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

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

History Revisited - the changing face of Armidale architecture

PRESERVATION: The practical effect of these various changes was the preservation of a remarkably high proportion of the varied  housing stock within the old city boundaries and especially the older houses. 
In part one of my story of Armidale’s transformation, I said that the city began with good bones, a creek and two hills.

The demolition of the old gaol and the construction of the Armidale Teachers’ College provided a building on one hill that was large enough to be monumental but did not dominate the town. This was potentially matched by the parklands on North Hill, although their development was slow and somewhat patchy.

The area now known as the Creeklands began as private land along the creek, but was also used for recreational purposes such as the first golf club, sometimes creating conflict. Over time, the land transferred to public ownership.

The potential use of the Creeklands as public space was always there. However, the Creeklands as we know them today did not exist in 1963.

Following the end of the Second World War, the Australian population grew rapidly. There were shortages of building materials, while governments struggled to provide services.

Armidale shared the shortages, but initially lagged the population growth. The great Wool Boom that began in 1947 increased rural incomes and consequently town business. However, limited government resources initially limited the growth of the city’s two tertiary colleges.

By the early 1950s, growth was underway. School numbers were increasing, as were student and staff numbers at both the Teachers’ College and University College. Building and construction were also growing.

This growth had a number of features that would be important to Armidale’s subsequent transformation.

Both the Teachers’ College and University College were residential. Pending the establishment and growth of the on-campus college system, students were placed in town houses. This protected some of the old larger homes that might otherwise have been demolished.

The residential requirement had another effect too. In the 1920s during an earlier period of rapid Sydney expansion, the member for Amidale David Drummond quipped that if God had invented the country and man the city, then the Devil had invented the suburbs and built flats.

There was some truth in that. Australian architecture in the 1950s was mediocre. In Sydney, the spreading flats were quite ugly. The requirement that students live on campus initially limited flat construction in Armidale.

As residential requirements were relaxed at the University, flats did begin to appear to house students and single staff, as well as other singles or couples drawn to Armidale by its growth. However, many students in particular went into smaller investor owned rented weatherboard homes in the main city area, effectively preserving them.

For their part. the new staff coming to Armidale after the War began living in rental accommodation before buying or building. Given the size of the city, there was not a lot of choice, nor were housing expectations as high as they are today. Some purchased existing cottages and later extended them, others rented the older, larger homes now being released by the University, still others built new homes on vacant land within the city or, more frequently, outside the city boundaries.

The practical effect of these various changes was the preservation of a remarkably high proportion of the varied if somewhat polyglot housing stock within the old city boundaries. This was central to the transformation now underway. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 January 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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