History Matters: building upon the necessities of shelter

While the first mansions such as Dalwood House or Lake Innes House were emerging in the Hunter or at Port Macquarie, the slab huts being built on the New England by the European occupiers remained rough structures, quickly constructed to provide shelter and a base.

This was a male society in which comfort ranked second to the basic necessities of shelter. Even then, there were some who wanted more. Crown Land Commissioner George James Macdonald was one such.

A sometimes melancholy and in the end tragic poet, Macdonald was a neat man whose sensibilities demanded order and a degree of comfort.

When in March 1843 a party travelled up from the civilisation of Port Macquarie to attend the Armidale races, one of the party (Mrs Annie Baxter) expressed surprise at the Commissioner’s hut. While small and badly finished, it was tastefully furnished.

As women and then children arrived over the first decade after occupation, more was required. In some cases, the original homestead was extended or incorporated into new structures.

At Balala south of Uralla, the original homestead built by George Morse and Thomas Toule in 1841 became part of a complex around a courtyard.

On one side was a slab schoolroom and bedroom, on the other bedrooms built in part of basalt and granite.

In other cases, new buildings were constructed. Abraham and Mary Nivison purchased the Ohio run outside Walcha in 1842 and moved into the original slab homestead standing on the property. Nivison wanted a better home for his family and began construction of a new homestead.

The first stage was finished in 1845. It included four bedrooms, a hipped roof structure and chimneys in every room and was built of stone rubble and covered with a lime mortar render.

The design and construction method drew in part from Dumfriesshire in Scotland where Abraham and Mary were born.

With increasing prosperity, the homestead was renovated in the 1850s. A new kitchen and store were added, while the roof was raised to accommodate a loft. Six dormer windows were installed which remain a distinctive feature of the home’s appearance today.

To my knowledge, dormer windows are not a feature of colonial New England architecture. I can’t help wondering, whether or not Ohio’s windows influenced the later design of Armidale’s Mallam House.

I will continue this story next week looking at what was, in may ways, the golden age of New England homestead and construction design.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. 

Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended.

Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended.