Old Colonial Architecture
Before the Old Colonial Period, permanent structures in Australia were rare. The natives relied primarily on temporary residential structures made of wood, sheets of bark, and/or thatch. Even after Sydney was founded as a British penal colony, it remained largely a tent city for several years. The first residences built in Sydney were prefabricated houses brought from England.
Due to a shortage of nails and the less-than-desirable quality of the tools available, the first homes built by the convict residents were little more than huts with wattle and daub walls. The first material used for building homes were sheets of corrugated iron used for roofing. Those who couldn’t afford the iron had to rely on reeds or the sheets of bark as used by the aborigines. This is how the ironbark tree got its name. Not only was it strong and resilient, it was used in place of the iron as roofing material.
After several years, stronger tools became available and the native hardwoods of Australia began to be used to build proper homes. These first permanent homes usually consisted of a single room, and as money allowed, additions would be made for a separate kitchen or living room. Very few of these homes survive today, but a few that later became kitchens still stand as attachments to larger old homes.
Two styles of old homes emerged from this time period: Regency and Gothic Picturesque. Old Colonial Regency homes were influenced by Palladian architecture, popular in Europe at the time. Examples of Regency homes that have survived this period include the following:
- Elizabeth Bay House in Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales
- Rockwall House in Potts Point, New South Wales
- Panshanger near Longford, Tasmania
Later homes in this period, which lasted until about 1840 were influenced by neoclassical and gothic architecture. Greek and Egyptian motifs were often incorporated into the Australian structures built in these styles. Among the Gothic Picturesque homes still standing are the following:
- Lindesay in Darling Point, New South Wales
- Carthona in Darling Point, New South Wales
- Conservatorium of Music in Sydney
Victorian Period Architecture
The Victorian Period in Australian architecture lasted from approximately 1840 to 1890. These years saw a great birth in the architectural styles used for the country’s permanent residences. A total of fifteen primary styles have been observed from this period, ten of which were used for residences:
The Georgian style of this period was simple, yet elegant. Georgian homes were mostly built during the early years of the Victorian Period. These homes are boxy, two rooms deep, have unpaired windows, and are usually two stories in height.
The Regency style from the Old Colonial Period carried over into the Victorian Period. It had a similar style to that of Georgian architecture, but with more pronounced columns.
This is one of the earliest styles that adapted uniquely in Australia. Filigree homes were developed as a response. Verandas were added to homes to provide a shaded area away from the Australian sun and to provide additional shade for the interior of the home. The more affluent residents began to build elaborate cast iron or wrought iron screens in front of their verandas known as filigrees.
Despite the name, this style was actually developed by the British in the early 19th century and became widely popular for residences in Australia, outliving its popularity in the British mainland. The style was adapted for use in Australia with the addition of verandas and/or filigrees. Examples of this style include the Government House in Melbourne and Albury, New South Wales railway station.
This style was popularized in Australia by the English Architect Edward Blore who used it to design the Government House in Sydney. It went on to influence later architectural styles in the Federation Period.
This style took the basic elements of Gothic and allowed individual designers to adapt those features into unique homes. It was primarily used for churches, but some homes were built in the Free Gothic style, such as Ashfield Castle in Ashfield, New South Wales.
The Rustic Gothic style is an Australian adaptation of Gothic Revival built by British settlers who yearned for a more English type of home. Some great examples include the house at 157 Hotham Street in East Melbourne and the house at 13 and 15 James Street in Richmond, Victoria.
Homes in the classical style were rare in Australia, but a few mansions were built, such as Valentine’s Mansion in Malvern, Victoria and Lalor House in Richmond, Victoria.
Some of the grandest mansions in urban Australia during this period were built in Second Empire style. Marion Terrace in St Kilda, Victoria is a prime example.
This style of architecture is unique to Australia. It developed during the Victorian Period in Queensland but spread through the northern areas of New South Wales. Queenslander homes are characterized by their tri-sectional construction using stumps under the floors, one or two floors of rooms above, and the roof. These houses appear to float off the surface of the ground, and they usually include large verandas. The raising of the home off the ground allows for more efficient cooling and protection from termites and vermin. The under-floor areas are often screened in for use as storage space or extra rooms. Queenslander has continued to exist as a practical and beloved architectural style.
The Federation Period lasted from approximately 1890 to 1915. This style is associated with Australian independence and the evolution of the country as an entity in the world separate and unique from the British Empire. These homes remain some of the most popular to own and renovate among aficionados of old homes.
Federation homes were said to have developed from the Queen Anne style, but in fact, there are several styles that sprung up during this period that developed similarly but independent of each other. Federation Edwardian and Federation Queen Anne styles still held on to the grandeur of past styles, but two new styles prominent in this area were more intimate and down-to-earth.
Federation Arts and Crafts
This style was born in an attempt to give homes characteristics that were decidedly unique in each home, instead of using characteristics of older styles that had almost become symbols of mass production. Arts and crafts homes incorporate such features as pebbled walls, bay windows, and tall chimneys. Some people criticize the style as plain.
The Bungalow style was primarily developed out of necessity at the end of the period due to materials and craftsmen pledging their support for the British at the start of World War I. Bungalows are single-story homes with low ceilings. These homes tend to be smaller than the styles before it, and they are known for their simplicity.
The Federation Period gave way to the Inter-war Period, which was known for its rehashing of the older styles. It would not be until the Post-war period of 1940 to 1960 when the modern home would be developed in Australia.