Queenslander Houses - Information Hub
Housing History in Queensland
The Queenslander House
Conservation of Queenslander Houses
Searching your House History
Books & Useful Links
The Queensland house, affectionately known as 'The Queenslander' is a type of home rather than a style of house, as it encompasses many styles and influences.
Housing History in Queensland
The first house in the Brisbane region was built in 1824 for the commandant of the Redcliffe settlement. This house and many other early timber buildings have since been demolished or removed.
Newstead House, constructed in 1846, claims the title of the oldest existing house in Brisbane.
Bulimba House (1850), The Deanery (1855) in Brisbane City (first known as Hobbs House), and Bardon House (1863) are other examples of substantial 19th Century houses.
Cottages from the late Colonial period are located in the inner suburbs of Petrie Terrace and Spring Hill. However, most of the typical 19th century houses around inner Brisbane date from the 1880s. Examples of these period houses can be seen in Paddington, Red Hill, Highgate Hill and East Brisbane.
Houses epitomising the Federation-era include those constructed in both timber and masonry, as well as larger decorative timber homes in suburbs such as Clayfield, Ascot, Hawthorne and Graceville.
The interwar building boom saw the construction of the porch-and-gable and multi-gable bungalows. These houses characterise much of Brisbane’s timber-and-tin housing, particularly in suburbs such as Ashgrove. Many houses from this era were built through the Queensland Government Workers’ Dwelling Scheme.
To a lesser extent, the 1920s and 1930s also gave rise to more derivative domestic architecture - Californian bungalows as well as Spanish Mission, Old English, Functionalist and Art Deco style houses and flats. Often constructed in masonry, there are examples in suburbs such as New Farm, Coorparoo and Chelmer.
Brisbane grew rapidly in the late 1940s and 1950s as a result of the immigration and baby boom. Many of the post-war austerity houses in suburbs like Stafford, Camp Hill and Mitchelton were built of fibro sheeting. Overseas contractors also began to mass-produce houses (the Dutch at Coopers Plains and the French at Zillmere) to cater for the chronic housing shortage after the war.
From the 1960s, brick-veneer project houses, built on concrete slabs, began to fill the outer suburbs including Centenary Park, Carindale and Carseldine. However, there are some examples of International-style housing in suburbs such as St Lucia and Indooroopilly.
Some houses combine a number of different design elements and do not fit into a specific style. Some architect-designed houses or unusual houses require historical research to be reliably dated.
Most styles stretch for at least a decade before and after their era of popularity, and some are revived later. This is the case with Queensland’s traditional timber-and-tin housing.
Thanks: Brisbane City Council
Newstead House, Newstead, Brisbane. c.1846
The Queenslander House
The Queensland house or ‘Queenslander’ speaks eloquently of our distinctive lifestyle and is one of the most distinctive architectural designs in Australia.
Queensland has more than one type of housing but a tradition of timber building is dominant. This distinctive tradition originated with rough timber huts of early settlement and developed into the multi-gabled bungalows of the 1930s. Buildings continued until, and were adapted after, the Second World War, leading to contemporary ‘Environmentally Sustainable Timber Houses’.
The most typical early twentieth century Queensland house is characterised by:
timber construction with corrugated-iron roof;
highset on timber stumps;
single-skin cladding for partitions and sometimes external walls;
verandahs front and/or back, and sometimes the sides;
decorative features to screen the sun or ventilate the interior; and
a garden setting with a picket fence, palm trees and tropical fruit trees.
There are many styles of the famous 'Queenslander', but share distinct construction style, internal spaces, furnishing, and gardens. They are now valued as a key element of Queensland heritage and conservation and renovation of Queenslanders is widespread.
Key factors in the development of the Queensland house were the:
availability of affordable, easy to use building materials;
the Queensland climate
Timber and iron are the characteristic materials used to construct Queensland houses.
Sawmilling was established in Queensland in the 1850s, and timber became readily available for construction. Iron could be transported long distances throughout the Queensland colony, and was more durable in tropical storms than tiles.
These readily available and affordable materials were also easy to use and so contributed to the popularity of the Queensland house.
The materials also directly affected their form. Timber was a light, inexpensive material, but it was vulnerable to attack from termites. Houses were constructed on stumps to raise them off the ground, and the stumps were capped with plates to prevent white ants from getting to the wooden superstructures. The greater height also allowed easier surveillance of termite activity.
The warm Queensland climate further contributed to the form and popularity of Queenslanders. The high heat conductivity of tin iron roofing and the poor insulation offered by timber meant that ventilation was critical.
Queensland houses were usually constructed to face the street, irrespective of the direction of sun and wind. Houses belonging to affluent members of society were more likely to be situated in higher locations and constructed with more windows to take greater advantage of prevailing breezes.
Nevertheless the raised structures provided natural ventilation beneath and around the house, and airflow was enhanced by numerous windows, louvers and fretwork fanlights. Verandahs proved popular in providing additional living space that was outdoors yet protected.
Queensland House spaces
Queensland houses are characterised by an open design and a blurring between inside and out.
