To some people, Queensland’s familiar wood and tin homes gave Brisbane, and other Queensland cities and rural areas, a rather temporary, insubstantial air. Known as ‘Queenslanders’, they seemed a little less solid and permanent than homes built using brick or stone. Many Queensland houses were perched high in the air on tall stumps, as the supporting piers were always called, and it was fancied they seemed likely to simply fly away.
The Queensland home was comparatively inexpensive when trees were plentiful, easy to transport, and, in a relatively benign climate, single skin, unlined walls were all that were considered needed to protect dwellers~people~the dwellers within} from cold. Stout corrugated iron roofs stood up to heavy tropical rain and was re-usable if taken off by cyclonic winds.
The verandahs sheltered people from burning sun and caught any breeze that may have been passing during the steamy summers. Covers over window openings meant that windows didn’t have to be closed when humidity brought rain. Cleverly placed little revolving tin cylinders on the roofs pulled out hot air that had been drawn into ceiling spaces through decorative fretwork openings.
Although timber isn’t a particularly effective insulator against either heat or cold, air was able to flow through the long central hallways in the typical Queensland house and also across the house from an open window on one side through open doors to the open window on the opposite side. Some exteriors were painted, others were just oiled. Some verandahs were decorated with elaborate and expensive iron lace; others made do with simple timber dowels and carved timber decoration in pediments over the front entrance.
Despite the air of apparent impermanence, the Queensland house has survived since it first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century. However, it has evolved. The simple two-room or four-room cottage has given way to much larger, sprawling homes. The pattern of the Queenslander house could be translated into the early forms of kit-set homes.
Many were manufactured by companies in Brisbane and transported long distances as flat-packs on trains. Collections of verandahs, tongue and groove boards for walls and sheets of corrugated iron for roofs were ready at the destination for assembly. The public housing movement that produced workers cottages adapted the materials to different shapes and sizes suitable for lower-cost housing.
After the war, the Queenslander seemed out of date in a world of modem architecture. Brick houses, American ranch style residences and other imported styles began to populate new suburbs. However, Brisbane is a hilly city and even modem designs often adapted the idea of stumps so that houses could be close to the ground near the top of a rising allotment and high where the ground sloped away. In the late twentieth century, the old materials, tin and timber, were given new currency by innovative architects to create distinctly modem, light and airy Queensland houses.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when a drift back towards the inner suburbs attracted a new generation, old Queenslanders were discovered by younger owners. They painted them lovingly and added various renovations to bring an old favourite into the modem era.
However they originated, whether from sugar planters houses in the West Indies, bungalows in India or high houses in Malaysia, the Queenslander still distinguishes Brisbane from the other Australian capital cities.