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Construction in Adelaide during postcolonial era

Examine three early construction types/ methods in Colonial Adelaide. Locate local examples, describe and document each construction method, materials used and way each place was intended to be used.

Adelaide, is the capital city of South Australia, and is key to the history of every region found in the state. It is referred to as the seat of power as well as the cultural and financial and center[1]. It also serves as the starting-point and it is also the terminus of all the transport routes which connects almost every other place found within the state. The connection of the transport makes the place seem like just the web of a spider. South Australia is and for a long time been always City State. The hinterland is dominated by a town built ‘before there was any country population or country produce which was able to support it’. This statement simply means that the Adelaide city was built a long time. During the colonial era. This city has stood the taste of time. This can be attributed to the fact it was built with very strong materials. This paper looks into the early construction types or the methods which were used in constructing houses in Adelaide during the colonial era. Examples of building, materials used to build the houses and way each places was built is going to be looked at in the paper.

Adelaide was established by a European expansionist country who had the urge to grow economically as well as politically and also had interest in creation of a series of little Britains across the world[2]. They wanted to colonize everywhere and make the world look like Britain. This new province as the British called it was planned, advertised and was sold with a merchant’s efficiency even before the first people who were to stay in it had sailed. Colonel William Light under instruction of his bosses sited the new capital city after which the country was subdivided into 80 acre blocks[3].

There are different methods which were used to construct the houses in the Colonial Adelaide. These methods differed but not so much. They used almost the same materials but the way in which the materials were used is what might have differed from one constructor to the other. Stone, as a material has been used for a very long time in South Australia. It has served both as a necessity as well as a luxury. For a material to be used extensively, it means that that it must be readily available. Stones were readily available building materials for those who settled in the new colony, Adelaide. From the survey which was done by William Light, came a revelation that rough nodular limestone underlay more than half the town of Adelaide and most of the early buildings were constructed of stone which had been quarried on the site. [4]This can be said to be the fact that most of the houses in Adelaide are still existing. Most of the houses which were constructed during the colonial era are not there. They have collapsed. The parklands as well the banks were quarried. This led to formation of very strong structures.

During those era, that is the colonial era, stone was preferred because it had considerable thermal advantages over other materials which were being used to build. This was during the hot climate. They remained cool. When it was compared to the brick, it was again found to be cheaper during the earlier years. This might have changed by now. The high number of fire risks which was majorly associated with timber as well as the problems which arose when the terminate invaded the houses which were constructed with timber made it really necessary to use either bricks or stones to build in Adeliade. The stones which were used to build were locally available[5]. Those who stayed in the rural areas could not afford the high transportation cost to help transport the heavy materials from. They therefore used the locally available materials to build their walls.

As time went by, stone as a building commodity became a luxury and a very useful building material. Most of the houses which are in Adelaide have their front walls made of very carefully shaped sandstone while their rear and the side walls are made of limestone, bluestone, or even sandstone. These bare always from rubbles. Even in a condition where one used just the same type of stone to build the house, the front as well as the side walls were made up of stones which are larger when compared to the other sides. The stones which were used in this condition are the bluestone or the sandstone which were highly regarded. The blocks were also described as being larger and squarer. They are the ones who were places which the public could easily see[6]. This show that people started revering their structures long time ago. During the colonial era.

Building which had irregular rubble stones as well as the blue stone, brickwork was used so as to form the true square corners or the quoins. This later became a characteristic in the conventions of South Australia. When dealing with the squared sandstone, it was not necessary to shape them as was the case when dealing with the irregularly shaped. It is recorded that the quoins used to produce very neat turning of corners as well as the sides and the rear walls which were made of brick. Time reached when stone was a luxury which was reserved for the front walls only. It was not a must that one uses the stones in the whole building. It was used by only those who could manage.

When the olden building were compared with the ones with are built today in Adelaide, it is seen that there are little variations. Multi story building are not currently built using the load bearing masonry walls. The masons currently are using steel as well as concrete frames which support a thin skin or cladding. The cladding can either be glass, metal, and concrete or even compressed fiber. In very expensive buildings, stones like the marble and the granite are used. It is because of this that the stone is nowadays being referred to as a luxury[7]. Despite this, the remarkable lightweight which come from Mount Gambler still finds its way in buildings. Mount Gambier has been used a source of limestone since 1842. There is a common saying in the architecture department that the longevity of a carefully chosen and a well detailed granite cladding which are made justifies the additional capital expenditure of a building.

South Australia is one of the leading producers of building stones. The stones which is produced in this country majorly is the granite. They produce in large quantities and some are exported to other countries. The building stones which have been in Colonial Adelaide are categorized as follows.

Classification of Colonial Adelaide Building Stones

When we use the term building stone, it means all the material which are used as building, monumental as well ornamental materials. In building, the term building stone can be used to mean building stone. It also means the natural building stone which have been made for building. Following are some of the materials which are used to build.


All the materials which include igneous rocks, some metamorphic rocks like the granite, ademallite, diorite gabbro among others are commonly known as granites in the building industry. The black hill granite which comes from the Black Hill near Mannum is always regarded as norite. Granites are generally made up of three main minerals namely the grey quartz, colored feldspar and the lesser amounts pyroxene and black mica. The feldspar which have carious different kinds of colors is the one which is principally responsible for the overall color of the stone.

