Notes from the
Long Paddock
Michael Kluckner

... working notes & pictures, as far as it got in 2009 before we decided to leave Australia & return to Canada

2009. Posted in August, 2012

Return to "False Starts" page  Return to home page

Send an email

This was a proposal for an architecture book that almost got published. University of New South Wales Press was interested but needed a cash infusion from an institutional or philanthropic sponsor (as is often the case with academic books), about 10K they said. No commercial publishers were willing, partly because I was an unknown to them, partly because their audience is primarily urban, with urban concerns and focus. It had been a long time, at least 20 years, since Australian heritage and architecture books were common on bookstore shelves. The '70s and '80s, being the lead-up to the bicentennial, were the heyday of that kind of book there.

The "long paddock" is the roadside, the place where drovers, especially in drought-stricken periods, sought fodder for their sheep and cattle. So this was to be a book rather like Vanishing British Columbia or my Canada book, supplemented by a comparison of Australian rural buildings with their North American counterparts.

Australia is really two countries: an urban coastal one and a rural one. Two solitudes, perhaps, but in spite of Australia's urbanization the sunburnt homestead with a few gum trees still seems to tug at the national heartstrings. A century ago, if you asked someone to describe their dream of a home, it would likely be the sort of classic tableau that I painted while travelling about in Oz: the spreading metal roof, the open porch, water tanks and a windmill, surrounded by enough land to make a living and offering clean air, sunshine, adequate water and independence.

You can "read" Australian buildings the way a bushman reads the natural landscape, and learn a lot about climate, adaptation and the culture and history of the country. However,  new generations of Australians will only have the written record to study and will live in a kind of virtual world, in terms of the physical evidence of their past, as the "roadside memory" on the long paddock crumbles into the landscape.

I saw Australia through foreign eyes as I travelled and observed how settlers of an earlier era created their shelters, and pondered the differences in the landscape between here and those two New World countries – the USA and Canada – that share similar histories. On one level I was writing a road-trip book; on a more serious level, I wanted to highlight what I believe to be a national amnesia: the loss of the country's distinctive cultural landscape as the population urbanized and its architecture homogenized.

The book idea got as far as a Powerpoint presentation, a lecture I gave once in Australia to a National Trust group and twice in BC (so far) after our return.

So it was going to say something like this:



-Australia's old buildings, urban and rural, are an essential part of the country's uniqueness and should be revered by the public and promoted by the government as part of the country's "brand."

-With the loss of this distinctive architecture and its replacement by current styles, Australia's built landscape is beginning to look like everywhere else in the world.

-There are profound consequences, especially in terms of increased energy use, to the current types of suburban home design, town layout and shopping-centre construction.

-There are lessons that old buildings and town layouts can teach modern Australians about environmentally friendly design, modest use of resources, and compact communities that are healthy and socially successful.

-Government planning policies intended to streamline construction and development (especially in NSW) tend to reinforce a cookie-cutter mentality, further homogenizing Australia's streetscapes.




Above: Railway gatekeeper's cottage at Goulburn

Table of Contents:

1. Traditional town and city architecture
2. The evolution of the classic Australian homestead
3. Reflections on the differences in the rural landscape between Australia and North America/Europe
4. Foreign architectural styles in Australia: Georgian houses & terrace houses from Britain, the California Bungalow from the USA.
5. Distinctively Australian materials that were used around the country, such as sheet iron, fibro and render over brick.
6. The gold rush
7. A company town: Catherine Hill Bay
8. Pubs
9. Grand Estates
10. Shopping Villages
11. Holiday places in a more modest era: "mountain cottages"
12. Railways



1. Traditional town and city architecture: comparing the working-class terrace with the middle-class's ubiquitous "5-room house on the quarter-acre block." What can be divined from these buildings about people's dreams and aspirations, compared with those of the occupants of modern apartment units and suburban McMansions?



Above: the working-class terrace in a Victorian-era British city in the subtropics. Middle-class terraces in areas such as Paddington and Glebe in Sydney are larger and airier, sometimes have more rooms, but essentially stay with the same layout.

