26 January 2010

The traditional Queenslander house

“Queenslander Houses” were built in an architectural style very popular throughout Queensland, from Brisbane in the south of the state to the tip of Cape York. The style was common from the 1840s until the post-WW2 era and was mainly used in residential buildings. But I have seen some very beautiful “Queenslander Pubs” with gorgeous wrought iron lace work/filigree wrapped around the balconies.

Basic Queenslander, largely symmetrical

Two elements best differentiated the Queenslanders from homes in Victoria and New South Wales: a] they had wide and long verandas, and large double doors which opened onto these verandas. And b] they were typically raised on vertical timber stumps. The use of timber stumps must have gone into disfavour in the post–WW2 era because any new stumps or any replacements for old stumps must now be steel or concrete. But one thing has remained the same, as fun and vjs has shown. Being built on stumps prevented the homes being inundated in flood prone areas, particularly in the older Brisbane suburbs.

In pre-air conditioning days, Queenslander Homes made the most of passive climate control. Any breeze that arrived in the summer evenings blew underneath the raised houses and increased the ventilation. Internally the large doors and windows were lined up internally, once again to increase any natural ventilation, and windows are often louvered to allow for air circulation.

The breezeway fretwork design, seen above the doorways in traditional domestic Queenslanders, allowed for moving breezes. But it was also seen as differentiating between private space for the family and the house’s reception areas. The bedroom and living areas were in any case often separated by a hallway.
Roofs were generally made of corrugated iron or tin, and external walls were clad with timber, often painted in gentle colours. The verandas were as wide as possible, to protect against the overhead summer sun and to increase shade. Very often subtropical trees were planted close to the outer walls. Trees may have increased the risk of possums driving the residents mad at night, but during the day their shade was invaluable. For the rest of the land, there were traditional types of plants and gardens which became associated with a Queenslander home, from settlement of the colony in Brisbane and right through the inter-war period. Oleander, citrus, mango, passion fruit, frangipani, jasmine, gerbera, daylily and hibiscus were much loved.

Pastel colours with contrasting handrail

Your Brisbane Past and Present mentioned a third element that was almost always found in Queenslanders. The space under the house, raised high on stumps, created a magical area that children could use on days when it was too rainy to go outside. This blogger had a swing to play on, cowboy games, marbles, hula-hoops, skipping ropes and hopscotch games under there.

The biggest building boom was after Queensland’s soldiers returned from WW1. By the time they had returned to civilian life in 1919, then entered studies and marriage, many new houses were needed throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Families with more money built more extravagant Queenslanders, still with the wide verandas and under house playing space, but with gazebos, corner bays and exotic roof lines.

More elaborate Queenslander

Queenslander Houses were not identical in shape, especially after Federation. Asymmetry crept into the design and the gable could be placed to one side of the main roof. There were usually two verandas but they too could be asymmetrical; one was at the front of the home, of course, and the second ran down one side of the home.

Asymmetrical design

Brissos blog is also in love with Queenslander homes. Brisbane Daily Photo has many delightful photos. This blog noted that “Queenslander houses, made mostly from wood, are about as fire-prone and termite-prone as houses can get, they're hot in the summer, chilly in the winter and have no soundproofing... but it doesn't stop Queenslander people being fiercely loyal to them”. Of course not. They are Queensland’s special contribution to the world of architecture AND they look splendid. In a bland world where one architectural style is accepted in every city of the known universe, it is lovely when specific regional styles retain their enthusiastic supporters.

fun and vjs blog was very helpful in recording the destruction of these gracious homes.  “Brisbane's architectural history was very nearly destroyed in the 1980s with the outrageous demolition of important cultural buildings and the removal of about 1000 Queenslander homes per year”.

I wonder if there is any heritage overlay, these days, for surviving Queenslanders.

Shade trees close to the house


marc aurel said...

They look lovely.

Andrew said...

If only the Raj had thought to build them in India. I love them, but I haven't been inside one. When I was growing up, our house was on as steep hill and so had plenty of playing space under the floor. Great fun on a wet day.

brismod said...

Hi Helen. Thank you for your comments and also for mentioning my blog on your post regarding Queenslander homes. I hope you don't mind if I mention your blog in return. Regards Anita

Hels said...

I would love it brismod. I know a lot about architecture from the second half of the 19th century, but The Queenslander seemed special.

You Brisbanites would know how important it is to preserve your city's architectural heritage, even more than us southerners. Some of the Queenslanders I saw this month looked in a very sad state indeed.

P. M. Doolan said...

I have had the good fortune of being able to visit Hawaii four times and each time I have rented houses on the beautiful island of Kauai. The houses that I stayed in look remarkably like the ones in your beautiful photos and fit your description. Raised on very high stilts to catch the trade winds (no air-conditioning needed), very wide veranda (lanai) all around, lush vegetation to provide shade, large area under the house for stirage and play on rainy days. Clearly there are similarities.

the foto fanatic said...

A very thought-provoking post - thanks Helen.

Having lived in a couple, I can confirm that they are still sought after because of their natural advantages in our weather.


Viola said...

