To some people, Queensland’s distinctive timber and tin homes lent Brisbane, and other Queensland cities and rural areas, a particular 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 placed high in the air on tall stumps, as the supporting piers have been called, and it was fancied they seemed likely to simply fly away.
The Queensland house was comparatively cost-effective when trees were plentiful, easy to move from place to place, and, in a relatively calm climate, single skin, unlined walls were all that were considered needed to protect dwellers~people~the dwellers within} from cold. Sturdy corrugated iron roofs withstood heavy tropical rain and could be re-used if dislodged by cyclonic winds.
The verandahs sheltered people from the burning sun and also caught any breeze that may have been passing in the steamy summer. Shades over window openings meant that windows didn’t have to be closed when humidity brought rain. Clever little revolving tin cylinders on the roofs pulled out hot air that filled ceiling spaces through decorative fretwork openings.
Although timber isn’t a particularly effective insulator against either heat or cold, air could flow along long central hallways in the typical Queensland house and also across the house from an open window on one side through open doors to the open window on the opposite side. Some exteriors 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 the front stairs.
Despite the air of apparent impermanence, the Queenslander 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 large, sprawling homes. The pattern of the Queenslander house can be translated into the early types of kit-set homes.
Many were created by companies in Brisbane and transported long distances almost 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 ingredients to differing 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After the war, the Queenslander seemed out of date in a world of modem architecture.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 angled 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 homes.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when a drift back towards the inner suburbs attracted the attention of 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 the other Australian capital cities.