Impressions of a hot summer month in a Surry Hills terrace (the cutaway drawing above) in 2006: interior cool, very small cramped rooms with little natural light, except for the upstairs front bedroom which is wonderfully bright and almost spacious (10 x 15 feet!); sounds of next door neighbours right there when all the windows are open. Our Samuel Street terrace (above) had no inside fireplace, no chimneys like the terrace on Campbell Street just around the corner (left). There must originally have been a chimney and stove or hearth in the kitchen block. One can scarcely imagine how unpleasant life once was in such working-class terraces, with no heat or electric light in the main part of the home in the winter, a communal water tap down at the corner, coal cooking fires making the kitchen unbearable in the summer, a stinking dunny in the tiny back yard, and too many children in not enough space.

Since, however,  many of these problems with the original design have been eliminated by indoor plumbing, gas or electric heating and lighting and opened-up floor plans, including skylights. Compared with modern inner-city units, there is instant access to the street and a sense of being in a community, rather than the behind-closed-doors anomie of highrise life. The terraces have an effective FSR of about 1.7; how does this density compare with more modern units? Modern residents of Surry Hills cherish the proximity of the cafes and entertainments of the inner city; earlier generations had no money for cafes or entertainments, except the nearby pub, and "cherished" only the proximity of their workplaces. Such a different time....



***



The suburban dreamscape in a 1936 Lifebuoy soap ad, and an uncredited photograph in a book by Bernd Lohse from the 1950s.

The architect and critic Robin Boyd was at his most scathing in The Australian Ugliness, published in 1960. “The Australian town-dweller spent a century in the acquisition of his toy: an emasculated garden, a five-roomed cottage of his very own, different from its neighbours by a minor contortion of window or porch – its difference significant to no one but himself. He skimped and saved for it, and fought two World Wars with it figuring prominently in the back of his mind. Whenever an Australian boy spoke to an Australian girl of marriage, he meant, and she understood him to mean, a life in a five-room house.”




2. The evolution of the classic Australian homestead.

The sprawling Australian country house with its hipped roof and bellcast eaves drew on the design of the bungalow, the Bengali chauyari (literally "four sides") and banggolo, as remembered and adapted by British army officers and settlers who had spent time in India. In his monumental Australian architectural history, published in the 1960s, John Maxwell Freeland doesn't mention the word India once, but the Historical Atlas of Australia published at the bicentennial explicitly describes the style as the "Anglo-Indian bungalow."

 

Above left: Experiment Farm Cottage, built in 1798 by Surgeon John Harris, who had spent ten years in India. Collitt's Inn, built in 1823 in Hartley Vale at the western edge of the Blue Mountains, is another early example of the style.


Above right: a homestead of indeterminate age near the intersection of the Hill End-Sofala Road with the Bathurst Road. Its roof is in two sections, different from Experiment Farm's bellcast roofline, but the different pitch of the verandah's roof gives it a similar look. Rust on the roof: galvanized iron sheeting, as essential to Australian settlement as beer and meat pies. There wasn't another cheap material, like the softwood of North America, available to cover the surfaces of buildings in early Australia until fibro came along in the 1920s. The attached shed – galvanized iron over a crude frame – has the tired, slouching look of a bloke leaning against the wall of a country pub on a Friday evening.

Below: two examples of a common variant of the hipped-roof style– a tiny gable vent at the ends of the roof ridge, which also became very common in 19th century suburban houses in places like Sydney and Melbourne. Both houses have a gabled front room, usually the parlour or lounge. 



On the Hill End-Bathurst Road



Homestead on the Lue-Mudgee Road

The key difference between the classic Australian bungalow and other "new world" dwellings such as those built in North America is the hipped roof – more difficult to build than the gabled roof that was the standard in Europe or North America. Why? Perhaps as a response to hot overseas climates by British people of a certain class when going to hot-climate destinations – initially to India, then filtering down through the Australian gentry to the shelters of the "bush barbarians," as historian Manning Clark called them. British settlers often built in this style in South and East Africa and even, ironically, in remittance-men's enclaves in frigid Western Canada. "This is what an expat's home looks like," they all but say.

