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

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

New England's built landscape - building order in the bush

Vision: John James Galloway, the surveyor who created the core street patterns for many inland New England towns.This is the ninth in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture.

Next post.

The golden age of New England homestead construction that began in the 1800s and extended to the outbreak of the First World War also saw expansion in town building.

Like the homesteads, the first town buildings were roughly constructed from timber slabs with bark roofs near main tracks and water supplies. Those little centres were straggly places.

At Armidale, the biggest Northern settlement outside the lower Hunter in 1851, horse races were held in the dusty main street, while stringybark huts dotted the landscape. It was a rough and ready male dominated place. Order needed to be imposed.

To the Government in Sydney, order was necessary to allow proper registration of land title and collection of revenue from land sales. The Government was also concerned about the development of private as opposed to official townships. Surveyors were appointed to undertake the necessary mapping.

Born in Leith, Scotland, in 1818, John James Galloway came to Australia with his family in 1837. In 1847 he was appointed surveyor for New England and Gwydir and setting about his task of imposing order. In so doing, he created the basic grid structure that would underpin the later streetscape in inland New England.

Sometimes he had to compromise. When he surveyed Armidale in 1848, Galloway had to deal with existing buildings. The grid was meant to run north-south, east west, but Galloway was forced to shift this slightly to accommodate those building, giving Armidale streets in the old city that slight skew that exists today.

The area covered by the grid pattern that would become the Armidale municipality and then city was limited in size to a bit over 3.2 square miles, 2,060 acres, on the old measurement. It remained this way until 1961 when the city boundaries were finally extended.

You can see the effects today if you look at a map. The old city grid is clearly evident, set within the more varied surround of later developments.

A government desire for order was not the only force at work. In social terms, the male oriented frontier society was progressively replaced by families who (and especially the women) demanded an ordered society and increasing comfort. Shops, schools and churches were needed, while those who could afford it began to demand bigger, more ornate dwellings.

The result was a period of town construction that gave us much of the built landscape that we value today. To a degree, the pattern of that built landscape is all about money, as well as time, materials and changing fashion and technology..

In my next column, I will look further at the evolution of that built landscape.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 1 November 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.  

3 comments:

Johnb said...

I have to confess Jim that I have always found Armidale a town difficult to come to grips with, from the East you arrive via a magnificent processional avenue that for me dissolves on arrival. I have driven around trying to find the heart of the town that announces ‘this is Armidale’ and never really felt I had arrived. When you look down on the town from Drummond Park you see the contiguous ‘sheds’ of the various Retail outlets and the scattered prestige buildings which are of great interest but are isolated from each other. Glen Innes, Uralla and even Guyra, if you remember to turn onto Bradley Street, all announce to you that you have arrived in town and here we are. Perhaps I am missing the essential and next time I will feel, yes this is Armidale and I have arrived.

Jim Belshaw said...

You may not. Armidale has lost a degree of visual coherence, especially from the air and the main drags. The drive from the south still gives the best views. You use of the word sheds is appropriate. The various planning and investment decisions have destroyed to coherence of Beardy Street as centre. The "modern" shopping centres are quite nondescript even at ground level. From the lookout, they reveal nothing but shed roofs. Some things to think about there. It's happened to other bigger centres as well

Johnb said...

Yes Jim, for me there has been a loss of historical continuity, I welcome the new and see it as essential to the future of any community but not at the cost of obliterating a communities past. One of the great differences I see between European Settlement in Australia and in the United States has been that those who came to Australia came, in the main, to settle permanently and built to match that commitment to their new country. Immigrants to the US, in the main, had an ambition to get rich and return. Travelling through both you can still see that difference in ambition expressed in their respective built landscapes. What appears to be happening in Oz is the adoption of the US get rich quick philosophy and that sense of impermanence it brings with it.