The raising of houses on stumps created valuable space beneath the house that was used for many varied purposes including drying the washing, accommodating animals and even housing an extended family.
The retreat from hot internal rooms to the verandah further reflects a less formal Queensland domestic lifestyle. A comfortable verandah allowed residents to spurn formal living rooms and upholstered chairs that enveloped hot bodies. However, in the postwar years, the verandah was enclosed to create more room.
Despite the development of these informal spaces, in Victorian times the Queensland house was a highly structured space – papered, panelled and polished, furnished, ornamented and equipped. In times of prosperity and social mobility, it was a symbol of the success, respectability and social status. By the 1890s, Queensland houses exhibited many of the features of Victorian domestic ideals.
The drawing room was the most important room, where visitors gained an impression of the standing of the owner. During the 1880s, drawing rooms became more decorative and splendid. By contrast, the desired impression in the dining room was of formal dignity and even grandeur. This was the domain of the husband as host and man of the house.
Private and Utilitarian Spaces
The main bedroom was a private, predominantly feminine space, decorated in delicate pastels, with an emphasis on comfort and prettiness.
Service rooms, on the other hand, were severely practical in their presentation.
The kitchen was usually a simple undecorated room, while the bathroom was often no more than a built-in corner of the back verandah or beneath the house.
Conservation of Queenslander Houses
A vigorous, broad-based conservation movement emerged in Australia during the 1970s and with it came enthusiasm for the restoration of private houses. While this trend was replicated in Queensland, the reuse and recycling of Queenslander houses is a much older tradition. The construction of Queenslander houses on stumps made them highly adaptable. The same structural advantage that allows them to be constructed on uneven and very steep land, also meant that houses could be removed from the stumps in tact. Queenslanders can therefore be raised or lowered, reoriented or even completely relocated and reused.
This adaptive reuse of Queenslander houses is epitomised in historic towns that suffered cycles of economic prosperity and loss. As populations dwindled in one place and people moved to new sites of expansion, large numbers of houses were transported to the growing towns. This ability to reuse entire houses is unique to Queensland and is the ultimate example of sustainable and recyclable housing.
Renovation and Conservation
A major incentive for renovation is the premium value returned through the real estate market.
The process that is best applied to old Queenslanders is conservation in which deterioration is arrested but essential work is carried out gently and with sensitivity.
Ideally renovators should make additions or alterations with the materials of the original, without trying to hide the change. The incorporation of some new materials such as concrete blocks, modern roofing or paving tiles can be incongruous with existing materials and result in a poor quality renovation.
Historical sources can be checked to discover details of interior fittings and furnishings. But evidence can also be found by examining the house itself. First, try to understand the overall picture by looking at walls that may have been introduced or removed. Understand how the house has been extended or changed, including how some material might have been reused.
Sometimes archival sources and physical examination do not give enough information, so that a broader understanding of the general tradition of interiors should be developed. It is sometimes necessary to understand the four essentials in any house:
the geographic location – the effect of climate on furniture and interiors;
the period in which the house was constructed – detailing is often very different from one period to another;
the scale of the house – large, expensive houses will be detailed differently from smaller, poorer ones; and
the hierarchy of rooms – front rooms were detailed differently from service rooms.
As a general rule, before doing anything irreversible, ask yourself: is this the way it would have been done? When in doubt, seek advice from committed professionals, owners and publications.
Thanks: Queensland Museum
Searching Your House History
The State Library of Queensland has excellent resources:
The Queensland State Archives has this 'History of Your House' Publication:
History of Your House - Research Guide to the history of your house at Queensland State Archives
Books & Useful Links
Bell, P. (1984) Timber and Iron: Houses in North Queensland Mining Settlements, 1861-1920.University of Queensland Press: St. Lucia.
Fisher, Rod, ‘Identity’, in The Queensland house: a roof over our heads, ed. Rod Fisher and Brian Crozier, Queensland Museum, Brisbane, 1994
Fisher, R. and B. Crozier (1994) The Queensland House - A Roof Over Our Heads. Queensland Museum: South Brisbane
Rechner, Judy Gale, Brisbane house styles 1880 to 1940: a guide to the affordable house, Brisbane History Group, Studies no 2, 1998
Riddel, Robert, ‘Design’, in The Queensland house: a roof over our heads, ed. Rod Fisher and Brian Crozier, Queensland Museum, Brisbane, 1994
Queensland State Advances Corporation, Design of dwellings, Queensland Government Printer, Brisbane, 1935
Queensland State Advances Corporation, Approved designs of dwellings, Queensland Government Printer, Brisbane, 1945
Pickett, Charles, The fibro frontier: a different history of Australian architecture, Powerhouse Publishing and Doubleday books, Sydney, 1997
Apperly, Richard, Robert Irving, Peter Reynolds, A pictorial guide to identifying Australian architecture: styles and terms from 1788 to the present, Angus & Robertson, North Ryde, New South Wales, 1989
Butler, Graeme, The Californian bungalow in Australia: origins, revival, source ideas for restoration, Lothian Books, Melbourne, 1992
Other Useful Links:
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