The other difference between Australian bungalows and most "New World" rural buildings of a century or more ago is the former's horizontality. Because there was no need to build steep-pitched, reinforced roofs to support winter snow loads, and because metal sheeting was a fairly light roofing material, rafters could span large distances and be set quite widely apart, using the minimum amount of expensive, hard-to-obtain timber. To keep the walls from being pushed outward by the weight of the roof, builders nailed ceiling joists to the tops of the walls and the bases of the rafters, creating a sort of truss as well as the support for a ceiling covering.

Another reason for the horizontal spread of the buildings was the ease of creating a primitive foundation of posts or rocks. In the cold climates of Europe and North America, multi-storey houses took advantage of heat's desire to rise, but in warm country Australia it wasn't necessary to build upwards, include expensive staircases, and create complex post-and-beam framing. If a house were built of rubble or masonry, it could be built right on the ground, its floor perhaps dirt, boards on sleepers, or stone. There's a whiff of the "she'll be right" attitude in the casual, haphazard way many of these country buildings were erected.

And yet traditional Australian country houses are examples of  environmentally sympathetic design, well-adapted to their surroundings, certainly when compared with their modern replacements. Deep verandahs provided cool, shaded spaces while, in some buildings, wide eaves or bracketed window-shades kept the harsh sun and heat from the interior. You rarely see bay windows, whose major role is to admit the maximum amount of light into the interior, on traditional Australian houses.

The volume of air trapped in the tall roof-space acted as an insulator during the long summer, compensating somewhat for the metal roof's tendency to radiate heat downward into the interior. The metal roof had another role, of course: catching rainwater for the ubiquitous galvanized tank set beside the house – another argument for a sprawling floor plan and maximum roof area. However, most houses were relatively modest in size, at least compared with modern homes, many of them with doors connecting between small rooms that could be closed off and heated. Multiple chimneys, such as the ones on the homestead above, indicate how individual rooms could be made comfortable during the short sharp winter.

And, of course, people used the bounty of the agricultural countryside – the best wool in the world – for their winter clothing and kept warm that way, a contrast with the modern tendency to wear skimpy cotton or polyester year-round and to plug in a heater, powered by coal-generated electricity, whenever the weather turns cool. Like many contemporary Australians who reach for the air-conditioning when the weather turns hot, modern homes show little adaptation to the climate: the latter have narrow eaves, no covered porches, and large areas of glass. Air-conditioning is available, regardless of the environmental cost, in a country that produces more greenhouse gases per capita than any other in the world.






A vintage house in Carcoar, New South Wales. Brick walls, a deep verandah, a kitchen addition out the back and a tall hipped roof.



 

Above: Frederick McCubbin drawings of pioneer life in the late 19th century. On the left, A Victorian Selector's Homestead, (Australasian Sketcher, 25 September 1880); on the right, Interior of a Shepherd's Hut, Illustrated Australian News, 21 February 1870). The outside view shows a cabin little different from the ones built by Pilgrims arriving in North America in the early 1600s: built on posts, wattle and daub walls, a bark (shingled) roof,  and a stick-built chimney plastered with clay mud. In the romanticised interior view from a decade earlier – romanticized at least to the extent that the family looks very contented and well dressed despite their rustic digs – the woman is cooking on a hearth, in the medieval manner, rather than on an iron stove.

Hearths, with hobs (shelves to keep food warm) and hooks from which heating kettles and cooking pots hung, were both heat-source and cooking facility – the centre around which family life revolved – in early Australian homes.  Freestanding ovens for baking bread were often built outside, well-away from the precious home due to fears of fire. In many homes there were "summer kitchens" in shed-roofed additions at the back to try to keep the heat of the cooking fire away from the living and sleeping areas – more of an issue once iron stoves became common than during the hearth era when most of the heat went straight up the chimney and the family spent the winter shivering picturesquely in the flickering firelight.

Although metal stoves for heating had been invented in the 18th century – including the famous Franklin by American politician and polymath Benjamin Franklin in 1842 – the first practical wood-burning cooking stoves began to appear in the USA early in the 19th century. The most successful one, which could be loaded onto a covered wagon and sent out with the homesteaders on the Oregon Trail, was the Oberlin, patented by Philo Stewart in 1834. It is said that more than 90,000 of them were sold in 30 years, and doubtless many made it to Australia. In
"Steam to Australia," (11 January 1856, New York Times), the correspondent noted "... in reading over the Sydney and Melbourne papers, ... we notice American cooking-stoves puffed up and glowingly described in the advertising columns." The most famous of the Australian-made stoves was probably the Early Kooka, whose colourful logo featured a kookaburra.

