One of the distinctive features of Brisbane is the style of the housing, which is quite different to that of Sydney and Melbourne and the southern states.
The classic Brisbane house style is what is known as a “Queenslander” – and this style is classically styled as a painted timber house with a wide veranda and galvanised tin iron roof built on stumps or stilts (posts), the idea being to allow air to flow under the house and therefore cool it.
A front stairway – some elaborate and some not would lead to the main house.
The elaborate Queenslanders have a wooden stairway from two sides leading to a central landing half way up, with the top half of the stairs leading directly to the wide veranda above, which might have louver shutter doors at the top of the stairs too, or some decorative timber work to create the feeling of an arched doorway. The less elaborate ones would have a single stairway leading to the main floor of the house – sometimes directly facing the street, and other times to the left or right side of the house.
All the ‘Queenslander’ bigger houses would have a full wrap around veranda, but all would at least have a front veranda and most likely a side veranda too.
A big open central hallway would lead to bedrooms on either side of the hallway, with the kitchen and bathrooms at the rear of the house. In earlier days, the toilet would have been an ‘outhouse’, but that is no longer the case. Timber floors, walls and even high wooden ceilings would complete the picture, with the bedrooms often having side doors to the verandas for extra cooling. Many of the houses also used pressed metal ceilings too, often with intricate patterns, and sometimes Australiana designs with birds and flowers in them.
A metal ceiling rose would often be in each room, with lights hanging from their centre, and wooden fretwork might also be seen above the doorways, the opening also allowing the breeze to flow through. Access to the roof space would be through a manhole in a assessable location.
The whole house would be painted on the outside, often white, and the open veranda would possibly have cast iron filigree panels as its street front, with a railing above it, or a series of decorative wooden timberwork separating the top and bottom railings.
On the ground level, more decorative timberwork, possibly designed in an archway shape would define the distance between each stump, stilt or post.
Over the past 50 years or so, the stilts or stumps have been replaced by cement and/or brick piers, and in turn many of the Veranda areas have been enclosed to create added bedrooms and other rooms – at one time these additional bedrooms were referred to as ‘sleepouts’.
The ground floors that once were under the house, are also being used more for parking cars, and additional living space too with rooms being added in the previously open space.
Another feature that you might see too are pressed metal hoods over the top of side windows to provide added shade to the bedrooms inside. These often have decorative features too. Also windows may have stained glass as a feature, and lattice panelling on veranda sides may also be evident.
Classic Queenslander housing can be seen all over Brisbane in the older suburbs and together with the sub-tropical plantings of palms and shady trees create great streetscapes.
In areas of flood, the house being high off the ground enabled floods to pass underneath the house, and occasionally you will see some of the houses in flood areas, built up even higher, based on past levels of flood coming too close to the main house.
The ‘Queenslander’ style of building also flowed on to hotels (pubs) too, and the best example of this is the Regatta Hotel on Coronation Drive in Toowong, overlooking the Brisbane River (see www.regattahotel.com.au ). Another is the Brekky Creek Hotel on Kingsford Smith Drive in Hamilton (see www.breakfastcreekhotel.com ). Both hotels have become almost symbolic of Brisbane, with Brisbane’s or more correctly Queensland’s favourite brand of beer being XXXX ( pronounced 4EX). The XXXX Brewery is on Milton Rd in Milton, and also a landmark in Brisbane, around 15 minutes from the city centre.
In the city centre there are a number of outstanding Stone buildings – such as the Treasury Building, Customs House, Parliament House, City Hall and various churches too, but very little remains from the early convict times. The Commissariat Store Museum (built by convicts in 1829) dates back to this time however (Refer Things to See), and also the Old Windmill (built in 1828) the oldest building in Queensland. The windmill is located on Wickham Terrace in Spring Hill, and was originally a flour mill, with sails on top, powered partly by the wind in the sails and also by convicts on a treadmill (Australia’s first fitness centre!)
There are only a few older Victorian houses in Brisbane from the early days of settlement that still exist – the best known one being Newstead House in Newstead (see places to see), and three others are Miegunyah House, Wolston House and Ormiston House.
Miegunyah House is now a museum and located at 35 Jordan Terrace in Bowen Hills. It is open a few times during the week (Tel: 32 52 2979) and has a wide veranda with iron lace balustrades, columns and friezes. Inside it has been furnished as it would have been originally – with bedrooms, kitchen and sitting rooms all providing a glimpse into life as it was when the house was first built.
