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CASE STUDY - National Carillon and Aspen Island Upgrade Works

G Bell arrival at the National Carillon, Aspen Island, photographed by Dom Northcott
National Carillon and Aspen Island Upgrade Works

On 26 April 2020, the National Carillon celebrated its 50th anniversary. To mark this event the NCA undertook upgrade works to the Carillon instrument and Aspen Island landscaping in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the day of its donation by the British Government in 1970.

The Carillon works improved the musicality of the Carillon instrument, making it suitable for international music events, whilst the Aspen Island works enhanced the landscaping, audience space and visitor experience of the island.

The NCA contracted Taylor Bells Foundry, from Loughborough in the United Kingdom (UK), the original manufacturers of the Carillon bells, to undertake the bell works. This included a replacement clavier, a new practice clavier, a replacement transmission rig, new Westminster Chimes mechanisms and new bell clappers for all 57 bells. The aim of which was to improve instrument’s playability, sound quality and optimise long-term maintenance outcomes.

However, and more importantly, Taylor Bells Foundry were asked to manufacture and install previously missing ‘G’ and ‘D’ bells to the existing suite of Carillon bells.

Introducing the new bells improved the tonal range of the Carillon, brought it in line with standard international pitch and will facilitate ensemble (multi-instrument) performances, bringing the instrument’s playability into the 21st century.

The size of the ‘D’ bell was equivalent to an upside down pot plant and weighs about the same. The bronze ‘G’ bell weighs approximately six tonnes, occupies two cubic metres when ‘packaged’ for delivery and would not fit into the hold of a commercial airline. The NCA obtained assistance to use a RAAF transport aircraft to bring the ‘G’ bell from the United Kingdom to Canberra.

The NCA, in recognition of Traditional Owners of the land, named the ‘G’ bell the Ngunnawal Bell and asked Taylor Bells Foundry to cast the following inscription into the side of the bell:

YUMALUNDI DHAWURA NGUNNAWALNGU NGANAA GURALILI YARABI DHAWURA MANAGAY.
WELCOME TO NGUNNAWAL COUNTRY YOU MAY LEAVE YOUR FOOTPRINTS ON OUR LAND

On 31 January 2020, a RAAF C-17 carrying the Ngunnawal Bell landed at Fairbairn, Canberra. Three days later, on Monday 3 February 2020, the bell arrived on Aspen Island and before the public and media representatives and, following a smoking ceremony, the bell was hoisted into the Carillon.

In the meantime, landscape works to increase amenity on Aspen Island were nearing completion. The identity of Aspen Island as a place for musical performance and community engagement was enhanced with improvements to the existing beach, a weatherproof path around perimeter of the island, improved water edges and a re-shaping of the island’s mounds to allow improved audience spaces and areas.

Taylor Bells Foundry staff were required to return to the UK in April 2020, delaying project completion. However, Carillonists were able to undertake some testing which informed future commissioning. Taylor Bells Foundry staff were able to return to Canberra in late August 2020 which allowed the project to be completed on 18 September 2020.