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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Craftsmanship in Old Houses

MURWILLUMBAH is a smallish town in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, not far from where I live. Sugar cane, paddocks dotted with dairy and beef cattle, banana farms and orchards, occasional rainforest: all create a kaleidoscope surrounding the town.

For me, though, much of its charm rests with the old houses which have been preserved or simply left alone to survive in the area, creating a little pocket of the history of Australian architecture.

Many of the houses still display the intricate craftsmanship of the early woodworkers who displayed their talents in the details that were part of the design of so many of the early buildings.

The stained glass window, and the carved details at the top of the verandah posts and the picket fence are typical of many houses.

Much of the original architecture includes many pre-Federation and Art Deco buildings contributing to a charm rare in our time. Many of the old pubs are still there in the generally historic streetscape, despite a devastating fire in the centre in 1907.

There is a cinema that boasts art house films and a choice of theatre chairs or beanbags for patrons. In contrast, the newly extended Tweed River Art Gallery sits atop a hill just outside the town, its contemporary design still in harmony with the green surrounds.

This little beauty of a similar era survives because it has become a health centre.

More detail in the woodwork - hearts this time - and again, stained glass is featured here.

Mount Warning, the plug of an extinct volcano towers over Murwillumbah, and it's now surrounded with land twisted into interesting shapes by its former fiery activity.

Bundjalung Aborigines thrived in this haven prior to European settlement. The town was first surveyed in 1872.

Cedar getters provided the first industry in the 1840s, but the human influence is more benign today. The highway and railway line have abandoned the town, leaving a more peaceful environment where artists thrive, cafes and restaurants abound and small businesses concentrate on providing good old fashioned service.

Murwillumbah is still the seat of Tweed Shire Local Government with the Civic and Cultural Centre situated in Tumbulgum Road. The locals affectionately call it Mur-bah.

Many early Australian houses used extensive verandahs to shield occupants from the searing summer sun, and 'bullnose' roofs were common.

They often featured 'iron lace' - a big feature of early housing in Sydney. I suspect that the lace in this restored home in Murwillumbah may not be the genuine article.

I was only in the town briefly yesterday but I'll be back for a more leisurely visit soon - camera in hand.


  1. Hello June,
    this is a beautiful old town, and reminds me of Nambour, Cooroy and hinterland towns in Qld - full of charm and character.

    Happy Days

  2. Australian city names make smile...they are so much fun to say! I love the details in the woodwork, windows and the iron lace too! It is also nice to know that the buildings are being used. Thank you for the tour!

  3. Yes it's nice when old buildings are treasured DELWYN

  4. Hi TULSA
    Many Australian place names are influenced by the Aboriginal languages. Australian Aborigines did not write down their history and language so there were lots of variations in both pronunciation and spelling. They are interesting names.

  5. Wow, I love your town. And I love the beauty of the buildlings you are so blessed. I would love to walk through the gates. Kinda a fairy tell feel, don't you think?

  6. Hi June, Thanks so much for the tour. I love seeing all the buildings. The verandas or porches have always been a favorite of mine. I have always wanted a house with a veranda all the way around 3 sides. I could live on it. The ironwork reminds me of New Orleans and the French Quarter section there. This was so interesting to see the buildings.

  7. Good afternoon June, hope all is well with you. I really enjoyed this post, those homes and your descriptions of them are beautiful. I have missed hearing from you lately so was really happy too see on my Reader you had posted. Thank you for sharing your beautiful country with us.......:-) Hugs

  8. They'd look good on our seafronts here in the UK.

    Quite fascinating.

  9. What a delightful tour! And I love the houses, the porches, the colors not to mention the delightful names of the towns! Always such fun to come here and learn so much about the towns in your area! Do hope you've had a great weekend and a good week to follow! Cheers!

  10. How lovely and well-preserved!

    BTW, thanks for the mail on your PAINT gallery. Though I am too bad a painter to contribute (and rather too busy with the kids to experiment), I enjoyed it immensely.

