Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

History revisited - Armidale's landscape reveals its history

I thoroughly enjoyed presenting last week to the Armidale North Rotary Club.

My thanks to Mick Duncan for arranging the talk and to the Club for allowing non-Rotarians who had heard about the talk to attend. I really appreciated that.

I was asked why there were in fact so few Armidale blue brick homes. This is the quintessential Armidale building material, yet most of the older houses are weatherboard.20090515-11-08-00-around-armidale--streets-and-architecture

The present built landscape of Armidale reflects every stage in the city’s history.

If you look at an Armidale street map, you will see a central core of rectangular blocks separated by streets running north-south and east west. This is the old measured Armidale.

The 556 people who lived in Armidale in 1851 straggled. Alcohol flowed, horse races were held in the dusty main street, stringybark huts dotted the landscape. It was a rough and ready male dominated place.

Order was imposed on Armidale over the second half of the nineteenth century. In social terms, the male oriented frontier society was replaced by families who (and especially the women) demanded an ordered society. In spatial terms, the previous straggle was replaced by the neat grids we know today.

The physical landscape of Armidale is all about money.

Armidale’s population grew from 556 in 1851 to 4,249 at the 1901 census. This growth created wealth.

The Armidale mercantile and professional families often built in brick because they could afford too. The growing number of ordinary workers, the railway families and trades people, built smaller cottages in cheaper weatherboard. These cottages were built on the then outskirts of the city and especially in West Armidale towards the Railway Station.

The twentieth century political landscape of Armidale reflected these patterns. Armidale Town Hall voted Country Party, whereas West Armidale was Labor Party territory.

By the 1950s, the city’s growth had over-spilled the old boundaries. Newer houses were built in brick. Urban in-fill had started. Flats had begun to appear.

In all this, one of the most remarkable changes has been in colour. Armidale’s colours have changed.

Today, everybody remarks about the heritage colours, about the city’s greenery. I love them. They are simply wonderful. Few realise how recent they are.

Flying into Armidale in the 1950s or 1960s, three colours dominated; white, red and green. White because the predominantly weatherboard houses were generally painted white. Red and green because they were the standard galvanized iron roof colours.

Armidale always had parks and trees. But many of the trees we so love date from the Armidale Beautification Committee campaigns that began in the 1950s.

And the heritage colours? They are due to new paint types that simply weren’t available before.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 November 2012. The photo is by Gordon Smith. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012 (Belshaw's World), 2012 (History Revisited).

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