To some people, Queensland’s familiar timber and tin houses gave Brisbane, and other Queensland cities and towns, a rather temporary, insubstantial air. Known as ‘Queenslanders’, they seemed a little less solid and permanent than homes built using brick or stone. Many Queensland houses were perched high in the air on tall stumps, as the supporting piers were always known as, and seemed likely to simply fly away.
The Queensland house was relatively cost-effective when wood was plentiful, easy to move from place to place, and, in a relatively stable climate, single skin, unlined walls were all that were considered required to protect dwellers~people~the dwellers within} from the cold. Stout corrugated iron roofs withstood torrential tropical rain and was re-usable if taken off by cyclonic winds.
The verandahs sheltered people from the burning sun and caught any breeze that may have been passing in the steamy summer. Covers over window openings meant that windows didn’t need to be quickly shut when humidity brought rain. Clever little revolving tin cylinders on the roofs pulled out hot air that had been drawn into ceiling spaces through decorative fretwork openings.
Although timber isn’t a particularly effective insulator for either heat or cold, air could flow down the long central hallways in a typical Queensland house and across the house from an open window on one side through open doors to the open window on the opposite side. The exterior of some houses were painted, others were simply oiled. Some verandahs were built with elaborate and expensive iron lace; others simply with timber dowels and carved timber decoration in pediments over front stairs.
Despite the impression of seeming impermanence, the Queensland house has survived since its first appearance in the mid-nineteenth century. However, it has evolved. The simple two-room or four-room cottage has given way to much larger, sprawling homes. The pattern of the Queenslander house could be translated into the early types of kit-set homes.
Many were developed by companies in Brisbane and transported long distances as flat-packs on trains. Collections of verandahs, tongue and groove boards for walls and sheets of corrugated iron for roofs were available at their destination for assembling. The public housing movement that produced workers cottages adapted the basic materials to varying shapes and sizes suitable for lower-cost housing.
After the war, the Queenslander seemed out of date in a world of modem architecture. Brick houses, American ranch style residences and other imported styles began to populate new suburbs. However, Brisbane is a hilly city and even modem designs often adapted the idea of stumps so that houses could be close to the ground near the top of a rising allotment and high where the ground sloped away. In the late twentieth century, the old materials, tin and timber, were given new currency by innovative architects to create distinctly modem, light and airy Queensland houses.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when a drift back to the inner suburbs attracted a new generation, old Queenslanders were discovered by younger owners. They painted them lovingly and added various renovations to bring an old favourite into the modem era.
However they originated, whether from sugar planters houses in the West Indies, bungalows in India or high houses in Malaysia, the Queenslander still distinguishes Brisbane from other Australian capital cities.