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).