    A Blogger-snag did not allow me to comment previously.

  11. Hello June,lovely buildings.I love working with wood( making stuff,reparing furniture ect.)so I love to see good craftsmanship and if its well preserved,taken care of.Wonderful post,I injoyed it very much,thank you.And how is it going on your bike? Is it possible still to bike around or its to cold? Dot know what kind of weather you hawe right now?Is it ever cold at your side of the world?:O) Have a great day,Sandra

  12. Hi CAROL
    Please - open the gate and wander in - I'm sure they won't mind.

  13. Hi JUDY
    When my children were quite small we had an ambition to build a house with three sides verandah. We tried and tried to get a price we could afford, and ended up with just a carport and four posts!
    Those verandahs are wonderful in the heat.

  14. BERNIE
    I've had a worrying week with a fmaily member in hospital and my son-in-law flying to Victoria to see his father who has been desperately ill.
    Everyone has their ups and downs. Hopefully we're due for an 'up'.

    And so you like working with wood. What is your favourite piece?
    My bike - yes I certainly still ride my bike. My sister and I wandered around yesterday although between showers of rain.

  16. When in Sydney about 30 years ago, I visited my cousin who was living in one of those "iron lace" houses in the Kings Cross district. I remember in particular her dedication at the time to marijuna and her house which seemed to be packed on every shelf and table top with "her first crop" which was just approaching the point of being harvested. Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to be initiated on that occasion into the pleasures which it promised.

  17. I wish we still had the time, space and resources to build houses like these. Thanks for showing me their beauty and charm.

  18. Pot was certainly 'big' even back then Plutarch - and it's very easy to grow in the Australian climate.

    It's still illegal however, and knowing what we know now I think you were lucky you didn''t get to sample your cousin's crop. Even though the hydroponic products now are even more lethal.

    Many people are lucky and they can enjoy without ill effects but I know of many others who will rue the day they indulged until the end of their lives.

    I can imagine there were lots of other sights in the Cross that you remember today? It's a fascinating place ...

  19. LADYFI I agree - it's a crying shame that craftsmanship is so little achieved today. You never know things may change in the next generation or so in some ways? The world is shifting shifting ...

  20. Great houses June.
    My daughter adores these. She never fails to watch DISCOVERY TRAVEL AND LIVING-especially houses and hotels.
    just showed these to her, and the virtual art also, she loved them.

  21. These houses are common in Indian Villages and are owned by Land lords and rich people having huge income from agriculture. Wonderful post.

  22. I love that they kept an old building and are using it for a health centre. In so many other places they would have torn it down and built something new (like where I live!!). I recently looked at an old house with wood siding to buy in Savannah. It was lovely, but the painting of it would be enormously expensive!! (It needed it). Anyway, I have an old house and enjoy it very much --everything but the painting!

  23. Hi PRADIP
    The the designs of the houses you know in India are probably a result of colonial influences as are ours to a fair degree, although adapted to the climate.

  24. Yes KANANI - that it generally the fate of such buildings. It's nice that so many of the buildings in Murwillumbah are originals. They may have come to realise the worth of the old following a disastrous fire that wiped out most of the main street early last century.

    I agree about the painting!

  25. Very lovely, old fashioned architecture and things in general are a definant interest of mine... loved your post!! :D

  26. That's the thing about true craftsmanship STRAWBERRY GIRL - I can't see how anyone could not be at least interested by these houses.

  27. Beautiful. Tell me again why I am selling my old, character house?

    Because it was too difficult to paint ... ?
    But will you miss too much?

  29. Great Pictures. :)

  30. What lovely houses. Who is the architect?

  31. Hi NSIYER
    Thanks for visiting. I don't know who the architects were. However these houses were typical of several styles to be found widely in Australia in parts of the first half of the 20th century. They are lovely ...

  32. Hello, June:

    Really enjoyed this tour! Beautiful buildings and trimwork - a pleasure to look at.


  33. Sharp-eyed Crow:
    I'm pleased you enjoyed yourself.


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