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

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Building a country landscape

Deeargee shearing shed: Designed and built in 1872 by Alexander Mitchell, this shearing shed with its tiered roof shows the influence of galvanised iron on New England building.This is the fourth in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture 

There are may ways of classifying the built landscape. Those interested in architecture, for example, focus on architectural styles, usually setting these in a British or European or, later, American context.

While this is a useful and valid approach, I find it confusing because of the number of identified styles.

Some architectural histories, for example, list four styles for the old colonial period (1788-c1840), fifteen for the Victorian Period (c1840-c1890) and twelve for the Federation Period (c1890-c1915). This is hard to manage in a general sense, harder still when the architecture of an area has few or no examples of a style or varies from the conventional classification.

A second way of classifying the built landscape focuses on building materials and methods. Here the industrial revolution transformed building by introducing new materials and associated building technology.

Corrugated galvanised iron or steel more normally know just as corrugated iron is a feature of many parts of New England’s built landscape.

Corrugated iron was invented in the 1820s by Henry Robinson Palmer, architect and engineer for the London Dock Company. It was robust and relatively light weight. As shipping improved and then with the spread of the railways, it became almost ubiquitous in country Australia and New Zealand.

Corrugated iron was used in roofing, creating the roofing pattern you can see in many New England centres including Armidale. It was used in farm buildings, including the shearers’ quarters and woolshed that used to be an ever present feature of New England’s built landscape. Most were simple structures, although the 1872 Deeragee woolshed outside Uralla remains as a unique and spectacular example of shearing shed construction.

A third way of classifying the built landscape focuses on purpose. Why was the building created, how was this done, how did it work? This approach has been really popularised by the UK Grand Designs program with its focus on repurposing industrial buildings for new uses. while recognising their original heritage.

No approach is perfect. In this next part of our journey through New England’s built landscape I am going to take purpose as an entry point, focusing first on the homestead.

The European settlers who occupied Aboriginal lands from 1788 came with limited resources. For those who had travelled north often spending weeks sleeping under drays or canvas, the first priority was to build a base as quickly as possible, Then out huts had to be built for the shepherds or stockmen who guarded the flocks and herds.

The result was the slab hut. Nearby trees were cut and then sawed into a suitable length. These were then split into lengths using a maul and wedge. Rafters were erected on top to create a pitched roof that was covered with bark held down by weights.

The slab hut was a relatively quick and ready shelter that while draughty and uncomfortable at least provided a working base.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 September 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters 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, here 2017. 


Johnb said...

A beautiful and functional building Jim constructed out of utilarian materials.
Those commissioning such buildings wanted to make a statement in the landscape and did so to our great enjoyment.

Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, John. It really is a very striking building. And it does indeed add to our great enjoyment. I'm having quite a lot of fun with this architecture series, although it reminds me just how little I know!