This is another category of the building materials which were used in the colonial Adelaide. This term which is used to refer to all carbonate rocks which are capable of taking a good polish. There are some building stones which are included in the definition of true marble. This is the fine grain dense chemical limestone. The most commonly used marble is used to be found from the Angaston marble found from this place is a true marble[8].

Slate and flagstone

This is a term which is applied to many paving stones which are used for paving and have thin planar slabs. The slate and the flagstone can have properties which are similar to true slates. These building materials have the ability to split into very thin sheets. Some of the true slates have been used as roofing shingles. In general, most slates are always fine grained stones which have uniform grey color even though purple and green colors can also be found. The materials that are courser are the ones which are described as flagstone. The flagstones show a greater color variation and in most cases have yellow or brown iron oxide coatings on their surfaces.  


This is another category of stones which are used to build in the Adelaide. The term bluestone is applied when referring to different types of stones which are used to build. The bluestone cannot be said to be a specific term which refers to specific stone. What happens is that these are stones which are similar to some of the already discussed rocks. Some people use the term blue stone to mean the stones which are related to the slate and the flagstone.  They include many sedimentary as well as metamorphic rocks. Most of the blue stones are dense and colored on the internal part. Generally, you will find that they are blue in color. They have regular joints which helps in the quarrying and dressing. These joints are usually coated with iron oxides which give rise to the characteristic yellow and brown colors as well as black.


This is another commonly used stone in building. This is a sedimentary rock which is composed of quartz by a larger percentage. Quartz are sand grains even though some have proportions of feldspar and clay. They have white colored of whites, pale pink, brown or even cream. The easiest way to distinguish sandstone from other types of rocks is by looking at the size of the grain.


This is the last building material which was used during the Colonial Adelaide and is going to be discussed in the paper. This just like sandstone is a sedimentary rock which mainly consist of calcium carbonate. The ones which are preferred for building are the pale colored calcarenites. The limestone used to be found in the coastal areas which were either in the west or the south. Even though limestone have calcium carbonate, they always have a granular appearance and as result, they can be confused with sandstone.

It should be noted that the term freestone was also use by the masons who were building the colonial time. The international us of the term freestone was to describe limestone or sandstone which were fine grained and they could be easily worked in any direction. This term however is used locally to mean the loosely held stones which is easily jointed into the stones that can be quarried easily thus the term “free”[10]. The term freestone can also be used to refer to a style of walling in which the building pieces are laid in a random or a very free pattern. So that one does not confuses the terms, sandstones limestone, the term freestone should not be used when referring to them.

History of Stones Used in Adelaide.

Having tackled the building materials which were used in Adelaide, it now prudent that we discuss the history of the stones which were used in Adelaide[11].

The period through which stones were used in Adelaide can be grouped into four categories.

  1. Early phase- 1836 to 1855
  2. Victorian boom- 1855 to 1885
  3. Depression- 1885 to 1945
  4. Modern period- 1945 to 1990s.

The earliest buildings which were constructed in in Adelaide were just after the colony was founded in 1836. They were from the materials which were just locally available. They used the gravel which they found from River Torrens and the surface limestone which is extensively found in the northern part of Adelaide. The calcrete which was readily available was burned for lime so as to make mortar.

During the year 1838, Green Hill Slate in collaboration with the Flag Quarry Company started their operations at the Beaumont. They were producing the bluestone. The most recognizable bluestone was the Glen Osmond Bluestone which was first quarried in the year 1851. This was widely used in construction of houses as well as in constructing very large building like the St Paul’s Church, found along the Pulteney street was constructed in the year 1857.

1855-1885- The sandstone and the bluestone period.

This period is characterized by the prosperity of the colony and this led to a boom in the building industry. This period saw many houses being built. More substantial building were built of very high quality materials. The main source of building material were the stones which were produced in the Glen Edwin and the Tea Tree Gully sandstone quarries. The bluestones which were used were from the Glen Osmond as well as from the Dry Creek.

The prominent buildings during this period were constructed with an outer face which was hand dressed squared sandstone. An example of such a building is the General Post Office which was constructed in 1867. The building which were cheap were mainly made of bluestone rubble which was quoins and the dressing of sandstone. An example is the Pilgrim Church which was built in 1865. Even though it is hard to work on the sandstones and very expensive, the sandstone which is found in the Glen Edwin and the Tea Tree Gully is the most durable sandstone which has been used in Australia.

1845-1945 Limestone bluestone, sandstone and granite and marble

This period was characterized with diversification in the usage of stone. This was prompted by the wars and the depressions as well as the improvements in transport which made getting transportation of stones from very land easy. The beginning of this period saw the use of marble and granite for the first time in Adelaide[12].

The rising cost which was experienced in working cost of the sandstones encouraged the developments of other alternative to counteract the effect[13]. The masons diverted their energy to the use of limestone and sandstones. Most of the materials which were obtained during this period were used to build houses. One of the places which used to produce limestone was also used to produce large regular blocks which are suitable for large regular blocks. Improvements in transport facilities enabled the masons to use the Adelaide stones which were found from up country. The limestone and the sandstone were used as base for the courses and especially in bank buildings.

