Fibro homes made home ownership attainable after the war

FIBRO DREAM HOME: The author's childhood home at 44 Court Street, Windsor around 1960. Her mother Iris Cammack is in the driveway. The house now has a brick facade. Picture: Bert Hornery
FIBRO DREAM HOME: The author's childhood home at 44 Court Street, Windsor around 1960. Her mother Iris Cammack is in the driveway. The house now has a brick facade. Picture: Bert Hornery

A shortage of building materials after the end of World War II, combined with an acute post-war rental housing shortage, saw the increased use of one of the wonder products of the twentieth century: fibro.

While building figures in Windsor revealed that from 1930 to 1936 70 timber and fibro cottages were built for a cost of 23,419 pounds (approximately 335 pounds per house), by 1948 the cost of building a basic two-bedroom fibro house had increased to approximately 1,100 pounds.

The same house with land could not be purchased for less than 1,600 pounds. By the end of 1958, Wunderlich had produced ‘a vertical grooved sheet…in tune with modern design…which brings real glamour to the most economical of building materials’.

At the peak of the 1950s housing boom, one-third of new homes were constructed of fibro with timber frames and corrugated fibro or iron roofs, but terracotta roof tiles were gradually becoming increasingly popular.

Building contractors and owner-builders found that it was easy to extend or renovate a fibro house and although considered a little low class or ‘déclassé’, one big advantage of fibro was that it was fire-resistant.

With fibro or timber strap work covering the joins, fibro was popular for houses, garages, sheds and shops and was painted with Kalsomine in pastel colours of cream, baby blue, green, pink or white. For many, the concept of freshly-painted white walls with red roof tiles represented an ‘overall effect of cleanliness’.

While the health risks of working with fibro due to asbestos are well known now, back in the day the only drawback to a fibro home was that it did not insulate as well as brick, and the rooms were freezing in winter.

However, the fibro era was about cheap, modest, affordable housing and home ownership and to some, the fibro house ‘was stunning in its excellence…a complete house…in its own garden’.

Fibro became an expression of the Australian identity. Artist Reg Mombassa comments that fibro was ‘the wonder building material of the 1950s and 1960s…inexpensive, durable and ubiquitous’, while the author, Patrick White, writes that ‘at night the fibro homes reverberated’ with the noise and excitement of families.

The house at 44 Court Street, Windsor, built by local builder Arthur Mullinger in 1952 for Iris and Alf Cammack, was typical of many fibro houses built in Windsor during the 1950s. It epitomised for the owners the dream of a detached dwelling on one level on a large, quarter-acre block in the town.

It had red terracotta roof tiles, nine foot ceilings, a large lounge room with a brick fireplace, dining room and kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, laundry (with second toilet), a rear verandah (later converted into a third bedroom) and a large garage built by the owner.

The ubiquitous fibro dwelling, for many post-war ‘baby-boomers’, brings back memories of growing up on large blocks of land with poultry, pets, fruit trees and gardens.