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The building boom

 

From 1948 onwards Australia opened the doors to migrants:  first from Europe and North America and later from Asia and the Middle East.  A massive building boom resulted.  In Thornleigh a lot of inexpensive three and four bedroom cottages were built.  We treated these building sites as playgrounds; wonderful for battles but also just to explore the timber frames.

Even as children we understood the construction process and were even critical of the construction quality. There were four basic standards: trench foundations, wooden frame, fibro cladding and steel, fibro or tile roof; similar with timber (weatherboard) cladding; deeper drilled foundations and outer brick walls (brick veneer); and full brick.  We noticed if the timber plates had been properly knocked-in or just nailed and the quality of the floors and materials in general.  The days of architectural flair were in the past; and the future.  This was a time of production-line housing.

Typically the first sign of a new house was the pegging out.  Sewerage pipes were laid, followed by a foundation trench filled with reinforcing then concrete around the periphery; upon which a low brick wall was built. Concrete pads within this outer foundation marked the location of brick piers capped with galvanised ant-caps.   Within a few days the timber frame was knocked up and roof joists and ceiling rafters added for stability. Sheets of corrugated iron, upon which concrete was poured, marked the bathroom and laundry floors.  The timber frame was then clad on the outer walls and wet areas with fibrous cement (fibro).  The fibre in fibro was asbestos.  Corrugated fibrous asbestos might also be used for the roof.

Workers typically cut fibro with a hand saw or a special long handled nibbling tool, creating a snow of white dust and/or lots of little chips; in which we played. 

A particularly amusing thing for us was to light a fire of timber off-cuts then soak a piece of fibro in water and heat it until it exploded.   Today this material is considered to be extremely dangerous.  It is only handled using protective clothing and face masks.

I expect to die anytime soon.

From time to time, as children, we accidentally broke windows; usually with some projectile: a ball; a spear; a marble fired from a catapult; a slug from an air rifle and on one occasion a cricket stump.  

But people who lived in fibro houses had the additional risk of their wall being broken.  One day we were playing cricket at school when one of the bigger boys hit a six over the fence and smashed a large hole in the wall of the house next door.  No wonder I didn’t try to catch those balls!

One of the kids knocked on the door and asked:  ’can we get our ball back?’  He failed to mention that it had put a large hole in their house. People who live in fibro houses shouldn't... (that's all).

Bob Piper reminds me that we also risked our lives exploring the underground storm-water drains using burning newspaper torches – wrong on so many levels that it's almost unbelievable that we are both still alive.

 

 

 

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