Below: the room that was originally the kitchen of Canning Cottage, a semi-detached hipped-roof Georgian house in Launceston, Tasmania, as it was in 1999. Built in the 1820s for British officers who were garrisoned in the town, it was a very spare building, each unit having a front parlour, a kitchen-dining area (shown here) that has since been fitted with an iron stove in its hearth, and two small bedrooms up a narrow, steep staircase. At some point, probably a century ago, a shed-roofed kitchen addition was added to the back, followed roughly a half-century later by another shed-roofed bathroom addition bringing the plumbing indoors. It's the same rearward projection of the house seen in the Sydney terrace above.



 

Above: Two 1930s advertisements. In the Australian pantheon, the God of Refrigeration has his own special niche. Unlike in Europe and North America, there was no possibility of ice-harvesting so food preservation was almost impossible. Necessity being the mother of invention, a Scottish-born journalist and tinkerer named James Harrison designed the world’s first ice-making plant at Geelong, Victoria, in the 1850s. His first client was a brewery in Bendigo, then in the midst of the gold rush. His efforts in the 1870s to develop refrigerated ship chambers spurred the development of the country’s hugely significant meat-export business.

Until small kerosene-powered refrigerators became affordable in the 1920s, rural people used ventilated meat safes hung in breezy verandahs and "bush coolers" – tin tubs covered in soaked hessian, where the evaporation of the water from the fabric drew heat from the food stored within. People joke about the wonders of technology arriving into country districts: "first kero lights, then kero fridges, then we got kero TV!"

***

The most extreme and successful adaptations to the Australian climate are the "Queenslanders," such as the ones below in Maryborough and Miriam Vale in the tropics: the house built up high on stumps (posts) to allow a breeze underneath and space to store things and hang laundry; wrap-around screened porches; pyramid roof; breezy and open floor plan.






3. Reflections on the differences in the rural landscape between Australia and North America/Europe ...

Homestead in southern British Columbia, built about 1900

... two-storey balloon-framed buildings in North America compared with the sprawling homesteads of rural Australia. The easy availability of softwood such as pine, fir and spruce in North America made the country buildings so different from Australian ones; initially settlers built log cabins; later, once sawmills became common, everyone built with a balloon frame and machine-made nails. They covered walls with drop siding, called weatherboard in Australia, and shingles, and used shakes or shingles for roofs. This was the same for most town and city houses except in areas with a lot of good brick clay, such as the swath of North America including Pennsylvania and Ontario.

The balloon-framing technique, together with machine-made nails, came to Australia with the miners from California in the early 1850s.

 



+ sheds, not barns

Wallaby Rocks along the Turon River in NSW.

As there is little need to store fodder, the Aussie agricultural shed is a much more modest affair than the grand barns that typify the rural landscape in the cold parts of North America. Galvanized iron sheeting is the most common material, nailed onto a simple timber frame.
Compare an Australian shed to the sort of dairy barns typical of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver.

...and water 


Windmills are common on the North American plains but the above-ground water tank, as practical as it might be in Australia, is not of much use in colder climates because of winter freeze-ups; similarly, the use of eavestroughs for harvesting water from roofs doesn't have a lot of use in climates where winter snow and ice wipe them out.



Building for snowload: Sandon in the Kootenays in British Columbia

 
Watercolours from a summer roadtrip through the hills northwest of Bathurst in New South Wales, 2008

It is rare to find seeping groundwater or permanent rivers forming even small lakes in Australia, so the farmer has to corral run-off from torrential downpours, pushing a berm of earth across the water's path to create a dam, in order to water livestock and crops. This is often supplemented by bore water pumped to surface tanks, most picturesquely by the windmills that still dot the countryside. The little dams reflecting the blue sky have a similar look to the "potholes" of prairie farmers in North America. I found my eye (and paintbrush) drawn to every patch of water on the landscape, for water equals survival.



