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‘half the new houses in NSW were being built by their owners’

Martin, M. D.I.Y. Homes insites, Newsletter of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW Winter 1999

By 1952 it was estimated that half of the new houses in NSW were being built by their owners. In post-war Australia, suburban weekends reverberated with the sounds of home building. This was the great era of the owner-builder and do-it-yourself construction. An existing pre-war shortage of housing had soared following the end of the war, as ex-servicemen and women were demobilised and marriage rates rose sharply. In New South Wales the newly established Housing Commission embarked on a large scale programme of public housing and so too did the War Services Homes Commission. But for many people the only way to achieve the dream of home ownership was to build it themselves. Bookstalls offered amateurs' manuals, magazines published house plans and department stores provided home building services. There were correspondence courses, exhibitions, and a proliferation of ready cut building firms. The architectural profession threw itself enthusiastically into the task of post-war construction and devoted significant resources to the planning and design issues associated with small houses.

The Historic Houses Trust research library holds an important representative collection of architectural pattern books and ephemera from this post-war period. From this collection we learn that Bebarfalds, "the great furniture store" opposite the Sydney Town Hall, set up a Home Planning Bureau which displayed "scale model bungalows built to the best of 1945s plans and specifications", offered free copies of the plans of these models and also offered free copies of Bebarfalds' own Spanish Bungalow. The Australian Woman's Weekly published a book of Home plans around 1946 and had no doubt that "with the greatest building boom in history confronting us, no finer contribution to the individual needs and desires of home-hungry people could be made than this 68-page book of modern home plans". There were other similar publications in the late 1940s with titles like Practical homes, Prize-winning designs for your post-war asbestos-cement home and Selected home designs planned for additions. This latter title offered a way of building a small house in a time of shortages but still keeping alive the dream of something grander.

By 1952 it was estimated that half of the new houses in NSW were being built by their owners. Department stores and newspapers joined forces to cater to this market. In the early 1950s Grace Bros' Home Plans Service and the Daily Telegraph published a series of folded sheets each containing 20 or 30 home plans. Grace Bros' Homes Plans Service was located in the furniture department of their Broadway store and included a service whereby "trained and qualified architectural staff " were in attendance during store hours to provide free advice for all home building problems. The Service maintained a stock of approximately 500 plans of nearly 50 designs which had been featured either in the Sunday Telegraph or in leaflets on sale in the service office and a new stock plan was featured each week in the Sunday Telegraph.

Similar folded plans entitled Homes for every taste were published by the Small Homes Service established by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in conjunction with the Australian Home Beautiful magazine in the mid 1950s. This service was situated on the fifth floor of David Jones' store at the corner of George and Barrack Streets. At Anthony Horderns store on Brickfield Hill, a Home Plans Bureau offered prospective home builders plans and specifications for any of the houses included in a book of plans published in association with the Truth newspaper.

There are many other examples. Most of these pattern books and brochures are modest publications. They are not printed on glossy paper, rarely include colour except on the cover page and almost never include coloured photographs. Yet for all their homeliness they have a powerful ability to evoke the hopes and dreams of Australians in the post-war period.

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