Saving mountains, making music

A MALAYSIAN mountain still towers over its community, thanks to the light hand of a retired architect, now living in Batemans Bay.

Called in to overhaul a plan for a city on an abandoned Kuala Muda rubber plantation, Pem Gerner and his colleague Bob Meyer noticed a mountain set for sacrifice.

The government had approved its destruction for Bandar Amanjaya, a city the size of Canberra which would house some 300,000 people.

Over 10 coffee and red wine-fuelled days and nights, the pair redrew the plan.

“We convinced them it wasn’t necessary,” Mr Gerner said. “It was one of those special moments in life.” 

Today, the new city and its ancient mountain coexist and Mr Gerner holds an Order of Australia Medal for his many services to architecture and urban planning, most notably teaching.

While working fulltime, he also managed over 30 years to teach 10 subjects in six universities.

Despite the grueling workload, students found him merciful.

“They could always wring extensions of time out of me,” Mr Gerner said. 

“He was kind, thoughtful and thorough, he explained things clearly,” his wife Penny Gerner, who with a friend nominated him for the award, said.

“He didn’t hedge. He was a born lecturer.”

Mr Gerner said architecture should not be just a private pursuit.

“If it is going to be of any use, it has a much bigger role to play,” he said.

On his job satisfaction list is the revamp of the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington.

However, he considers himself a happy refugee to Catalina from car-choked Sydney. Four wheels, multiplied, are to blame “if you want one thing that condemns a modern city”.

“That is why we live here. Sydney’s infrastructure and transport will never be right in our time and probably not in our children’s time either. It is stuffed. Why would I want to waste my life hacking through the traffic?”

Lovely cities, he says, “are often in the old world, where things change so much more slowly, like Prague or the centre of Paris”.

Yet, the couple chose Batemans Bay as home.

“It is a very creative place,” Mr Gerner, a musician, said. “There are writers and artists and musicians of a very high standard here. It is quite a discovery. It is unspoilt, as much as anything is unspoilt.”

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