Armidale history: Building a country landscape

Deeargee shearing shed: Designed and built in 1872 by Alexander Mitchell, this shearing shed with its tiered roof shows the influence of galvanised iron on New England building.

Deeargee shearing shed: Designed and built in 1872 by Alexander Mitchell, this shearing shed with its tiered roof shows the influence of galvanised iron on New England building.

There are many ways of classifying the built landscape. Those interested in architecture, for example, focus on architectural styles, usually setting these in a British or European or, later, American context.

While this is a useful and valid approach, I find it confusing because of the number of identified styles. This is hard to manage in a general sense, harder still when the architecture of an area has few or no examples of a style.

A second way of classifying the built landscape focuses on building materials and methods. Here the industrial revolution transformed building by introducing new materials and building technology. Corrugated galvanised iron or steel more normally know just as corrugated iron is a feature of many parts of New England’s built landscape.

Corrugated iron was invented in the 1820s by Henry Robinson Palmer, architect and engineer for the London Dock Company. It was robust and relatively lightweight. As shipping improved, and then with the spread of the railways, it became almost ubiquitous in country Australia and New Zealand.

Corrugated iron was used in roofing, creating the roofing pattern you can see in many New England centres including Armidale. It was used in farm buildings, including the shearers’ quarters and woolshed that used to be an ever-present feature of the landscape. Most were simple structures, although the 1872 Deeragee woolshed outside Uralla remains as a unique example of shearing shed construction.

A third way of classifying the built landscape focuses on purpose. Why was the building created, how was this done, how did it work? This approach has been popularised by the UK Grand Designs program with its focus on repurposing industrial buildings, while recognising their original heritage.

In this next part of our journey through New England’s built landscape, I am going to take purpose as an entry point, focusing first on the homestead.

The European settlers who occupied Aboriginal lands from 1788 came with limited resources. For those who had travelled north, often spending weeks sleeping under drays or canvas, the first priority was to build a base as quickly as possible. Then out-huts had to be built for the shepherds or stockmen.

The result was the slab hut. Trees were cut and sawed into a suitable length. These were split into lengths. Rafters were erected on top to create a pitched roof covered with bark held down by weights. The result was a quick and ready shelter that, while draughty, provided a working base.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au

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