The sandstone and bluestone which are forms of slate were quarried in the foothills. This happened near Gawler and Lower North. Willunga slate, a slate which was found in Willunga was used as a roofing and also to replace the stringy bark shingles from the forests of the Mount Lofty Ranges. From the years 1850s onwards, imported corrugated galvanized iron became and it has remained the most popular till today and durable form of roofing. The materials which are used to build the walls might be different but those used for the walls always differs depending on the amount of money which a person have. The corrugated iron sheets were used so extensively that the built environment of Adelaide could be easily described as being composed of brick, stone and iron[14]. A few of these houses which were originally constructed had more than four rooms. The iron additions were tacked on them over time so as to include skillion-roofed kitchens and wash-houses. These were not a must but they appeared in many houses. This was usually done when the person whose house was being built did not have enough money to build a complete kitchen.

1945- 1990. Modern construction with the increase in the use of steel and the concrete frames, the multi-story building now have the thin external claddings rather than the load bearing masonry walls.

Apart from the walls, there what other type of building materials which were used during the colonial Adelaide were timber. Timber was used to construct very many houses. Timber was rarely used to construct walls as it was feared that they were susceptible to termite as well as weather. Due to these facts, timber was rarely used. The type of wood which was used to build these houses were the hardwood. The woods like the jetty timbers are highly loaded with character and this makes them ideal for use as rustic walls[15].

Apart from the materials which were used to build materials locally, as well as the early additions of verandahs, these houses were similar in almost everything including the style to single-storey cottages which were built in Britain. Theses similarities were deliberately sought for when a larger house was being built. In South Australia, there was always a tendency for the settlers to establish houses as soon as possible and most of them were similar in miniature, the dignity, design including the permanence of the environment which they had left. Several of these larger houses however unabashedly incorporated a humble originality single-storey sections. These can be easily be seen at the Brocas which is found in the Mitcham Lawn Torrens Park. During the year 1870 the city’s second building boom started and also the lesser houses started to gain greater dimensions. It was during this time that the renowned Adelaide villa came into existence. Very good examples of these villas were constructed until late very late up to the 1920 in North Adelaide[16]. Most verandahs and fences in Adelaide were bedecked with the cast-iron lacework which was known as the ‘Gawler Lace’, this was because a lot of the cast iron lacework was produced in the Gawler.

This paper started by giving description of what Adelaide is as well as its brief history. It then proceeded to giving details of material which were used to build the house. It can be agreed that the colonial Adelaide was a place where stones were the major sources of the materials which were used to build the walls. In the roofs, there was the usage of timber and the corrugated iron sheets. These are the main materials which were used to build houses in Adelaide during the colonial period. Some of these materials have remained and are been used to date.


Baker, R.T. (1915).   Building and ornamental stones of Australia. Technical Education Series, 20, Technological Museum, Sydney

Young, D.A. (1986). The building stones of North Terrace, Adelaide.   In:    One day geological excursions of the Adelaide region. Geological Society of Australia (SA Division), Adelaide, pp.147-156.

Barker, S. (ed) (1991).Explore the Barossa. Prepared under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (SA Branch), South Australian Government Printer, Netley, SA.

British Standards Institution (1976).Code of practice for stone masonry. British Standard 5390:  1976.   British Standards Institution, London.

Clifton-Taylor, A.   (1987) .The pattern of English building. 4th ed, edited by J Simmons, Faber and Faber, London.

DTAFE, (1984). Bricklaying basic trade: module 10, stone masonry. Department of Technical and Further Education, Adelaide.

Shadmon, A.  (1989). Stone:  an introduction. Intermediate Technology Publications, London.

Warland, E.G. (1953). Modern practical masonry. 2nd ed, Sir Isaac Pitman &

Sons, London.   c1984 reprint, The Stone Federation, London.  (First published 1929).

[1] ibid

[2] Shadmon, A. Stone:  an introduction. Intermediate Technology Publications, London. (1989):23

[3] Baker, R.T. Building and ornamental stones of Australia. Technical Education Series, 20, Technological Museum, Sydney (1915): 23. 

[4] ibid

[5] Warland, E.G. (1953). Modern practical masonry. 2nd ed, Sir Isaac Pitman &

Sons, London. 1984 reprint, The Stone Federation, London.  (First published 1929). (1953):45

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Ibid 4

[9] Ibid 4

[10] Young, D.A. The building stones of North Terrace, Adelaide.   In:    One day geological excursions of the Adelaide region. Geological Society of Australia (SA Division), Adelaide, pp.147-156. (1986): 456

[11] Ibid 5

[12] British Standards Institution.Code of practice for stone masonry. British Standard 5390:  1976.   British Standards Institution, London. (1976).

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] Shadmon, A. Stone:  an introduction. Intermediate Technology Publications, London. (1989).

[16] British Standards Institution (1976).Code of practice for stone masonry. British Standard 5390:  1976.   British Standards Institution, London.

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