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How WWI altered the Australian Property Landscape

By Rebecca Zhang

Last Saturday marked 100 years since Australian and New Zealand troops landed at Gallipoli in World War I. The Anzac legend has helped shape the Australian identity in the past century and the country has changed significantly in that time. From a booming population to sprawling cities and large regional centres, Australia has come a long way since 1915.

Melbourne University Professor of Architecture Julie Willis says the post-war building boom laid the foundations for the country’s changing landscape, “There was quite a housing shortage when the men came back from war. The explosion in demand for houses was almost instantaneous.”

With that in mind we took a quick look back over a century of progress and development to see how the Australian property landscape has changed.

Detached homes

Prior to WWI, people in cities generally lived in modest Victorians in neat rows. The trend from the 1920s and 30s, and beyond, is towards detached housing with backyards gradually growing bigger and bigger. “The Californian bungalow came in, people moved to modest single-storey dwellings,” Willis says, “The nuclear family on their own block was much more prominent – your own house on your own block for a growing middle class.”

Suburban growth

“In the late 1910s and 1920s cities were very dependent on public transport and walking. Houses were found on relatively modest blocks and often built along existing or extended public transport corridors,” Willis says.

The rise of the car and growing networks of public transport saw suburbs expand beyond the city.

Willis likens it to the rings on a tree, which tell its age, and says you can see the evolution of a city by charting the different architectural types as you move further out.

Housing estates

As the population grew, more land was required to build housing. “Large blocks of land were bought and sub-divided,” Willis says. This is a trend that continues to today as home buyers seek affordable options on the city fringe. Willis says improved transport, sewerage systems and infrastructure allowed for people to move further out from the city.

Return to the city

Changing housing needs, shorter commute times and a rise in apartment living is seeing people return to inner-city living. “In the ‘50s and ‘60s the cores of cities were seen as slums, houses were terrible and not fit for purpose,” Willis says. “Our cities are now more vibrant and people want to engage with that.”

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