Thank you very much, Helen, for this wonderful post about Queenslander houses. I think that they are hard to beat because they look so elegant and graceful and they're also built to suit the climate.

I once started talking about them to an American, however. He thought, at first, that I was talking about old people who lived in Queensland!

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Anonymous said...

My Husband and I have many years tried to find an early queenslander, recently we found the house we have been searching for... and this home is featured in your blog well done Helen... it was a great surprise to see the photo

cara said...

Great post. If only everyone in Brisbane appreciated these houses. The council pulled one down near us recently to build a roundabout - without any consultation with the public regarding the house demolition. This act then endangered the neighbouring two Queenslanders as the law states that protection only applies when there is a cluster of 3 or more. The day after the house was torn down, developers lodged an application to tear down the other two (amazing) houses so they could build blocks of units, clearly having given the current owners very generous offers. Happily (not for the mercenary owners) the neighbourhood kicked up a big stink and the two Queenslanders remain. For now. Thanks for the mention.

Hels said...

no wonder people dislike developers :( They clearly knew that your law gives protection only when there is a cluster of 3 Queenslanders or more together. So they only had to destroy one and the rest would come down almost automatically.

I can offer you a useful comparison. In Tel Aviv, the magnificent old Bauhaus homes (mostly built between 1930 and 1948) were being destroyed or neglected so fast, that city's treasures were at risk of disappearing. It wasn't until two things happened that the special architecture became protected:
1. Bauhaus Renovation Foundation was formed and organised a Bau­haus Conf­er­ence for May 1994. 2,000+ inter­nation­al particip­ants arrived.
2. 2003-4, UNESCO declared central Tel Aviv a protected city, on the World Heritage List.

The developers (aka wreckers) were largely defeated.

Hels said...

PM Doolan, foto fanatic and Viola,

With the tragic flooding in southern Queensland this month, I hope that the houses standing on very high stilts protect the families more than houses built at ground level.

nestor mombe said...

Think back to the saturation TV when the Qld floods were on [now we have saturation eartquakes] and remember that all Queenslanders had their top floors out of water. They were started after the biggest floods in Queenslands European history in 1841. I will not hold my breath in the hope that the Local Govt and State Govt see the light. After all, they tell all of us what we can build, where we can build and how we can build but take no liability for what happens in floods. nestor

Hels said...

I hear you!
I don't mind local government setting building standards. It makes good sense, as long as the town planners and architects know the risks that are most common in their areas. For example, bush fires are most common in Victoria while earth quakes and cyclones are almost non-existent.

If the traditional queenslander does well in floods, it would be more insane than average to pull them down. Apart from any heritage consideration.

say said...

I am writing an assignment on Queenslander house designs, and I have no idea what they look like. I was a bit amazed to learn that they are just like most houses here in the Philippines. MAybe it is because of the same tropical weather. The only difference is, here in the Philippines, most houses have stone walls for the lower level and wood panels for the upper level of the house.

Hels said...


thank you..international comparisons are always interesting.

The tall stumps in Queenslanders: 1. prevented the homes being inundated in flood prone areas 2. made the most of passive climate control and 3. may have protected the houses against snakes and other nasties. It is possible that stone walls for the lower level would not fulfil those three tasks like stumps do.

Unknown said...

This post is very nice. its really good.
queenslander homes

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful artical. We live in a highset Queenslander in the Whitsundays. It was built about 60 years ago. I was chuckling to myself as I read your excelent detailed description of the reasons for their design. We find that our home perfectly suits our tropical lifestyle. You will always find us on either the front or back verandah but in the middle of summer the coolest spot is under the house. :)

Hels said...

You raise an important issue. All my examples and references were Brisbane-based. I wonder if The Quuenslander changed, the further north we travel within Queensland.

Anonymous said...

Hi, good post thanks for sharing.

queenslander homes

Anonymous said...

HI have been living in a queenslander for over ten years now it is just great possums at night, creaky floor boards, hot in summer cool in winter no chance of flooding would not change a thing

Hels said...


As long as we live nicely :)

I am with you on the possums, heat, cold and every other thing. The ONLY part of Queensland I cannot deal with is the humidity for half the year. My skin goes blotchy and my hair looks like wet string *yuck*

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Hels said...

House Painters.

Good to know. What was the third element?

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Hels said...

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Hels said...


I wonder if enough of this very special architecture has been saved.

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Hels said...


not tricks as much as wanton destruction. I believe the city now has a more accurate sense of precious architectural history to be protected and beautified.

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Hels said...


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greatseo said...

Roof ventilation is a system of intake and exhaust vents that provide air circulation to keep the atmosphere inside a home comfortable.

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Hels said...


I have written a lot of posts since 2008, so you will be pleased to know that this post on the traditional Queenslander house remains one of the few posts that attracted tens of thousands of readers. Passive climate control was clearly important in Queensland since the mid C19th :)

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Roof ventilation is a system of intake and exhaust vents that provide air circulation to keep the atmosphere inside a home comfortable.

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Hels said...


Was the traditional Queenslander house your inspiration regarding air circulation in a hottish climate like Brisbane?