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Ticked off: alarm bells ring for Town Hall clock

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It’s booming toll rang across the CBD for almost a century, but the Town Hall clock’s unique eight-strike chime has in recent times fallen silent – prompting an Adelaide clockmaker to question recent restoration works.

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Clockmaker and watchmaker of 30 years Richard McMahon said restoration works on Town Hall’s Albert Tower clock undertaken about one year ago appeared to have left it unable to strike or chime.

McMahon, who has not inspected the clock closely but whose ninth-floor King William Street workshop overlooks Town Hall, speculated that the clock’s original mechanical operating system had been replaced with a modern electronic device – a change that he said would be a “real shame” if true.

The clockmaker said he noticed late Tuesday that workers had also removed the clock’s minute and hour hands and had replaced them with hands that were of a similar size – which he said would make it difficult for people to tell the time.

“I’m looking at the tower from my window here and I’m only 25-metres away from the tower at eye-level and I’ve seen people going in and out for the last few weeks,” he said.

“I haven’t been in there (the tower) but looking at the way the hands are moving it doesn’t appear like the original movement is actually driving these hands, which are also not the correct hands on this clock – they’re completely wrong for this type of historic piece.”

The newly-installed minute and hour hands on the Town Hall clock. Photo: Richard McMahon

He said since Wednesday, the clock had not told the correct time, which he believes is likely due to a “mix-up” with the measurements.

“At the moment it’s showing me it’s 6.40 and it’s currently 1.55,” McMahon said on Thursday afternoon.

“The hour hand is far too long and the minute hand is far too short, so from a distance people are not going to know what the time is.

“If they have put in an electronic system it is either not automatically synchronising or the hands have been put in the wrong place.

“There’s definitely something unusual going on in there.”

McMahon said the clock – which was manufactured by Thomas Gaunt Co in Melbourne and donated to Adelaide by former Lord Mayor Sir J. Lavington Bonython in 1935 – was “high-end” and “quite unusual”, as it had eight bells that used to strike every hour.

“A lot of clocks only strike on maybe one bell on the hour, so eight is really a top-end clock,” he said.

R. McMahon Watchmakers founder Richard McMahon. Photo: Daniel Marks

“There’s three dials or faces on this clock, which is also a bit unusual for the times (because) there’s usually four… but they’re currently unsynchronised.

“The thing I’m most concerned about though is it used to chime and strike quite happily until a year or two ago, but there’s now no longer chiming or striking.”

According to McMahon, there are currently only three clockmakers in South Australia – himself included – who would have the necessary skills to work on a clock of Town Hall’s stature and age.

Adelaide City Council’s public realm associate director Garry Herdegen told InDaily the original 1935 clock mechanism was worn out and needed replacing.

He said the clock hands needed to be replaced to balance with the new mechanisms. 

“There has been work on the clock completed over the two days by an Adelaide-based clock tower specialist who has undertaken work on many clock towers in Adelaide and throughout Australia,” he said.

“The new mechanisms are compatible with the electronic master clock installed two years ago and will now automatically update to daylight saving time.

“The chiming mechanism at the Town Hall has not worked for many years and will be replaced when the bells are refurbished. The chiming that could be heard until last year was the GPO clock.”

Herdegen said the contractor hired to undertake the restoration works had been notified that the time needed to be corrected.

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