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Being Modern: Living in Flats in Interwar Brisbane

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

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Extract

In the period between the First and Second World Wars, Brisbane — in common with most of the ‘Western’ world — embraced a self-conscious modernity: the by-product of nineteenth century industrialisation, imperialism, liberalism and emergent consumerism. Reflected in material and intellectual culture from high art to daily lifestyle, and from the home to the workplace, modernity became the catch-cry and call-sign of the interwar years.

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Research Article
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 

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References

Notes

1 Cf Alpern, Andrew, Apartments for the Affluent: A Historical Survey of Buildings in New York (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975); Building 57(337), 12 September 1935: 22–24; Building 58(348), 12 August 1936: 70; Building 63(376), 24 December 1938: 40–46, 54, 56; John Burnett, A Social History of Housing 1815–1985 2nd edn (London: Methuen, 1986); Elizabeth Hawes, New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869–1930) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993); Anthony Sutcliffe (ed.), Multi-Storey Living: The British Working-Class Experience (London: Croom Helm, 1974).

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2 Sunday Mail, 28 January 1923: 19.

3 Introduced by William Kidston's Liberal-Labor coalition government, The Workers’ Dwellings Act 1909 was nominally directed at low-income earners and officially known as An Act to Enable the Government to Assist Persons in Receipt of Small Incomes to Provide Homes for Themselves. The Act was targeted at low to average income-earners, providing low-interest loans to prospective home-occupiers who already owned land on which to build. The Act empowered the government to fund the scheme by issue of debentures, from which loans of up to two-thirds of the total value of land and house could be provided, no advance to exceed £300. Equity was increased to 75 per cent in 1912 and then to 80 per cent in 1916, and the limit for an advance was raised to £800 in 1919. Loans were repayable over 20 years, at 5 per cent per annum. By emphasising home-building, rather than home-renting or home-buying, the government also sought to stimulate the Queensland building industry. The Act was administered initially by the Workers’ Dwellings Board, then by the Queensland Government Savings Bank, and from 1920 by the State Advances Corporation until the Queensland Housing Commission was established in 1945. The passing of the Workers’ Homes Act of 1919 was intended to assist persons who could not afford to purchase land first. Initially the Act empowered the government to construct model housing estates on Crown land, for rental under perpetual lease to low income earners. Land was acquired for this purpose but no ‘model estates’ eventuated and in 1922 the Act was amended to allow individuals to select the locality, allotment and design of house they preferred. The scheme was generous, offering to persons whose annual income did not exceed £260 advances of up to 95 per cent of the house value, repayable over 25 years at 5 per cent per annum. Land was let on perpetual lease, with rent calculated at 3 per cent per annum on the capital value. In some cases, the land was already freeholded by the applicant, who preferred to take up the perpetual lease option. However, most applicants for government home-buying assistance preferred the Workers’ Dwellings scheme. In the period 1910–36, a total of 16,916 workers’ dwellings were completed in Queensland, compared with 2,282 workers’ homes (from 1923). Workers’ Dwelling Act 1909 amended 1912, 1916, 1919; Workers’ Homes Act 1919 amended 1922; Queensland Government Housing Schemes — Workers’ Dwellings, Workers’ Homes — How to Acquire your Own Home c 1926; State Advances Corporation, Queensland, Twenty-Seventh Annual Report of the Manager for the Year Ended 30 June 1936 (1936), 21.

4 Census of the Commonwealth of Australia 30 June 1933. Part III. Queensland Population. Detailed Tables for Local Government Areas (Canberra: Commonwealth Statistician, 1933), 250–51, 256–57.

5 The population of the Brisbane metropolitan area rose by 50 per cent between 1911 and 1921 (from 139,480 to 209,699) and by 43 per cent between 1921 and 1933 (to 299,748). During the 1930s and 1940s, the rate of increase slowed slightly, with a rise of 34 per cent between 1933 and 1947 (402,172). In 1911, the Brisbane metropolitan area was slightly smaller than that defined in 1921, so the actual increase between 1911 and 1921 was likely just under 50 per cent. However, all the above figures still reflect a rapid rate of population growth, placing considerable strain on urban infrastructure and housing. (Commonwealth censuses of 1911, 1921, 1933 and 1947)

6 Brisbane City Council Health Ordinances 1930 in Queensland Government Gazette, 16 August 1930 CXXXV: 80817.

7 Daily Mail, 4 January 1923: 78.

8 The Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edn (Sydney: Macquarie Library, 1997).

9 Home 1(4), 1 December 1920: 8485.

10 Building 26(152), 12 April 1920: 58.

11 Sunday Mail, 28 January 1923: 34.

12 Cardew, Cf Richard, ‘Flats in Sydney: The Thirty Per Cent Solution?’ In Roe, J. (ed.), Twentieth Century Sydney — Studies in Urban & Social History (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger in association with the Sydney History Group, 1980), 69–88; Donald Dunbar, ‘Controlling Flats: Developments in the 1920s and 1930s’. In Nuts and Bolts, Or Berries. Early Modernist Architecture in Australia (SAHANZ Perth Conference, September 1993), 1–13; Peter Spearritt, Sydney Since the Twenties, Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1978); R. Thompson, Sydney's Flats: A Social and Political History, unpublished PhD Thesis (Sydney: Macquarie University, 1986).

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13 ABJQ 69, 10 September 1926: 1.

14 Brisbane Courier, 19 February 1929: 3.

15 Building 64(380), 24 April 1939: 16–22, 54.

16 In 1933, at the outset of the flat building ‘boom’, the average weekly rent for a Brisbane flat or tenement was 18 shillings and sixpence. However, flats and tenements in the Merthyr census district, which included the popular flat district of New Farm where many modern purpose-built flat buildings had been erected already, averaged considerably higher at 23 shillings and tenpence per week. Census of the Commonwealth of Australia 30 June 1933 Part XXXI Queensland Dwellings. Detailed Tables for Local Government Areas (Canberra: Commonwealth Statistician, 1933): 2048.

17 Cf Home 1(4), 1 December 1920: 85.

18 Brisbane Courier, 17 March 1933; 28 July 1933.

19 Building 55(327), 12 November 1934: 55.

20 Cf Courier-Mail, 1 January 1935: 7; 10 August 1937: 18.

21 Courier-Mail, 26 July 1938: 17.

22 Courier-Mail, 15 September 1933: 7.

23 Courier-Mail, 10 August 1934: 21.

24 Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 30 June 1933. Part XXXI. Queensland Dwellings. Detailed Tables for Local Government Areas (Canberra: Commonwealth Statistician, 1933): 2264, 2269.

25 ibid.: 2048, 2264.

26 ibid.: 2068.

27 Courier-Mail, 25 March 1936: 20.

28 Census of the Commonwealth of Australia 30 June 1933. Census Bulletin No. 19 Summary Relating to Dwellings in the State of Queensland (Canberra: Commonwealth Statistician, 1935): 3, 5; Census of the Commonwealth of Australia 30 June 1933. Part XXXI Queensland Dwellings. Detailed Tables for Local Government Areas (Canberra: Commonwealth Statistician, 1933): 2061.

29 Courier-Mail, 25 March 1936: 20.

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