Housing grouped in rural setting

Author: Harry Perrott The Herald Property Writer

WITH the steady growth of Melbourne building has to extend into fringe areas but this can be done without altogether spoiling or denuding the land of its natural charm.

A bold move is being made in this direction with the Hillcrest subdivision of 80 house sites in Park Rd, Mitcham, which have been planned to provide interesting road and contour development so that houses will enjoy pleasant views and be in a natural rural setting.

The estate is about a mile from White Horse Rd along Mitcham Rd, then a short distance along Park Rd, Mitcham.

The designer of the project for Dome Constructions Pty. Ltd., Mr Alister Knox, refers to it as "paddock architecture" which he says "aims to reconcile encroachment into the rural belt with sympathy and unity so that whole hillsides and paddocks have architecture rather than isolated buildings."

With this estate individual planning is being applied for each house.

The problem of creating unity and character between the building is being obtained by panel construction based on 4 ft. modules and on constant or regular roof pitches.

This gives a traditional character to the buildings and variation in planning gives variety; at the same time giving the owners the sense of individuality while being members of a community.

THE criticism aimed at modern houses that they are strange or different when placed among older types of houses will not apply here because the houses will all be in their proper environment.

Generally the low-pitched roof which follows the line of the countryside, is being adopted for the houses.

Exposed deep oregon beams are used for the roofs and ceilings follow the roof pitch.

Roof timbers are extended to form wide eaves, patios and car ports.

Where the fall of the land makes split floor levels preferable this is done and the house built up is from a concrete floor slab.

This form of construction keeps the building close to the ground and has the effect of bringing the garden treatment into some of the rooms.

Each house is designed to fit in with the peculiarities of its site and is placed so that as many native trees and shrubs as possible are not disturbed.

Open wide fences are being used rather than paling fences on the side boundaries and there will no front fences. Tea-tree stick screens will be used where privacy is necessary.

Paths and driveways from the roadways to each house are formed and then finished with pink Lilydale toppings. This is more suitable than concrete for the rural setting and cheaper.

Building costs on the Mitcham project have been reduced by adopting a 4-ft. module and having all the timber frames fully constructed in a workshop.

These are brought to the job in proper order and fixed in position on the concrete floor slab in a few hours.

Roof timbers are also brought on the job prepared and ready to be placed in position immediately.

Where the site has been previously levelled, the concrete floor can be poured, the walls erected and the roof pitched and covered within five days.

A brick-veneer house can be locked up - lined throughout and ready for finishing in 10 to 12 working days.

The use of dressed oregon for the studs and rafters has been found to save much in labor costs. Further economy has been effected by using manufactured materials which fit in with the 4 ft. module.

By having the Stramit ceiling slabs lifted straight onto the roof it can be finished within another four hours.

One of the most interesting houses on the estate is built on a steep block with a good outlook, the plan Is illustrated left.

Entrance to the house is at ground level onto the side balcony from a rear terrace.

Full-length windows are featured in the rooms opening on to the balcony and sliding glass doors give access to the balcony from the dining-living room.

Sliding doors into the study have also saved floor space.

The kitchen has full length windows and an open serving bench to the dining area.

In the living room there is a gas space-heater flued through a drying cupboard in the kitchen.

The laundry has a hot water service heater, a linen cupboard, washing machine and trough along one wall.

Under the balcony there is a living terrace portion of which can be used as a carport. Including the balconies the house has an area of 13 squares.

It Is estimated that 12 months after the project is completed the newly planted eucalypts and native bushes and other trees will have covered the traces of the building work.

