The Impossibility of Australian Architectural Connoisseurship

‘An Australian, however well-informed, simply cannot distinguish between a piece of Trust House timbering and a genuine Tudor building; an Englishman however uncultured knows at once …’. [Evelyn Waugh to John Betjeman, cited in A.N. Wilson’s Biography of Betjeman, 2007, p. 170. Actually an analogy with Catholics and Anglo-Catholics all looking alike to Betjeman, according to Waugh.]

Evelyn Waugh having thus established the impossibility of an Australian engaging in architectural connoisseurship, it  may be unwise to embark on this theme. And perhaps he is right, given how dreadful is the builder’s mock Federation, worse perhaps than the mock-Tudor thirties semi-detached so hated by early twentieth-century British architectural aesthetes.

A builder was describing to be a building he had recently clad in blackbutt, and how it expanded and buckled with time. The modernist preoccupation with new materials has carried over into Australian domestic housing, where the aspirational who want to make a statement feel it is necessary to  experiment with untried materials. There is a lot of this in Grand Designs too. But in the end aesthetic pleasure derives from getting the shape right. Better to focus on shape and appearance, and use established materials. Weatherboard is good example of such a material. Being basically the same technique used for boats from the Vikings onwards, it can flex and bend and still work even if the structure behind is falling apart and the stumps are gone. And the regular parallel lines provide a pleasing enlivening of the surface, helped by the necessary small irregularities.

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