Wolston House is located half way to Ipswich to the west of the city in the suburb of Wacol (223 Grindle Rd, Wacol, Tel: 3223 666). The farmhouse was built in sandstone and brick and was constructed in the 1850’s. It is open only on Sundays and is also now a museum, with rooms set up to show what life was like back in the mid 1800’s.
Ormiston House is located on Wellington Street in Ormiston, in the Redlands area and was built between 1858 and 1865. It was the original home of Captain Honourable Louis Hope, who established a 325 Acre Sugarcane plantation in Queensland at Ormington, even building a Sugar Mill there too. The home is now a museum and opened on Sundays and special occasions (Tel: (07) 3286 1425) It has a wide veranda and beautiful gardens surrounding it, and inside all the rooms have been furnished as they would have been in the 1860’s.
Government House at 168 Fernberg Rd, Paddington is the home of the Queensland Governor, and about 30 minutes from the city centre. (Tel: (07) 3858 5700). Unfortunately it is only open to the public maybe once or twice a year, but glimpses of it can be seen from the Roadway. The house was first built in 1864 in stone quarried locally for Johann Heussler, a sugar merchant and later parliamentarian, and then later extended in the 1880’s by a new owner, John Stevenson, who installed the Robert the Bruce stained glass window above the stairway, and added the towers at the front, recreating the building in an Italianate style. The first Queensland Governor to take up residence was Governor, Sir William MacGregor in 1910. The house sits on 14 hectares of grounds and has ponds, a gazebo and a small number of other buildings located here too. The Fowl Yard and cow shed, chooks and cows who supplied eggs and milk to the house are unfortunately no longer in residence.
If you are in Sydney or Melbourne, you will see rows of Terrace and semi- detached houses, built in the style of the thousands of terrace rows in England and Scotland, but Brisbane has very few of these.
In the early days of Australian settlement, there was little or nothing in the way of sewerage systems and rubbish disposal as we know it today, which meant that the risk of disease and even the possibility of rats and the plague were a commonly held fear. In fact the plague swept through the Rocks and inner west suburbs of Sydney in 1900, and many of the older slum dwellings in the Rocks area were destroyed as the authorities quarantined areas to remove the rats and stop the death toll rising.
The fear of disease was very real, and in the 1880-90’s a number of Quarantine stations were built off the coast of Brisbane on Peel, St Helena, Stradbroke Islands and Lytton.
In Brisbane, Parliament passed an Act in 1885 called the “Undue sub-division of land Preservation Act 1885” to make sure that land sub-divisions were of a size that could accommodate single dwellings and not attached housing. The object was to stop close proximity housing being built – ie slum housing! This Act required new residential blocks to have an area of 16 Perches (404 sq metres) and a minimum frontage of 30 feet (10 metres). Perches and Roods were measurements used in Queensland for more than a century, one rood being 40 perches, with four roods to the acre, which is 4046.86 square metres.
Only a small number of Terrace houses were built in Brisbane, and these can still be seen today. Most lay derelict for many years, but in the last 30 years, they have been restored and gentrified, making them some of the most attractive buildings in Brisbane.
In George Street in the city there are three storey grand style ‘George Street Mansions’ built in the 1890’s with arches and columns at the front of them and ‘Harris Terrace’, and just near the city on Petrie Terrace a row of terraces called appropriately ‘Petrie Terrace’, and on Coronation Drive in Milton a row called ‘Cook’s Terrace’, which for many years formed cheap student accommodation, before being restored to their present state. There are also a few isolated blocks of terraces on the southside.
As Brisbane developed, the single houses on individual blocks of land became a predominant feature of Brisbane suburbia, spreading out the west, north and south of the city.
Since the 1960’s however, unit blocks and townhouses have interspersed the houses, and now there are many high rise city apartments too.
The original description of Brisbane was that it was ‘like a big country town’, but that description no longer fits as a description of Brisbane, which has now taken on a more sophisticated city appearance and lifestyle.
Brisbane however still retains its unique character and is quite different to its sister state cities – Sydney and Melbourne in the south and its access to the Gold Coast beaches and Sunshine Coast beaches and lifestyle, as well as the semi- tropical climate make it an interesting city to spend time in.
Like all cities, Brisbane is changing its character as the city evolves, but the Queenslander housing style is still apparent, even though the newer suburbs have moved away from this style and we are now seeing more and more townhouses, unit blocks, high rise apartments and gated community estates developing, while on the Gold Coast there are canal estates too.
Where once there was a clear separation between Brisbane and the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast towns, this is now less apparent, as development slowly links Brisbane to both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and also to inland cities such as Ipswich and Beaudesert.
We hope you enjoy your time in Brisbane.