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The consumption of suburban housing: A study of dwellings in the Greater Perth Metropolitan Region and the district of Victoria Park between the two world wars

Hunter, Lindsay Diack (1994) The consumption of suburban housing: A study of dwellings in the Greater Perth Metropolitan Region and the district of Victoria Park between the two world wars. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The subject matter of this study is the consumption of suburban housing in Australian metropolitan regions between the two world wars. Specifically, it examines the distinctiveness of what was owned and occupied by whom in relation to later developments. Despite the period being of considerable significance in the growth of urban residential areas, it has not been well researched and this mainly involves two methodological problems. The first is the dearth of detailed data; the second is the lack of an established theoretical framework to guide investigations. Clearly the two elements are interrelated and therefore this study is as much about the development of a body of relevant information as it is about a conceptual interpretation of the findings.

Turning to the first difficulty, the problem is not only the availability of data for the period per se, but also to relate it to the overall development of suburbs. This has entailed a reworking of census data and to that end, growth groups were devised and found to be more sensitive than zones to portray trends within However, metropolitan areas. this still does not overcome the data gap, particularly between 1921 and 1947, and consequently a detailed study has been made of Victoria Park from the rate books and sewerage plans. This covers the period from 1900 to 1955 and thereby provides a wider time frame to assess the distinctiveness of the period between the two world wars. With regard to the second difficulty, many studies appear to seek direct cause and effect linkages which have shaped urban phenomena. In this study, following the ideals of structuration, the view is taken that suburban housing is interconnected with the wider social structure in a mutually responsive relationship. Within this framework, the proposition is that there has been a shift in emphasis from houses as places for the sustenance of labour to locations for the consumption of a widening array of goods and services, including the house itself; and that this emerged strongly between the two world wars.

While there are many facets to the study of suburban growth and development, two particular issues are used to direct this research. The first is the nature of occupancy, characters of dwellings and the relationships between them as indicators of changes in the consumption of housing. The second is the role of gender in these developments. The latter is considered to be significant because one of the apparent outcomes of suburbanization in the period was the segregation of males and females; and furthermore, while the suburbs were the domain of women, men appeared to control access to the means of consumption.

From an analysis of the data developed at the macro scale of the Greater Perth Metropolitan Region, based on 26 Local Government Areas, and the micro level of Victoria Park using more than 6000 dwellings, the following findings have been made. Firstly, home ownership was a significant, although obscured, element of the suburbs which developed between the two world wars. Secondly, while the depression had a devastating and prolonged impact on home ownership in working class areas such as Victoria Park, in so doing, the proportion of outright to mortgage ownership increased. Thirdly, the period between the wars was part of a longer term trend for homes to have more rooms, often at the expense of verandahs, and fewer inhabitants. Fourthly, despite the fact that established suburbs had a majority of females, men still either owned or were nominated as the principal occupiers of the majority of residences. However, between the wars, not only did the level of female ownership increase significantly, but joint ownership also emerged as a the major form of occupancy. Fifthly, during the same period, there was a marginal propensity for sole males to own slightly larger, more expensive, brick homes while sole females owned slightly smaller, cheaper, weather-board residences. However, there is no clear distinction in terms of either age of dwellings or distance to the closest tram stop or railway station. Finally, although Perth has been characterised as a brick city, initial housing in the new suburbs, particularly in the period which encompassed the two world wars, were usually constructed of cheaper, more easily transported and constructed materials. The emphasis on brick homes was usually a feature of later consolidation phases of urban development.

From these findings it is concluded that housing, as both a major item of consumption, and as the venue for increasing levels of household consumption, was well established in the suburbs which developed between the two world wars. As such, it is suggested that residential areas need to be seriously viewed as places of consumption and this consideration tied into any endeavour to plan future developments.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia
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