Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing

Canberra Housing Shortage After WW 2

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Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing-Canberra Housing after WW2 by Ann Gugler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Series of articles from Canberra Times pointing out the acute housing shortage in Canberra.  Some houses were constructed in the period of the Great Depression - 1929 to early 1940s - and during the War 1939-1945 but these were not sufficient to meet the needs of the post WW2 period.  The Canberra Settlements of Russell Hill, Westlake Cottages in The Gap, Causeway, Yarralumla temporary dwellings and the temporary dwellings at Duntroon and Acton were all meant to go by 1929, but survived because of the housing shortage. 

Single construction workers  continued to be accommodated in Capitol Hill Camp - and married couples - New Australians - were also accommodated in some of the old buildings. The Causeway Camp along with a number of others survived and added to them were new hostels - for single and married.  Hillside, Capital Hill Hostels were built on Capital Hill and Riverside near the Power House plus Turner Hostel near Civic Centre went up for single men - the Bachelors Quarters became the Acton Guest House.  Out at Fairbairne near the airport another hostel went up for single men.  For the white collar class of singles Mulwala, Narrelan and Reid Hostels went up and near the War Memorial - Ainslie Hostel for married couples.  These were all temporary and joined the permanent 'boarding houses'.


The Canberra Times 30 December 1947



Although material progress was made in the Government housing programme in Canberra during 1947, a total of 232 houses was still less than that of 269 built during the year ending June 30, 1940, with smaller building labour supply.

The year will be notable for the framing of a seven year programme of Canberra development, and the 1947 programme is providing accommodation on which expanded activity will be based.

The first step towards large scale construction was the completion of two workmen’s camps, the extension of a third and plans for the development of a fourth.

The second plank was the start on temporary buildings to house additional departmental staffs. This will also release retail shopping space at City.

The third achievement was the extension of hostel accommodation by the construction of Mulwala House, extensions to the Acton Guest House, and plans for two large brick hostels to accommodate approximately 400 guests. 

The completion of 232 houses by the Department of Works in 1947 has not, however, kept pace with the number of applicants for dwellings. Indeed whereas the waiting list for homes was 350 on July 1, 1941, to-day it is more than four times that figure.

Part of the lag will be taken up by the completion of four hostels, Mulwala House at Barton, Reid, and Turner. With their occupation one fifth of the total population of Canberra will be housed as ‘roomers’ – a position undesirable for the community but a necessary expedient for the administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth.

The failure of the Department of Works to achieve an unofficial target of 300 houses may be attributable in part to the exodus of trained building tradesmen, shortage of household fittings, and reduced man unit output.

Of the original 102 Englishmen, 32 are still employed by the Department, although a number are with local contractors. Eighty-eight ex-service trainees are also working on housing projects.


To overcome the shortage of tiles, cement tiles and iron roofing of various styles has been used.

More concrete tiles are expected in the New Year when factory equipment from Melbourne is installed.

Concrete tiles have however proved difficult to handle and break easily. It is understood that the establishment of the cement tile factory at the Causeway may be the forerunner of concrete houses of the ‘monocrete’ type.

This consideration may have influenced officers when dealing with a recent proposal from a Sydney group to establish a terra-cotta tile factory in the ACT. The parties were unable to agree on quota guarantees.

Performance figures on the Beaufort home at Ainslie compare favourably with type houses in the vicinity and they may be used to conform with homes built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act.


Figures released by the Department of Works at the end of November indicated that 203 houses had been completed, comprising 110 brick, 28 timber, and 64 demountable units. Since then 29 homes have been completed, leaving 345 including approximately 150 timber homes, in the course of construction.

Contracts have been let for 47 houses on which work has not commenced, whilst tenders are being called for 617 homes.

As in previous years production increased in the last quarter, resulting in 112 homes completed since September 30.

Camps and hostels completed in 1947 included Riverside Hostel, Eastlake Hostel extensions, and additional accommodation at the Brickworks Hostel.

Buildings in the course of construction are Mulwala House, which is expected to be completed next month, and Brisbane House, Narellan House and Northbourne House are to be commenced early in the New Year.

Extensions are being made to Capitol Hill workmen’s camp [built 1925 by Contractor John Howie].

The erection of the block of modern flats overlooking Kingston Oval is another phase which may receive further consideration by the authorities in their efforts to provide adequate housing as rapidly as possible.

During the year extensions to West Block were completed.

The Mothercraft and Child Welfare Centre at Civic will be opened shortly, while extensions to the nurses quarters at the Community Hospital and to the Telopea Park School are still under way. New buildings including an insecticide laboratory, garage and workshop at the CSIR are also being erected.

The most important office buildings in Canberra are three two-storeyed office blocks in Barton, the first of which is expected to be completed in February.

They represent the inaugural step to solve the second office accommodation problem.

They are temporary structures intended to absorb departments until the permanent administrative building is completed.

It is understood that a few shop premises will be vacated in February, the main exodus taking place from City offices.

The New Year, however, should see a start on shops in outlying suburbs, which will eventually form part of the planned community centres.

