Thursday, April 29, 2010

Corrugated Iron - "White Man's Bark."

Farm Buildings, Woodend, Victoria, Australia Barn, Trentham, Victoria, Australia I read a terrific essay on Australian corrugated iron recently, called "Corrugated Iron - Materiality and Placedness," by Ray Norman. I'm very much at home with corrugated iron as a building material - I am a New Zealander after all and we New Zealanders can claim a 'kinship' to corrugated iron that is equal to the Australians. In another article I read, one Australian writer had the effrontery to suggest that"Australia is beyond any doubt, the spiritual home of corrugated iron." Ray Norman at least, had the mind to write in his essay, "of course none of this is exclusive to Australia." Barn, Woodend, Victoria, Australia
Home Garage, Woodend, Victoria, Australia
Farm Building, Drummond, Victoria, Australia
I do of course appreciate that corrugated iron can well be described as "the building material that made the (Australian) bush;" just as it 'made' much of pioneering and rural New Zealand - and still does in many a rural context. It has played a major role in the settling of both countries and just as it is a key element in the "frontier and mining adventures" of Australia, so it was in New Zealand. It still dominates farm architecture in both countries and in New Zealand it is still the material of choice for domestic roofing.
Large Contemporary Corrugated Iron Home, Woodend, Victoria, Australia
I've featured New Zealand corrugated architecture here before, so when I went to Australia recently, it seemed only fair to snap a few photos showing their use of it. All photographs in this post therefore, were shot in various places around Victoria.
In reference to the Australian scene, I very much like Ray Norman's essay introduction: "If you are an Australian, a 'Baby Boomer,' grew up just about anywhere outside a large city, or even in one, or lived on 'the land,' or worked in a 'shed' or in a factory of some kind, the chances are that just about every roof you ever lived, or worked under would have been corrugated iron. The water you drank as a kid more than likely would have been collected on your roof and indeed, you may well have been conceived under the stuff. And, if you were brought up as a Protestant Non-conformist, there's a better than even chance that you've done some praying under corrugated iron and just maybe, you were married under it too." I imagine that this paragraph will ring a few bells for many thousands of New Zealanders too.
Contemporary Home Under Construction, Woodend, Victoria, Australia
Aboriginal Australians took to calling corrugated iron "white fella iron bark" when it began superceding natural materials in colonial settlements. You'll still find Aborigines themselves using it for their 'humpies' (dwellings) and they'll often collect it from disused, or burnt-out homes. As Norman notes after a bushfire: "...the house's iron will be whisked away to be straghtened out a bit, to become a fence, to roof a chook house, to cover this or that and keep it dry, to make the kids a canoe, to do, or become a myriad of things. The stuff is just so forgiving and it never seems to give up its usefulness until it's gone to rust and ultimately turns to dust."
Contemporary Shop Facade on Old Warehouses, Malmsbury, Victoria, Australia Norman also notes that in modern day Australia (as in New Zealand), corrugated iron has become "much better mannered" and is "the trendy stuff of the 'smart Aussie vernacular,' where the irreverence of its 'bush' context is celebrated."
"Lurking away in its materiality, wherever you are, corrugated iron is bound to have some subliminal stories and memories, and perhaps, an odd sub-text or two, just waiting to be pondered upon," he adds.
To see other stories on this subject click corrugated iron in the label line below this post.

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