The ubiquitous fibro house

A shortage of building materials after the end of World War II, combined with an acute post-war rental housing shortage, saw the increased use of one of the wonder products of the twentieth century: fibro.

44 court st circa 1960

My childhood home at 44 Court Street, Windsor, c1960. My mother Iris Cammack is in the driveway. The house now has a brick facade. Photo Bert Hornery (my uncle).

While building figures in Windsor revealed that from 1930 to 1936 seventy timber and fibro cottages were built for a cost of £23,419 (approximately £335 per house), by 1948 the cost of building a basic two-bedroom fibro house had increased to approximately £1,100. The same house with land could not be purchased for less than £1,600. By the end of 1958, Wunderlich had produced ‘a vertical grooved sheet…in tune with modern design…which brings real glamour to the most economical of building materials’. At the peak of the 1950s housing boom, one-third of new homes were owner-built and most were constructed of fibro with timber frames. Many had corrugated fibro or iron roofs, but terracotta roof tiles were gradually becoming more popular.

Building contractors and owner-builders found that it was easy to extend or renovate a fibro house and although considered a little bit ‘low class’, one big advantage of fibro was that it was fire-resistant. With fibro or timber strap work covering the joins, fibro was popular for houses, garages, sheds and shops and was painted with Kalsomine in pastel colours of cream, baby blue, green, pink or white. For many, the concept of freshly-painted white walls with red roof tiles represented an ‘overall effect of cleanliness’.

One drawback to living in a fibro house is that fibro does not insulate as well as brick and the rooms are freezing in winter. However, the fibro era was about cheap, modest, affordable housing and home ownership and to some, the fibro house ‘was stunning in its excellence…a complete house…in its own garden’.

Fibro house 2 Dec 2015 edit

My article published in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 2 December 2015.

Fibro became an expression of the Australian identity. Artist Reg Mombassa comments that fibro was ‘the wonder building material of the 1950s and 1960s…inexpensive, durable and ubiquitous’, while the author, Patrick White, writes that ‘at night the fibro homes reverberated’ with the noise and excitement of families.

The house at 44 Court Street, Windsor, built by local builder Arthur Mullinger in 1952 for Iris and Alf Cammack, epitomised for the owners the dream of a detached dwelling on one level on a large, quarter-acre block in the town. No 44 had red terracotta roof tiles, nine foot ceilings, a large lounge room with a brick fireplace, separate dining room and kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, laundry (with second toilet) and a rear verandah which was later converted into a third bedroom. The block of land allowed room for the building of a large garage by the owner, as well as poultry, fruit trees and extensive gardens. Fibro, for many post-war ‘baby-boomers’, is a reminder of the Australian suburban backyard associated with memories of growing up with space to dream, run and play.

copyright Carol Roberts

References:

Carol Roberts, ‘When fibro was norm’, Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 2 December 2015.

Pickett, Charles. The Fibro Frontier: a different history of Australian architecture, Powerhouse Publishing and Doubleday, Haymarket, Sydney, 1997.

‘New record, Windsor building figures, big 1936 increase’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 22 January 1937, National Library of Australia Trove Article 86044095, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 26 September 2015.

‘Fibro house’, Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, 31 August 1948, National Library of Australia Trove Article18083078, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 26 September 2015.

‘Fibro retains its lead’, Western Herald, Friday, 12 December 1958, National Library of Australia Trove Article 103993038, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 26 September 2015.

Family information from Carol Roberts (daughter of Iris and Alf Cammack), at cjr5711@bigpond.com.

Photograph of Iris Cammack in front of 44 Court Street, Windsor, c1960, courtesy of Carol Roberts (photograph by Bert Hornery).

My Anzac Day Heroes

tumblr_static_poppy__1_Our family was fortunate in that, of the family members who served in World Wars I and II and in Government or Defence Service, only one was killed in action. That one was my grandfather, Private Walter Cammack 203661 who was killed on 1 April 1918, aged 33, in France while serving with the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, 1st/5th Battalion. He is buried in the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, in France. As mentioned in an earlier blogpost, I was approached by the Horncastle (Lincolnshire) Civic Society two years ago to provide information and photographs about my grandfather (who came from Horncastle) for a commemorative booklet the society published in September 2014. Here are some extracts from the article:

‘Walter, one of six children of Alfred and Eva Cammack, was born at Horncastle in 1884. His father was a hairdresser with premises in the Market Place and had two youths working for him. Alfred then went into the business of making and selling bicycles. By the 1890s, bicycles had become popular and an everyday means of transport for many people.’

‘Walter was educated at Horncastle Grammar School and went to work in the grocery trade. He was employed as an apprentice grocer by Lunn & Dodson of Horncastle, who were wholesale and family grocers and salt merchants with retail premises in Bridge Street and a large warehouse off Bridge Street. They were also Insurance Agents for the Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Co. Walter continued in the grocery business and around 1905 he left Horncastle, whether for work or other reasons is not known.’

