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Shortcuts taken on Rotto before death
Thomas Brasier.

The original architect for a Rottnest Island cottage where a brick pillar collapsed and killed a three-year-old boy told a coronial inquest today he raised fears decades ago that tradesmen had taken "shortcuts" when building the units.

Coroner Dominic Mulligan is this week investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of toddler Thomas Brasier during a family holiday at Rottnest Island in October 2009.

Thomas had been in a family friend's hammock, hung between a veranda pillar and a tree, with two other children when the masonry column collapsed. Thomas died from severe head injuries.

The inquest has been told the pillar had no tie-downs connecting it to the veranda, despite it being required in the architecture design plans.

Ronald Ferguson, the unit's original architect, said his firm only drew up the design and the construction, in the mid-1970s, was the job of the island workforce, with the board not wanting his firm to be "leaning over their shoulders" during that phase.

He said when storms blew a couple of roofs off units in Geordie Bay "well before" Thomas' death he talked to one board members about his general concerns about the construction of holiday cottages on the island.

"I started to panic at that stage that visiting tradesmen were taking shortcuts and I pleaded with somebody to do something about it," Mr Ferguson said, noting at this point he then declined to accept any more Rottnest commissions.

He said he was unsure how many qualified tradesmen the island workforce had at that stage.

Mr Ferguson said if the pillar had been properly secured it should have been able to withstand lateral or sideways force.

Structural engineer Peter Airey gave evidence today of his general inspection of columns at holiday units in which he found about 22 unsecured pillars at 15 units out of about 600 pillars inspected on the island after the toddler's death.

Mr Airey said if built according to its design the pillar would have provided "very effective resistance" to force.

"In my opinion (if built properly) it (the pillar) would not have collapsed," he said.

But in one of his reports, Mr Airey recommended that hammocks hung on the island's pillars should be banned because the type of load was difficult to measure.

Mr Airey said the core of the pillar was not filled, which indicated to him that a rod had possibly been intended to be inserted retrospectively but had not happened.

Mr Mulligan said he was struggling to understand how the hammock supported an adult man weighing up to 82kg for 20 minutes earlier that day but could not hold three children, weighing a total of 38kg for more than a minute.

Mr Airey speculated that cracking started to occur when the man was in the hammock but the column did not break at that time.

He said there was no uniformity in tie-down connections at the island units, with steel reinforcement rods inserted at various depths and various types used. He said the units "almost universally" departed from the architect's original plans.

The inquest continues.