Weatherboard

My first weatherboard, Nambour

I was born in a weatherboard house.

Well, not actually in the house. I was born in the hospital down the road.

The doctor who’d delivered me dropped in on Dad on his way home. They were old army comrades, so the doctor walked straight into the house, into the bedroom and shook Dad awake.

“You have a baby daughter,” he told him.

“That’s good,” said Dad, and went straight back to sleep.

Dad was an excellent sleeper.

Ours was a post-war weatherboard house, almost ground-level at the front and on high stumps at the back. For the first year or so the timber was oiled brown, because there was a paint shortage post-war. My earliest memories are of that house, and I love that simple wooden style still, with the elegance of its horizontal lines of overlapping boards, layered to keep the rain out. No fretwork or iron lace, just some battens, perhaps, or geometrical woodwork trims. It’s how they built through the depression, wartime and post-war years.

As a teenager, my mother lived in Landsborough, in a late nineteenth century timber house. It’s still there, beside the road to Maleny. It has verandahs round three sides, pretty timber fretwork on the many verandah posts, a fancy front door, French doors on to the verandah, and a separate kitchen out the back.

My mother’s family’s house in Landsborough

In the vandalistic years of the 1960s and 1970s I mourned for these charming houses as Brisbane bulldozers knocked them down to be replaced by brick six-pack blocks of flats or pretentious mansions.

Now they are valued, for their charm and for their timber. Irreplaceable hardwoods from Queensland forests.

There are mid-twentieth century weatherboard houses by the thousands across Brisbane and the regions, and they have proved their durability.

Derelict, but still standing – weatherboard cottage in Oxley

They sprawl across the outer-inner suburbs (or is it inner-outer?) such as Kedron, Holland Park, Moorooka and Tarragindi. Many of them are simple housing commission houses, now valued for their location and for their solid timber construction. In the old streets of Holland Park the street plantings of the period, jacarandas and poinsettias, are now gnarled, shady and beautiful; and young families build cubby houses in huge backyard mango trees.

Holland Park houses
Weatherboard house in Ashgrove that my parents lived in in the 1970s, since beautifully renovated

My Dad’s family lived in a 1920s-30s weatherboard beauty in Nambour, with gables, timber arches and a handsome staircase.

My father’s family house, William Street, Nambour; since removed

It was sold for removal, years ago. That’s another feature of timber houses: they can be cut up, loaded on a truck, moved to another town and put back together again. I’m always amused when driving through Burpengary at the sight of all the houses perched up on blocks there, ready for sale, just like items in a shop. Many of these houses come from the rapidly developing suburbs of Brisbane, and they’re often moved to subdivisions in nearby regional areas. A tricky business, always undertaken at night when the roads are quiet.

In Woodford, the old school house we’d been living in was sold for removal, to make way for a new administration block for the school.

Under the old timber Woodford school house, lifted up and ready to be towed away.

Many grand, two-storied, verandahed country hotels were built of timber, because there was so much hardwood available in Queensland forests early last century. Now it would be impossibly expensive, and the hardwood would probably be imported from Papua New Guinea or Indonesia’s threatened forests.

In Killarney, on the south-eastern Darling Downs, Killarney Hotel is proof of the durability of hardwoods. I spent a couple of nights in that fine old weatherboard building, several years ago, and heard from the publican about all the times that the Condamine River, only a couple of hundred metres behind the hotel, has risen up and flooded it. And yet it stands, still providing beer and beds.

Killarney Hotel. Trees in the background mark the Condamine River

I like the charming timber public buildings in the regions, such as the spectacular Surat Shire Hall, built in 1929; the School of Arts, Mount Morgan, built in 1924 and setting up for early voting when we visited; Ravenswood Courthouse, a tropical-style government building dating from 1884 and now a museum; quaint Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Theodore, dedicated in 1934, that I spotted on a recent road trip down the Leichhardt Highway; the pretty Emerald Railway Station, dating from 1900.

Shire Hall, Surat
Mount Morgan School of Arts and Library
Ravenswood Courthouse and Museum
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Theodore

 With the distances involved and cost of transport, with economic stress and the problem of termites, in some parts of the state, especially in the tropics, other building materials have been used in preference to timber. Concrete is popular in the north, and so is fibro; and earlier last century, corrugated iron. I’m pleased I haven’t had to spend a summer in a house made of corrugated iron.

Corrugated iron and weatherboard side by side in Saint Lawrence, Central Queensland
Derelict corrugated iron farmhouse outside Babinda

Starting with the Nambour house where I was born, I’ve lived in twelve timber houses, including six school residences dating from the early 1900s to the late 1970s. I now live in a mid-1970s house of brick and weatherboard, so I haven’t gone all that far from my origins.

