This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol5", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
Though Australia has to be considered, by reason of its area and resources, distinctly a pastoral and mining country, a decided feature of its life is the large proportion of its population dwelling in and near the capital cities, and for the accommodation of this ever increasing demand the suburbs have grown and expanded in all the chief cities, until we find suburban cities joined to the great cities and miles of expansive suburbs holding the land and ever pressing back the rurality of the country beyond.
Each suburb has a tendency to create its own main business street, double lined with attractive shops, feeding the close area of terrace and villa houses, with the mansions of the rich on the outskirts.
The suburbs, being separately governed by local councils, have each their own building laws and regulations, which are reflected upon the buildings erected, a common practice being to separate a brick area from a wooden area and to give supervision through the official building surveyor. These councils have full powers to tax property, to make roads, to create and maintain public gardens and reserves, while the water supply and sewerage, the railway and often the tram services, are owned and controlled by the central Government. Official supervision is therefore given 111 a general way to suburban building, and regulations have to be complied with in all the closer areas, while beyond these areas, in the shires, the builder is to an almost unlimited extent free to follow the bend of his own fancy and the exigencies of building requirements, though even there the tendency to too great flimsiness of construction is checked by the demands of the powerful association of fire insurance companies, who, owing to strong combination, are able to heavily load doubtful risks.
Even in Australia one speaks quite as a matter of course of the "old suburbs " and the "new suburbs," and certain it is that there is a marked difference between the one and the other.
The old suburbs join on to and are at the doors of the cities, and show for the most part the more distinctly old country type of two storey stuccoed terrace house, generally with the addition of verandah and balcony front, and sometimes - though not generally - with attics above. There are, too, in the old settlements many houses opening directly upon the street frontages. The larger houses were for the most part square and box like in plan, stuccoed and ornamented in the Renaissance manner, lofty and roomy withal, but greatly lacking in aesthetic qualities. Here and there, however, one comes across a nice quaint piece of well designed work that the hand of time has helped with colour and the garden trees with mystery.
The movement towards the new suburbs was slow at first, but set in with great force and strength from the larger cities some fifteen or twenty years ago, when the demand was for distinct land lots and detached residences. From that time on and at the present there is a brisk demand for the modern villa, and it would not be too much to say that scores of thousands of villas have been erected during the past ten years, and at no time was the demand more keen than at the present. This demand has unfortunately been at the expense too often of the older terrace houses that pass more and more into the hands of the boarding-house class, with lowered rents and prestige.
In any description of " Suburbia " we must remember at the very first the delightful situation of Sydney, with the picturesque outlands stretching her suburbs right out to the Pacific Ocean. A charming situation truly, and one of the most greatly gifted harbours in the whole world.
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To imagine Sydney we have to think first of a narrow cliff-guarded entrance from the ocean opening into a secure harbour, with hills on every side sloping down into deep water, having a thousand indentations all around, and harbour upon harbour beyond, and rivers running into all, mysterious, changeful, yet expansive, truly unsurpassed as a dwelling place for man and a secure anchorage for his ships; and the greatest ships come right up to the very heart of the city at Circular Quay, the starting-point of all the quickly propelled steamers that convey her thousands to their suburban homes.
And if Sydney be blessed in her situation she is also blessed with good building material, and the whole atmosphere of the place has evidently had an influence upon her architects and her people, for there one sees some of the best work in Australia.
Freestone of the finest quality, and varying in colour in different quarries, but generally known as Hawksbury sandstone, is in abundance, while the Wianamatta shales that overlay the stone deposits provide the principal material for brick making.