Near Tarana, western edge of the Blue Mountains, 2008



By way of comparison, a spot somewhere/anywhere on the Canadian prairies, with old farm buildings reflected in a small lake.

4. Foreign architectural styles in Australia: Georgian houses & terrace houses from Britain, the California Bungalow from the USA. 

 



Above: two 18th-century Georgians, the one on the left in rural Newfoundland. Below: Old Government House in Parramatta, built at the end of the 18th century [Standing in 260 acres of parkland overlooking historic Parramatta, Old Government House is Australia’s oldest surviving public building. For seven decades, it was the ‘country’ residence of 10 early governors of the colony, including Governor and Mrs Macquarie who, from 1810 to 1821 preferred the clean air and space of rural Parramatta to the unsanitary and crime ridden streets of Sydney Town. The central block of the house was completed in 1799 by Governor John Hunter. –NT website]

....



 





5. Distinctively Australian materials that were used around the country, such as sheet iron, fibro and render over brick.

 



Local materials and techniques evolved, such as the brick cavity-wall, in an era before unfettered transportation allowed the "universal rancher style" to evolve. The availability now of cheap timber means that the brick houses erected in the suburbs of Australian cities are actually timber-framed (using the platform framing technique that is an evolution of balloon framing) with a brick veneer.


The American "contractor modern" style of about 1950, something of an antecedent to the Aussie universal rancher. The Australian suburb now looks no different from any North American one.


6. The gold rush: The convict era was winding down and the colonies that occupied the edges of the continent were slumbering along in the sunshine when gold was discovered near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1851. As historian John Maxwell Freeland put it, “The Society, nicely ordered on traditional lines into an upper landed-gentry class and a mass of illiterate workers, was at first leveled and then upturned in a sudden revolution.”

No sooner had the mob headed for central New South Wales than even richer strikes were made at Ballarat and Bendigo in the newly established colony of Victoria. Freeland continued: “The effects of gold reached into every nook and cranny of the country. The total fabric of society was twisted, changed and altered as the gold flowed out. Politics saw the flowering of new liberal and radical philosophies, the abolition of property qualifications for members of the Assembly and manhood suffrage [female suffrage began at Federation in 1901, earlier than that in South Australia] … The old class order disintegrated. The selfish throttlehold of the powerful landed gentry was broken. The squattocracy was replaced by a new bourgeoisie having its strength in commerce.”

California’s Gold Rush had begun two years before Australia’s, in 1849; many of the miners who had arrived too late there boarded ships for Sydney and Melbourne. Further rich strikes drew adventurers from all over the world back to North America in the late 1850s, first to the interior of British Columbia, then further north in the 1890s to the Klondike.

So what was the legacy of this mother lode on the Australian landscape? There are “ghost towns” including Sofala and Hill End in New South Wales and thriving touristy towns like Beechworth in Victoria, which have their parallels in Virginia City, Nevada, or Barkerville, British Columbia. On the west coast of North America, gold rush money did trickle into the big cities: San Francisco developed some fine buildings, a few of which survived the 1906 earthquake, as did Seattle and Vancouver due to their roles as supply points for the Klondike. But Australian cities, especially Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo, benefited permanently, the money sticking around and paying for grand, fine architecture. Melbourne more than makes up for its ordinary setting by this graceful urbanity, and it can thank the gold rush for that.




 

Sofala, so much in the consciousness of Australians due to the artists who lived and worked there, as is Hill End (below)



A typical building in Hill End is Beyers' Cottage, built in the 1860s. It is little different from the traditional English or French dwelling: wattle and daub on a timber post and rail frame. But it isn't half-timbered like a classic "Tudor"; instead, for the exterior, local sand and lime were mixed into a render, like a stucco, which was then scored to look like stone, adding a kind of mock grandeur to what is really a very modest dwelling. And, of course, the roof is galvanized iron, streaked picturesquely with rust.

Unlike the North American gold-rush houses of that era, Beyers' Cottage is effectively a medieval building. The miners who went to California in 1849, then northward into British Columbia and the Yukon over the next half-century, brought with them manufactured wire nails and the "balloon-framing" building technique, an evolution of which is still used on timber houses today. Sawn lumber could be hammered together quickly into strong frames for houses that were easily erected, and even moved by horse and wagon. But the classic Australian cottage couldn't move as it lacks the strong box frame. After the boom had ended many of the Hill End ones were stripped of reusable material and eventually collapsed or were razed.