Brick – and weatherboard

There won’t be many more of these Queensland hardwood houses built.

Perhaps we should all plant eucalypts in our back yards. In a hundred years’ time, they’ll be worth their enormous weight in gold.

Windmills and Whale Tails

 

Hervey Bay: famous for senior citizens and whale watching. Its whale sculptures are beautiful, too.

On Main Street an eight-metre-tall, iron bark and stainless-steel humpback whale called Nala is breaching. A life-sized aluminium whale’s tail, flukes outspread, stands in the middle of an Esplanade roundabout garden – Nala’s baby.

This is public art at its most engaging.

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Some public art in regional areas is dismal. It’s as if the council wanted a piece of sculpture to enhance the town and commissioned the mayor’s brother-in-law to knock something together with chicken wire and concrete.

Things are changing.

Fine public art is popping up across Queensland, some of it by internationally-renowned sculptors.

In Boonah, south-west of Brisbane, a larger than life sized Clydesdale horse stands in a park at the entrance to town. Scottish sculptor Andy Scott is most famous for his thirty-metre-high horses’ heads, The Kelpies – Scotland’s best-known works of public art. He built the Boonah horse to celebrate the draught horses that once worked here. Made from galvanized steel bars, the horse stands alertly, its ears pricked, as if ready to trot forward to greet the visitor.

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Towns need a visual focal point like this horse, something iconic to use in advertising material, something to attract business and tourism. Something to be proud of.

Across Queensland there are many intriguing pieces of public art by Christopher Trotter, and there’s one of them in Boonah, too: the quirky Blumbergville Town Clock, with a steam whistle that blows on the hour. It’s constructed in steam-punk style from old printing press parts, water pipes, bits of agricultural machinery and horse shoes.

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Trotter’s sculptured plants and fungi, sinuous and organic, made from pipes, tractor seats, cement mixer bowls and scraps of farm machinery, decorate the entrance to the Mackay Botanical Gardens in North Queensland.

On the banks of the Condamine River in Warwick, on the southern Darling Downs, is a plump, granite sculpture of Tiddalik, the frog of Aboriginal legend who swallows all the water in the land, then lets it gush out in a flood. Carved from a fifteen tonne granite boulder, when the Condamine floods Tiddalik goes under water.

My daughter Lizzie and her family, driving back to Brisbane on the New England Highway, were delayed by floods there.

She sent me a text: “The Condamine is lapping at the bridge, all the locals out to see it, the statue of Tiddalik with only his eyes visible above the floodwater.”

Mitchell, west of Roma, has an attractive main street of old pubs, bottle trees and parks. There are murals on its bridge pylons, decorative ceramic pavers, mosaics of fish and birds on the sidewalk, and concrete kangaroos reclining in front of the shops.

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There’s a fine windmill in the small historical park in the main street. If art is something that evokes a response from its viewers and brings to mind a way of life and landscape, then this windmill is art.

The focus on art in Mitchell interests me, and I spoke to a local resident to find out how it came to be there.

“It was in the old Booringa Shire Council days, before we amalgamated with Roma,” he said. You could tell that amalgamation with Roma had been unpopular with this former council worker.

“The old council wanted to make the most of the main street, so they put some money and thought into it, and this is the result. We need tourists to stop for a while, spend a little money in the town.”

The large amounts of money put into public art by local councils and government bodies (sometimes only after much heated debate about costs) are an investment in much-needed tourism.

In Emerald, there’s a giant copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” on a ten metre high easel. Childers has quaint bronze owls in the main street. Cairns has attractive water-front sculptures. The tiny town of Ravenswood, between Ayr and Charters Towers, has gorgeous ceramic tiles of birds, animals and plants all over its picnic tables, so beautiful they deserve far more people to see them.

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Diver, Cairns

The little town of Millaa Millaa, on the southern Atherton Tableland is in lush, hilly country once famous for dairy. In the main street is the statue called “The Reluctant Cow”. There’s a farmer straining to push a cow into the milking bail, a cattle dog and an upset milk bucket. When we were there a kid from South Australia was helping the farmer to push while his family took a photo.

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Regional public art at its most loveable.

Photos: Windmill, Mitchell; “Nala”, Hervey Bay; Horse, Boonah; “Blumbergville Clock”, Boonah; Kangaroos, Mitchell; Sunflowers, Emerald; “Diver”, Cairns; “The Reluctant Cow”, Millaa Millaa.

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