My father's job did not follow the normal pattern for those days, when most breadwinners' hours were very regular and uneventful. He never seemed to leave for the city until after nine in the morning, when he would saunter down to the station and finally arrive at his office around 10 a.m. His office building was situated in the Western Market fronting William Street. It, together with the Eastern Market, has long since disappeared. The Colonial Mutual Building now stands on the site it once occupied. I can still remember the slate which paved the footpaths around it in William Street because of the irregular way in which it had worn into hills and valleys, telling something of the history of early Melbourne. It was the beginning of my long love for natural materials which had been worn down gradually by the impact of man upon them. My father managed - and was the junior partner in - an insurance broking office which was to develop into the second-largest in the country by the time of his death. His day generally started quietly, but it would end in a flurry of colourful excitement unusual for those routine times. He would often catch the train home for lunch and return to work in order to organise the insurance day, which ended at 4 p.m. The office staff included his senior partner, who generally appeared once a week to sign cheques and collect some money; six male staff; and two elegant and efficient females. Most of the men seemed to float around the office and drift out casually once or twice a day; it was as if they had no real aim or destination. In business, only the girls worked consistently. Tension would begin to rise if my father, who did nearly all his work by visiting clients outside the office, had not returned by 3 p.m. The staff knew his leather satchel was filled with policies that would have to be renewed by 4 p.m. If he hadn't returned by 3.30, they would post lookouts on pre-arranged city corners for signs of him. As soon as he was sighted they would sprint up, receive the policies and hurried instructions, divide the deliveries between themselves, and storm the insurance company's doors to beat the 4 p.m. deadline.

My father Frank and his younger brothers Walter and William had received only three years' schooling at the Melbourne Grammar Preparatory School because until my father was twelve old, the family had lived at Chelsworth on a farm on the Yarra River adjacent to where the Burke Road bridge now stands, seven miles from Melbourne. There were only three other houses in East Ivanhoe in 1880. My grandmother was supposed to supervise her sons' education, but she so often languished in a state of indifferent health that the boys seldom received their instruction. Their life, except for Sundays, consisted mainly of being involved in blood sports - primarily coursing hares with greyhounds - and shooting anything that moved with an old muzzle-loading gun. When they started this activity Frank, the eldest, was nine years old. Although Walter was eight and Willie only seven, their parents apparently trusted them to take care of themselves. Each of them became a wild country boy with finely developed senses and athletic skills. Part of the Chelsworth farm has since become the East Ivanhoe Golf Course, so that much of it remains essentially the same as when they lived there. Remnants of the treelined drive which once enhanced the entrance to the property still remain, including one particular tree from which the boys could watch Mr Kidd, one of the Meeting stalwarts, set out in his buggy to visit them from Kew, some miles away.

Their lack of formal education did not appear to hinder the boys' intellectual abilities. Frank's natural literary abilities, combined with a slow and careful reading style, enabled him to retain whatever he read. He knew whole cantos of Scott's epic poems by heart and would, on occasion, recite them with all actions included. An unusual ability to think visually was his special gift. He was an emotional man, and the trace of tears that came into his eyes in dramatic situations always endeared him to me as much as it aggravated him to himself. Their country upbringing had developed a zeal for individual endeavour which pitted itself against all opposition, whether imagined or factual. There existed in them that unnamed but seriously understood antagonism to suburban thinking, and it caused all the Knox boys to act defiantly. They despised the English in general, and their part in the Boer War in particular. During the War the boys rejoiced when General Kremer and his mercurial soldiers outwitted the well-trained but ineffectual British regiments. The three brothers were also great cricketers and footballers at the Grammar School. Frank was selected to train with the senior team when he was just thirteen but had to withdraw because his parents thought it too 'worldly', a stance they maintained in many other matters as well. In their adolescent years the boys formed cricket teams which played in Albert Park - often against men's teams, with some dramatic results. Walter was a brilliant all-round cricketer and a freak fieldsman. On one occasion, he crept into the silly-point position against a batsman who was clouting the bowling despite the fact that he had warned Walter he would kill him if he stayed there. A few balls later, the would-be murderer directed the ball at Walter's head with great power. He had just enough time to sway a few inches to one side, raise his hands to his shoulder, and catch the ball as it whizzed past his ear. The combined velocity and impact of the ball dislocated the four knuckles of his middle fingers and they remained black and blue for months; but the all-important objective of dismissing the offending batsman had been accomplished. The freedom of their uninhibited, open-air lifestyle - a freedom superimposed on an intellectual, gentlemanly tradition - caused overreaction in nearly everything the Knox boys did.

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