Perhaps what struck me most was the view of Hill End from nearby Bald Hill (above). In the middle of a vast, untouched landscape the grid of its streets remains, dotted with a handful of buildings, a mere fraction of the hundreds that once comprised the town. You have to wonder how prospectors discovered the nearby gold, and marvel at the energy of the people who migrated there, taking days or weeks to traverse what I did in hours. Today, companies discover and exploit resources, move pre-fab towns in, fly workers in and out, and when they're done they tidy it all up – at least in theory – and move on. Seeing the fine old hotel and grand residences like Athol in Hill End (the right-hand image below), I realized what permanence meant and how far we've moved from it.

 
 
An old store and a boomtown-fronted house, the Australian version, in Hill End


7. A company town: Catherine Hill Bay, NSW

 
Left: miners' cottages – classic framed buildings covered in weatherboard or fibro set on posts. The wood frames and simple gabled roofs probably indicate that the houses were built of imported timber, the shiploads exported from the sawmills of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia beginning in the 1860s. Right: the coal-loading dock, a relic from the era where the coastline of Australia was mainly seen as an industrial asset rather than a recreational one.

The story continued with the fight to preserve the town and its surrounding natural environment from a massive development scheme pushed through by the NSW state government planning department.


8. Pubs in traditional Australia, especially in the country, are the social centres of the male-dominated culture. In the country towns they are the landmark pieces of architecture, the grand building with expansive, covered verandahs decorated with iron lace, on the main street near the railway station (if there happens to be one). In urban Australia, many pubs are art deco buildings from the 1930s or 1940s, like the one illustrated below near Sydney’s Central Station.
 

Pubs and utes in Braidwood, NSW, in 2001

Unlike in Britain, pubs rarely became the “living room” for the people of a village or neighbourhood; instead, they were the bastion of the blokes and probably the greatest hindrance to family life that could have been imagined. In a way they were like a lot of American taverns, a place where a group of like-minded people could while away a good part of their lives unproductively.

As in some other countries – most of Canada, for example – the publican’s license was tied to his ownership of a hotel. Not surprisingly, Australian country hotels, together with the low-end city ones, provided rather Spartan accommodation and second-class food. Women did not enter many public bars before the 1970s, or even later, instead being served (if they weren’t at home babysitting the kids or waiting outside in the ute) in the small lounge or saloon bar next door. Men stood to drink.

J.M. Freeland described the Aussie pub as being the perfect architectural representation of a “brash, young, non-conforming country.” Writing in the 1960s, he saw how the diversity was returning to what had been a strait-jacketed drinking factory in the cities. “But in the lonely country pubs things are much as they have always been. Despite the tremendous changes that the city and town pubs have undergone, in the remote places there are many of the iron-roofed, iron-walled, deep-verandahed havens still filling the place in their own society that their predecessors did. Except for a new kerosene refrigerator, and the old cork-weighted string or bead curtain hanging across the bar doorway, which was intended to brush flies form the shoulders and back of those passing through, being replaced by gaudily-coloured plastic streamers, time has passed them by for several generations.” (p. 198)

9. Grand estates: Historian Manning Clark's cynical references to the "ancient nobility of New South Wales."



Havilah, the home of Henry Hunter White near the intersection of the Hayes Gap and Lue roads, not far from Mudgee, NSW



10. The shopping villages in suburbs and towns, compared with the American-style strip malls and shopping centres of the modern nation. Westfield, the Australian-owned shopping-centre developer, is one of the largest in the world.




"Sketch of Lawson to remember it by", 2007, (see the bottom of this page for a larger version). Lawson is a town midway along the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. I painted a 10-foot long 10-panel oil of its shops as they were in 2007, when we moved there, knowing it was going to almost totally wiped out by highway expansion.



