Well Built – Simmie & Co Master Builders in Canberra 1926-1969
Left to Right: Sally Barnes, CEO National Capital Authority (sponsor) | Richard Simmie, representing RJ Simmie Collection (principal sponsor) | Dr Andrew Kilsby, Connect-History (curator/historian) | Michael Hopkins, CEO Master Builders-ACT (sponsor)
The exhibition to commemorate the contribution and legacy of Master Builders Simmie & Co to the built up environment in Canberra over 1926-1969 was opened on 5th October 2022.
The building company Simmie & Co was established in 1924 by three brothers — George, John Ernest (Jock), and William (Bill) and began contracting in Melbourne from 1924 and Canberra from 1926. All three had worked at the McKay Harvester works in Sunshine, Victoria before the Great War. All three enlisted. George and Jock served at Gallipoli and all on the Western Front. All were wounded but returned safely to Australia. Jock then gained credentials as an accountant and company secretary. In Canberra, Jock oversaw the company with its first works the retail buildings at the Civic Centre in 1926, followed by a number of iconic Canberra buildings. In 1931 Jock moved his family back to Melbourne, but for the rest of his working life through to 1965, travelled to and worked in Canberra every third week. Simmie & Co established itself as a leader in the Canberra building industry, constructing a wide range of public, commercial, ecclesiastical and residential buildings. As the driving force behind the company’s success, Jock also worked closely with his brother Bill in Melbourne — Jock’s accounting and business acumen meant the company continued to prosper in both cities. The youngest brother George left the firm in 1931 to pursue other business interests; he died prematurely in 1944. Jock Simmie was an early member of the Master Builders’ Association in Canberra, and was its Treasurer in 1928. After Jock had moved back to Melbourne, he later (1956) became president of the Master Builders’ Association in Victoria. Simmie & Co in Canberra closed after Jock’s death in 1968. The demise of Simmie & Co in 1978 and final winding up with Bill’s death in 1986, ended a notable era of construction for the company in both cities. The legacy of the company and its works, both large and small, can still be seen today, including many buildings on the Heritage Registers.
Well Built will run from 1 October – 15 December 2022 at the National Capital Exhibition by Lake Burley Griffin. Major Sponsors are the R J Simmie Collection, the National Capital Authority and the Master Builders’ Association – ACT.