and loved his teaching, as witnessed by the many testaments on a public condolences board.

But his was a divisive tenure. His old-world doctrinaire approach was ill-suited to the free-wheeling architecture school. He would lock the doors of the lecture theatre five minutes past the hour, to punish late-comers. One student to suffer the fate was Gerard Reinmuth, now esteemed director at Terroir, and himself a professor at the UTS architecture school.

Later, Swetik's clumsy attempt to ruin the career of a fellow academic resulted in the University settling a defamation case, and issuing an apology. He moved from his studio at Whale Beach, where he had built a Kahnian brick and concrete studio in the rear garden, to the NSW Southern Highlands, where he continued his teaching and practice of art.

A world away from his minor fame as the architect of the kindergarten that graced the front cover of the defunct Transitions magazine out of RMIT in Melbourne. Both from a long-past age. Vale Swetik Korzeniewski.


Revisiting prefab after an article on ‘pre-drab’ in the SMH. House out of Factory by John Gloag and Grey Wornum is a detailed up-to-the-minute introduction to prefabricated manufacture - except it was published in in 1946, (viz. dated font and drawings). But in every other respect it could have been written any time in the last 50 years in the way it addresses the issues of the technology, manufacture, mechanisation, and building. More of the irrepressible John Gloag here.

Pre-Fab Living presages turning a corner, to be more about the quality that you can obtain through prefab, and the consequences for quality of life therein. Avi Friedman's approach acknowledges the technology has been the focus for so long, but moves beyond that to the intentions in the designs: the way the houses are meant to be lived in. There's no point in reading anything in between those books as far as I'm concerned, you only need the two: the original idea of a making a house in a factory and how we can live well in it when it's built.

Signs Off

A sign as a reminder of where we were exactly 10 years ago. Sweet street protests about the freshly minted Abbott government. Ribald, good humoured. Long way from the deadly serious protests about the deadly war in Palestine / Israel we have now.

Design Notes is researched and written by Tone Wheeler, architect /Adjunct Prof UNSW /President AAA. The views expressed are his. Past Design Notes and Tone on Tuesday columns can be found here. You can contact TW at [email protected].