Above: a milk bar in Molong. Once upon a time a landmark of every NSW and Victorian shopping street and country town, milk bars fit into the same cultural niche as the old soda fountains of the USA a generation or two ago. A rougher version of a tea room to be sure: coffee, milkshakes, cokes, burgers, chips, jaffles, salad sandwiches on white bread, a fan turning lazily on the ceiling, colourful plastic strips in the opened doorway to try to keep the flies outside, a refrigerator for milk and pop, a freezer for Streets ice creams and paddle-pops, Cherry Ripe and Violet Crumble chocolate bars and lollies such as Jaffas for sale on the counter, a few tables or booths, sometimes a jukebox… Gradually wiped out by the more car-oriented culture of the last generation and the invasion of foreign burger chains and "handi-marts" attached to petrol stations.



The elements of a country town: wide main street, parking at a 45 degree angle, mix of commercial buildings and small homes, pub with open verandahs and TV antennae/satellites, road heading straight off into the distance over the rolling hills.




The Wattle Flat general store and Caltex station

11. Holiday places in a more modest era, such as "mountain cottages." 

Start with Katoomba....



Like an Italian hill-town, Katoomba sits on a high ridge, the Carrington Hotel chimney visible from miles around... This is the view from the tip of Sublime Point on the edge of the Jameson Valley below the village of Leura, Katoomba's neighbour.

 

Above left & the two images below: Cascade Street cottages in Katoomba (the image above right is of an abandoned house in Katoomba). They are all the sort of balloon-framed simple wooden buildings referred to above, mostly upgraded somewhat to winterize them.





Below: in the early years, many people went to the Blue Mountains from Sydney to stay at the big resort hotels, the most lavish of which, at the village of Medlow Bath, is the Hydro-Majestic, with a casino and spa. It stands on the edge of the escarpment above the magnificent Megalong Valley. After years of slow deterioration, the hotel got new owners and a restoration project began in 2009; however, when we visited it in 2012, the place remained closed with few workers around.







12. Railways used to be an object of pride in spite of being only semi-functional due to the mix of rail gauges from State to State. In the railways’ heyday even the grandest trains, such as the streamlined Spirit of Progress in 1930s Victoria, travelled from Melbourne only as far as the town of Albury on the NSW-Victoria border, where passengers had to disembark and board a Sydney-bound train that ran on the NSW gauge. (The railway-gauge story is an example of a broader theme in Australian society – turf wars between the States,  seen recently in fights over water allocations along the Murray-Darling river system.)

Although the breaks of gauge between States have since been ironed out, as it were, passenger-train service in the country is just a shadow of its former self. Yet much of the nation’s railway infrastructure survives and it is an astonishing legacy for a non-European country: grand stations in the big cities and beautifully crafted country stations; suburban stations with their adjoining shopping villages on the Sydney train lines; railway hotels in country towns.

Unfortunately there aren’t that many country trains anymore. The nation’s vast distances are better tamed by aviation, and whatever efficiency the rail networks once had proved unequal to the demands of modern commerce, which prefers the flexibility of trucks running on crowded, potholed, publicly subsidized highways. Only the bulk cargoes, such as coal and iron ore, now move by rail. The grand, romantic train routes, such as the India-Pacific from Sydney to Perth and the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin, now operate more for tourists than for local people's transportation.



Station and twin toilet blocks, Carcoar, NSW



Gatekeeper's cottage at Medlow Bath, NSW, one of the 3 surviving in the Blue Mountains, built as the railway went through in the late 1860s. Classic Victorian Gothic Revival cottages built of sandstone with steep gabled roofs, punched fascia boards and finials.


The fine stone station at Bowenfels, NSW, on the edge of the city of Lithgow, is boarded up and abandoned, ironically within sight of the local McDonald's – the great emblem of the car culture.



Above and below: Lue, NSW, a dot on the map now... the pub, the only other substantial building left, had closed when we last went through there in 2009.





And, as a reflective end-piece, exotic trees as evidence of settlement in the empty landscape



South of Bathurst, NSW,
on a sunny autumn day in May, where poplar trees have seeded themselves along a creek. Long after the countryside is abandoned and everybody lives in cities along the coast and all the buildings have blown away, there will be non-native trees dotted about – are they feral trees? Will a future environmental department set out to eradicate them? This is a similar situation to that in British Columbia, where poplars, willows and acacias mark settlement sites in the Fraser Canyon and the Boundary country.

Return to "False Starts" page  Return to home page

Send an email