Applicants for Government homes have now to wait approximately 23 months. The waiting list has increased to 1555 many of whom are awaiting transfer to Canberra. Of this total 328 are non-public servants and 930 ex-servicemen. Homes allotted this year total 311, including 91 old homes re-allotted.

Further agitation for a higher allocation of homes to ex-service personnel, and for employees of private enterprise may be expected in 1948. On the present basis some ex-service applicants who are no public servants could wait 10 years fo a home.


Building costs in the ACT have risen to 180 (?) pounds a square for a small dwelling and to as much of 230 pounds a square for more elaborate homes.

Increased are attributed to the introduction of the 40 hour week. Many contractors prefer to operate on the ‘cost plus six per cent’ basis. Instances have recently occurred where contractors worked their men at the week-end to reap the benefits of the ‘safe margin’ and higher rates of pay.


High costs are generally the reason for the surrender of 27 leases in 1947, against 21 taken out in new areas released for private building. These sections are in the more remote areas of Griffith, Ainslie and O’Connor, and are adjacent to departmental homes in the course of construction, or projected schemes.

The governing factor in the release of blocks for private building is the availability of existing essential services for domestic use. There still remain, however large tracts of serviced but vacant land closer to  transport and shopping facilities.

During the year 36 building permits for residences were granted, 10 for additions to existing premises, including sheds and small workshops.

These form part of 134 applications, including 46 for residences, which were considered by the authorities. Most of the remainder are still under consideration or have been verbally approved.


The Canberra Times 6 January 1947


Although the greater part of 1946 witnessed chaos, lost opportunities and failure to reach more than 30 percent of the housing target, a happier outlook for 1947 has been provided by the completion of 78 homes in the last six months of 1946, the impending arrival of British tradesmen and the release of a number of trainees from the Canberra Technical College,

One of the gathering clouds, however, is the failure so far of the Commonwealth to make provision in the State allocation of building materials for the needs of ACT housing.

The most common excuse heard in the past months for failure to complete projects, Departmental or private, has been ‘insufficient material and labour’.

Despite these deficiencies, the Department of Works and Housing has accelerated its building programme so rapidly that 22 houses were completed in December alone, and some of the 226 under construction are almost complete.

Bricks and timber have been reserved for the minor flood of workmen expected in Canberra. Residents have been warned that there is no guarantee that the workmen will be solely reserved for ACT building but in official circles programmes have been quietly mapped out for the most part dependent on using the majority of tradesmen from Britain.

Improved Output

Figures released by the Department of Works and Housing revealed that 78 houses had been completed in the second half of the year.

Approximately 70 of this number had been completed in the second half of the year.

During the year ended June 30, 1946, only 59 houses were completed.

Houses at present under construction in Canberra total 226 and include 126 brick houses, 13 houses being constructed by day labour, 75 demountable houses at Narrabundah and 12 rebuilt houses from Tocumwal material.

Contracts have been let for all house construction for which tenders were called in 1946, the last batch for 48 houses in Turner being let a fortnight ago.

In addition tenders have been received for the new Barton Hostel.

Plans are being prepared for a block of 40 flats at Narrabundah in  the vicinity of the present housing programme in Jerrabomberra Av. They will be two and three bedroom units.

Additional subdivisions, including Griffith, are expected to be advertised for lease early this year.

Rush For Leases

The number of leases for which applications were made for the public in 1946 was 81, which is almost double those for the previous year.

Relinquishments, however, are smaller, although many new leases were compelled to secure extensions of time because high building costs and lack of materials prevented building being commenced.

A total of 137 blocks was available at the end of 1046, comprising: Ainslie5. Braddon 20, Deakin 38, Forrest 26, Red Hill 24, Reid 4, and Turner 20.

To date 1100 applicants are waiting for homes through the Department, of which 690 applicants were lodged in 1946.

Applicants are still signing papers and making requests at the rate of 60 to 70 a month, even though it will be 18 or 19 months before their opportunity of securing a home eventuates.

Despite a December allocation of homes to 13 fortunate occupiers in Turner and nine others in Braddon many applicants have been passed over because the rental of available houses is beyond what they could afford to pay.

Material Shortages

Many of the houses under construction are being held up because of the lack of essential commodities. Twelve electric stoves are shortly to be installed in homes which were originally designed for fuel ranges because fuel ranges were not available.

Applicants for electrical fittings as far back as 1942 have not yet received electrical fittings for their homes through the Department.

Tiles have always been short and at a premium. Bricks were rationed to private contractors so that quantities could be stored for the coming of the English labourers. The same process is being observed with soft and hard woods. Sufficient materials is seeping through for work on Government projects. A shortage of skilled men is slowing down the rate of building.

The greatest deterrent to attract skilled labour to the ACT is the lack of housing for the men and their families. Similarly a number of craftsmen have left the employ or contractors on private enterprise construction to work on Government jobs in the hope their change over might assist them in securing a home more rapidly.

There were minor rumbles of unrest during 1946 among the building trades including a demand for day labour to replace contracts. Accusations were made of ‘slowing down’ on Government projects.

Employers have complained that men have been working week-ends on other jobs and not working satisfactorily during the week.

