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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

History Revisited - Armidale's blooming colour palette

ADDING TO THE GREENERY: Jim Belshaw discusses the colours usually associated with the city and how they have evolved over time
In 1963, the Armidale palette was heavily white, green and red. White for the weatherboard houses, red and green for the galvanized iron roofs, patches of green for the parks and established gardens. There were other colours, but from the air white, red and green seemed to dominate.

Twenty years later, the colours had greatly changed, become more varied. Part of this was due to the new “heritage” paints. I have put heritage in inverted commas because, at least so far as Armidale was concerned, they were not really heritage at all. But they were attractive, transforming apparently ugly ducking weatherboard into visually appealing houses.

Of more importance was the spread of greenery with its pronounced splashes of autumn and spring colour. Armidale now seemed to nestle among its trees and parks, creating both visual unity and variation. It all seemed to happen very quickly.

The reality was a little different, for the apparently sudden transformation had deep roots.

Armidale had always had great civic pride. Building on earlier work by groups such as the Armidale Horticultural Society which had been involved (among other things) in attempts to create an arboretum in East Armidale to help beautify the city, an Armidale Improvement and Beautification Committee was formed in the 1940s. Between 1948 and 1964, 1500 trees were planted in Armidale streets on the recommendation of the committee. The plantings were a community undertaking with residents planting trees provided by Council.

The Committee had a clear long term objective. Margaret Waters whose father Alwyn Jones was instrumental in developing the project, defined the group’s objectives in this way: “They wanted to create summer shade and autumn colour, that prior to the plantings was non existent in Armidale.”

Later, this approach would be challenged by the native is best school. However, the plan made sense in visual terms, taking Armidale’s varying seasons into account.

The campaign struggled to a degree because householders did not always look after the trees, more because Armidale’s limited water supply made watering difficult during drought. Trees died and then had to be replanted. 

Armidale’s limited water supply had long been a problem. As early as the 1920s, there had been proposals to build a dam at Malpas to meet the city’s water needs. By the 1950s, the city’s growth made a new water supply critical, with drought periods bringing major water restrictions.

An intense battle followed. There were those who opposed a new water supply on the grounds of cost to ratepayers. Local landowners among others objected, arguing that the Malpas site was unsuitable,. that the water would be undrinkable, that the dam would quickly silt up. A strong group led by local engineer Zihni Buzo argued that the alternative Styx River site was far better.

The argument raged back and forth. Finally, a decision was made to build a dam at Malpas.

The new dam opened in 1968. Whatever the arguments for and against the dam, it meant that Armidale had a secure water supply. Now water was readily available to support the beautification of Armidale.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 February 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. 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, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

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