From the echidna (a mammal that lays eggs) to Vegemite (the film left on the inside of a beer barrel that you spread on toast) Australia is home to many quirks of isolation, necessity, and good old fashioned Aussie ingenuity. The way we live is no exception, and like adobe architecture in South America, we too have our own distinct brand of dwelling: the Queenslander.
To understand Australia’s affinity with the glorious, verandah wrapped monuments to warm nights and self-sufficient climate control, we have to have a look at the history of the style.
The first thing you must know is that the Queenslander was not sprung fully-formed from the mind of some genius architect. It evolved as a combination of colonial European tastes, and practical elements designed to suit hot, wet climates. This is the reason the Queenslander is more prevalent in north-eastern Australia than in, say, NSW or Victoria. They are similar to the raised, verandah fronted, pitched-roofed houses and communal buildings of rural China and other areas of south-east Asia.
In fact, writes historian Zeny Edwards, in the 1920’s, Australian architect, artist and author William Hardy Wilson;
“…discerned a Chinese influence in the circular forms and strongly horizontal lines of many Colonial buildings.”
Late 1880’s-1900’s – Late Colonial Home
This is the period that the adoption of oriental design began appearing in Queensland cottage designs. Whereas early colonial styles, such as those in the Moreton Bay Penal Colony, were built low to the ground – offering easy access to termites, and thus are all destroyed. The newer design of house were built on stumps, distancing the building from pests and allowing for flood water to pass underneath and leave possessions undamaged. They featured a square configuration with an internal layout comprising two bedrooms, a sitting room and kitchen. The street frontage had a veranda which sometimes extended around the sides of the house. The steeply pitched corrugated iron roofs, stepped veranda roofs and often brick chimneys set these houses apart from later bungalow styles. These houses were also quite ornate. Conservation architect and heritage consultant Amanda Jean writes,
“The picturesque features, the dominant roof form, conical tower, red roof tiles decorative ridge capping and finials, the use of timber brackets and fret work,” she says, all combined to produce an architectural mix of “Chinese details with English tradition”.
1900-1915 – Federation and Pre-War Home
The 20th century saw a shift away from antiquated European design to styles that better reflected necessity and a distinct cultural identity. Although not as American as styles adopted in the 1920’s, the 1910’s saw the adoption of the ‘bungalow’ style. These featured low-pitched roofs that continue across the verandah. Versions included front-facing or surrounding verandas, porches, projecting gables and the iconic sleepout. By the time of the federation most houses no longer had brick chimneys but contained stove alcoves with jutting-out tin stoves and external chimneys to draw heat away from living areas. One thing that must be stressed is that in this pre-war period, style was subjective – people had license to configure the many gables, roof pitches, verandahs and ornamentations as they saw fit, resulting in one of the most diverse periods of architecture in Australian history.
1920-1930’s – Inter-War Period Homes
The inter-war period saw an influx of influence predominantly from our war ally – America, leading to the development of the bungalow style. One of the by-products of this development was the Ashgrovian style – named after the Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove, where it was popular. The Asgrovian was almost always fronted with a grand gable roof, backed by two or three smaller gables with or without flanking verandas and sleepouts. A staircase almost always dominated the front yard leading to the veranda, which in later years was commonly filled in to form extra rooms. The style also incorporated more complex street-facing facades. Other late additions included projecting bay or box seat windows usually centrally located in the front of the house, distancing the Ashgrovian from other Queenslanders. The Great Depression of 1929 greatly reduced timber stocks, and so later inter-war designs often featured less grand designs and cheaper materials – especially with the rise of using asbestos as a building material in the 1920’s.
1945-1960 – Post-War Homes
World War II forced so much drastic change on the world that post-war Queenslanders are sometimes derided as not being true Queenslanders due to their minimalist design, cheaper materials, often self-built construction (leading to widespread defects), smaller layouts and other general cost-saving practices, as the home-builders of Australia reeled and made-do with what they could in the aftermath of the conflict, often coping with a decimated labour force and almost non-existent building materials. In this time, it was common for a family to build a small fibro shed and live in that whilst they built the main house. Despite the hardship, however, this period produced homes that are now perfect renovation opportunity. They were built without the decorative features of pre-war homes often making it hard to tell private homes from state housing. This has the effect of often discounting them from heritage lists, and generally driving down the price. It also dates them less. Plumbing is also often superb in 1950’s Queenslanders, as the period was a boom time for copper. It is during this period the Sir Leslie Hooker came to the fore and set about the task of providing a home for as many Australians as possible. In fact, between 1948 and 1985, LJ Hooker built one in every five homes.
Areas in Queensland where post-war Queenslanders are common are: Holland Park, Carina, Wynnum, parts of Indooroopilly, St Lucia, Stafford, Wavell Heights, Geebung, Zillmere, Banyo and Nudge.
So there you have it. The Queenslander is like the rest of Australia: a mish-mash of bits taken from Asia, Europe, America, this very continent, and across the rest of the globe, collided to perform in the uniquely demanding environment of the northern reaches of Australia.
If you’re interested in how much a Queenslander might be, type its address into Avnu’s Property Report and you’ll get a data-based estimate.