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EXCLUSIVE: Perth Organ builder suffers loss from south-west fires


Organ builder John Larner has this week spoken to The eRecord following the tragic loss of his home and livelihood in the Yarloop and Waroona fires. Photo: Supplied

By Jamie O’Brien

Perth organ-builder John Larner has this week spoken to The eRecord following the tragic loss of his home and livelihood in the Yarloop and Waroona fires that took place earlier this month.

Having lived in Yarloop for some 16 years following his retirement in 2000, Mr Larner has been in the business of Pipe organ building for many decades and can be credited with introducing the ‘neo-classical’ style of organ building to Perth.

Mr Larner commenced training in Pipe organ building with then organ builder Paul Huffner at the age of 14 in Perth.

"I was originally going to be a printer," he says. "I was interested in the organ and started to learn it and one thing lead to another."

In 1969, at the age of 25, Mr Larner travelled to England and Holland where he received further training in organ building and maintenance, returning to Perth 18 months later to set up his own Pipe organ building firm.

Throughout his 56 year career, Mr Larner has built numerous pipe organs across Perth and the surrounding region including organs at Guildford Grammar Chapel; Christchurch Grammar Chapel, Claremont; Perth Baptist Church and St Francis Xavier Cathedral Geraldton.

This is in addition to the re-building and maintenance of other organs including Winthrop Hall at the University of WA; Wesley Church, Perth; St Andrews Church (now dismantled) and Trinity Church, Perth.

Mr Larner, who tuned and maintained the organ at St Mary’s Cathedral for 33 years from 1973 until 2006, is also well known for having founded an Organ scholarship bearing his name for the Archdiocese of Perth.

Director of Music at St Mary’s Cathedral, Jacinta Jakovcevic, said Mr Larner is to be commended for his dedication and hopes the entire Perth music community can support both him and those affected by the Yarloop fires.

Ms Jakovcevic explained that Mr Larner’s dedication has been so remarkable that he has broken out of the mould of the typical organ builder by preserving St Mary’s Cathedral Pipe organ’s symphonic style despite his own style of organ building being of a neoclassical nature.

In recent times, Mr Larner has been working on re-building the 100 year old organ – which was originally housed at Guildford Grammar – at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Willagee Parish. Parts needed to finish this organ have also been destroyed in the fire.

Dwelling on these recent events that have changed his life forever, Mr Larner re-counted the circumstances that took place on the evening of 7 January to The eRecord Editor-in-Chief Jamie O’Brien.

Having been out of town at the time, it was initially not possible to get back to his house, and when he did there was no electricity or water.

Upon finally reaching his home later that afternoon, Mr Larner recalled he was not originally convinced the fire would affect him or his home.

“We received no warning, and unfortunately it was only because the winds picked up and the fire changed direction that our circumstances changed drastically,” Mr Larner said.

Despite wanting to hold his post and defend his home, Mr Larner soon realised that he had to get out, leaving with just the clothes on his back, his pets and his mobile phone. He did not even have time to find his wallet.

Mr Larner went on to speak about his work as an organ builder, and the accumulation of many historic items and documents, all which have perished in the fire.

Some of these included organ building journals, accounts books and associated documents of the very first WA organ builder, Robert Cecil Clifton (1854-1931).

“Unfortunately, that part of our state’s musical history is now gone,” Mr Larner said.

Since his retirement, Mr Larner has also been fairly involved in the Yarloop Workshops Museum which was also destroyed by the fire.

It was there that one of the priceless treasures built by Mr Larner resided - an organ that was made using a number of dis-used pieces from old organs.

In an interview with the ABC in 2013, Mr Larner described it as “a bit of this and a bit of that.”

The loss of this livelihood will be felt for a long time to come.

“Shock is the overwhelming feeling at the moment,” Mr Larner said. “It is going to be tough understanding the impact years down the track,” he said.

Mr Larner said he was quite concerned about the number of friends from Yarloop who have suffered from the devastating effects, and the strain that this will have on their life.

“There is a sense of starting a new adventure and I am trying to focus on the positives,” he said.

A Concert for Yarloop will be held this month featuring some of the best organists across WA in support of the Yarloop community.

For more information Click Here

Click Here to watch a short video of Mr Larner playing on his Yarloop pipe organ.