‘In 1908 Walter married Ellen Harper at Nottingham. They went to live in Warsop, Nottinghamshire and the census of 1911 records them at 14 Sherwood Street, Warsop. Walter was then working as a grocery assistant. He later went to work as a clerk for Warsop Colliery. Walter and Ellen had four children: Walter Frederick born Nottingham in 1909, Dorothy May born 1910 at Alfreton, Derbyshire [Ellen’s home town], Alfred arrived in 1913 and Frances Marjorie in 1917, both born in Warsop.’

‘In 1916, Walter was called up to the Army. He enlisted in Nottingham and joined the local regiment known as the Sherwood Foresters. He was in France and around July/August 1917 he wrote to his parents in Horncastle and gave them the following account of his recent experience:

“We raided the German trenches the other morning going ‘over the top’ at 2 am. We had our Lewis Gun with us and our job was to stop on Fritz’s parapet with the gun on our left flank while the rest of the Company raided his front lines. We got across alright and it seemed as if Hell was let loose for a bit until we got the signal to return. I was carrying a bag of bombs and they tripped me up into a hole and by the time I had sorted myself out my party had disappeared in the darkness. Fritz was letting go all over the place and by that time I’d lost my direction absolutely. I crawled into a shell hole and found two more of our fellows – lost the same as myself. We knew we could not get back by daylight so we decided after a fit to crawl in what was the direction of our lines. After wriggling along for some time we came up against some barbed wire and somebody opened fire on us. We soon found out that we were in front of Fritz’s line. I rolled over and dropped into a shell hole. It was just breaking day then so I had to lie in that hole all day. I didn’t know until after what happened to the other two chaps. I have never known such a long day as that was. I’d nothing to eat or drink and I daren’t smoke as the Germans were so near I could hear them talking. I just had to lie still and wait for darkness. To put the lid on it started to rain in the early evening. When it got dark again I crawled out of my hole and started the journey – on my stomach – for our lines. Fritz was sending up lights every few seconds making ‘no man’s land’ bright as day. Every time the lights went up I had to lie still. The machine gun bullets were pinging over my head and rifle grenades dropping all over the place. It took me all night to get through to our lines. I was not touched except for a slight tap on the knee with a bit off a rifle grenade. Our chaps were surprised to see me as I had been reported missing.”

‘Walter did not make it back home to Warsop. He would have had several more months of fighting before he was killed in action in France, 1st April 1918. He may have lived just long enough to see the Germans start their retreat and to know that an allied victory would be won.’

On a previous occasion, I was also in contact with the Nottinghamshire County Council as they set up an online Roll of Honour, as my grandparents and their four children were living in Nottinghamshire when my grandfather was called up. Walter Cammack’s name is also on the War Memorial in Warsop, in Nottinghamshire. My grandfather was working as a Foreman in one of the collieries. It is great that such initiatives are up and running and that he has not been forgotten in his home town or the place where he worked.  Horncastle, though, is the traditional home of the Cammack clan and has been for generations, going back beyond Dr Richard Cammack who served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy in the mid-1800s.

St Peter and St Paul Church Warsop 2

Horncastle, Lincolnshire, War Memorial

W Cammack 03
Walter Cammack, killed France, 1 April 1918

Walter Cammack war memorial 2

So, my Anzac Day Heroes start with my few greats-grandfather, Navy Doctor Cammack. Come down a couple of generations to my grandfather, Walter Cammack (pictured above), down another generation to my father, Sergeant Alfred Cammack (RAAF), and his brother, Warrant Officer Walter Frederick Cammack (RAAF).

Left: Warrant Officer Walter Frederick Cammack (RAAF) 1942

Right: Sergeant Alfred Cammack (RAAF) c1939

Next, down to my first husband, Corporal Barry Vance (RAAF) who died from Leukaemia in 1977 after being involved in the RAAF Deseal/Reseal Project on the F111s at RAAF Base Amberley. Barry was an electrical fitter and the photograph below is taken from his graduation from 53 ELECFITT Course in November 1970, when he was 23.

Barry ElecFitt Course 1970 3

Corporal Barry James Vance (RAAF)

So, these are my Anzac Day Heroes and the people I will be remembering on Anzac Day. Alongside these though, is someone else I will never forget: my brother, Neil Cammack, who died in 2010. Neil served his country in another way – he was for many years a National Account Manager with Telstra (based in Canberra) and he was the man who ensured Defence’s Telstra telephone communications stayed up-to-date and operational.

 

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Neil Cammack 1942-2010

 

So, these are just a few of my family who are no longer around and this is why Anzac Day has become a special day in the lives of myself and other family members.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

copyrightby Carol Roberts