...(part missing) statute negotiations for arbitration procedure the inability of the Courts to take adequate measures to protect its authority, reluctance of Governments to enforce disciplinary clauses of industrial law, high taxation, high costs of living, shortages in houses, and in the production of consumer goods.

Mr Osberg said in the face of a strong well organised attempt to destroy arbitration, it was obvious that the dignity and effectiveness of arbitration courts and judges must deteriorate rapidly if they were not endowed with the power by imposition of sanctions to enforce their decisions.

All plumbing trainees under the Rehabilitation Training Scheme were unable to start work on completion of their course because materials were lacking with the result that some trainees were lost to the ACT.

Departmental Plans

The keystone of departmental endeavour was the joint pronouncement on March 9 of the Ministers for Works and Housing and the Interior. It included plans for 200 demountable houses for workers, the erection of flats in the Reid district, the establishment of two additional hostels at Braddon and Barton, and the building of 1,000 homes for residents in Canberra.

Against this 75 steel framed fibro walled demountable homes are being erected for workers at Narrabundah. Tenders have been called for the Braddon establishment are reported to be in an advanced stage of preparation.

Bids received for the Reid flats were claimed to be unjustifiably high. A further plan made public in August is for the erection on 100 concrete homes in the Turner area, but tenders received from New South Wales contractors are still being considered.

The latest development is the transfer from Tocumwal of RAAF hutments for redesign and re-erection in Ainslie.

Apart from an unsatisfactory start with weathered and broken timbers and delays in laying the foundations of these homes may prove early relief for large families requiring three or more bedrooms.

Fears By Private Enterprise

There is grave concern at the discouragement during the year of private enterprise contracting.  Contractors who started 1946 hopeful of additional labour from returning servicemen and additional production of materials quickly discovered that they were being hamstrung by State and Commonwealth priority demands.

Some contractors complained their craftsmen were leaving the Territory because supplies were insufficient to keep their men fully employed. This adversely affected tender prices, and builders were paying higher rates to skilled men to retain their services even though their work was restricted by building shortages.

There have been two major clashes during the year involving building materials, effects of which are still being felt. Both resulted directly from a tightening up of departmental controls.

The first involved a drastic curtailment of brick supplies which affected not only buildings within the ACT bu in Queanbeyan.

The second was the stoppage of radiata pine supplies to private enterprise projects.

The immediate effect was to discourage private building and pr...(?) the choice of remaining contractors and workmen between Government projects in the ACT and going out into the State.

Builders found they were unable to obtain bricks between Canberra and Sydney. They also discovered timber supplies had been requisitioned for Commonwealth projects from all dealers miles from Canberra.

The air was cleared to some extent by a conference between officers of the Department of Works and Housing and the Interior and a deputation of builders.

A reason brought forward for the curtailment of supplies was the need for a reserve of materials in light of the approaching arrival of the English tradesmen.

Materials in Doubt

One of the most anxious concerns for 1947 will be continuity of building supplies for private housing.

During the war allocation of supplies was made under National Security Regulations. These Commonwealth made laws delegated the war time control of building materials to the States, but no stipulation was made to reserve supplies for ACT needs.  With the expiry of the National Security Act allocation of building supplies becomes a purely State matter and unless the Commonwealth authorities reach agreement with the State in reserving some allocation to the ACT the exact position of Canberra housing will be indefinite.

Positive Plan

Private enterprise has endeavoured to assist the Government during 1946 in making materials go as far as possible and is also endeavouring to provide a basis to assure to adequate requirements of materials in 1947.

One proposal is to establish a pool for materials designed not only to give private enterprise a representative bargaining body in Canberra, but also to assist in distribution of available materials.

On their availability and efficiency depends much of the immediate process of home building in Canberra.

Architects are endeavouring to induce clients to combine in erecting houses in zones so that one contractor may erect a group of homes, thereby securing as much economy in labour and materials as possible.

To achieve the best results amendments to the present building regulations are favoured. The Departments of Works and Housing and the Interior are now reviewing local regulations in the light of findings of the Commonwealth experimental housing station at Ryde NSW.

With uniformity of standards, it is believed that substantial economies can be achieved both in manpower and materials.


The Canberra Times 26 October 1949


The number of new Australians who are married and have their wives and families in Canberra and are seeking accommodation is causing concern.

The report that the old Capitol Hill mess would be converted shortly into quarters for married immigrants could not be confirmed yesterday.

The mess was for many years a home for old age pensioners.

The Medical Superintendent of the Canberra Hospital (Dr LW Nott) said yesterday that the position of married immigrants was becoming an increasing problem.  Many women work in hostels. When a son or daughter arrives they cannot retain their employment, and in accommodation-starved Canberra, they have nowhere to go.

Dr Nott suggested that space becoming available in the Government offices at Barton could be used for the transfer of departments at the old hospital at Acton. Part of the old hospital could then be used to accommodate married newcomers. 

Two other plans, however, are being considered for the old hospital buildings. One suggestion is, that part of them be converted into a convalescent home for aged people at present in hospital.

It is also understood that efforts may be made to take over the buildings for the National University.