Our house: histories of Australian homes
41 - NCDC cottage
154 Blamey Crescent, Campbell, Australian Capital Territory
Lennox family group at the front of Blamey Crescent house.
When the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) began operations in Canberra in March 1958 it was faced with two immediate and, in some ways, contradictory challenges with respect to housing. The NCDC had to remedy a shortage of homes which saw over 3000 existing residents waiting for government housing. At the same time, the NCDC had to provide new homes for a similar number of public servants being transferred to the city as part of a policy, announced by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1957, to consolidate public service administration near the seat of government in the national capital.
This three bedroom cottage in Campbell was constructed under contract through the Department of Works. Upon completion in late 1958 it was reserved for a family moving from Melbourne with the Defence Department transfers, which were due to begin in January 1959. The suburb of Campbell was built to house the majority of the first move and it was close to the Navy's administration building in Russell, where the offices were planned to relocate.
Housing was allocated through a ballot system - couples were given a set of detailed house plans and maps of new subdivisions from which to select their three choices. This full brick, 'Canberra Housing Design 23 B11B' was Harry and Shirley Lennox's first choice.
Shirley Lennox posing happily by the family's first choice Canberra house in 1958.
Born in Melbourne, the couple were living with their three children in a home they had built only three years earlier in Beaumaris. Neither knew much about Canberra, although both visited the city during 1958 as part of official delegations. Harry came in July as part of a delegation sent by the Administrative and Clerical Officers' Association to inspect conditions; Shirley came in October, one of twelve Defence wives brought by the Commonwealth's Public Service Board in an attempt to help alleviate the concerns many women were expressing about facilities in Canberra. The keys to the Blamey Crescent cottage were not available so Shirley was unable to inspect the home's interior during her stay but she remembers being 'delighted with the size and location'.
When the family moved in the rental cottage had only basic fittings. There was no centralised hot water system. Instead, separate small, electric units operated in the kitchen and bathroom; heating was restricted to a 'Rayburn' wood stove; and there were no floor coverings. The first winter was particularly hard - their Rayburn was placed next to an external wall in the lounge room and the resulting waste of heat meant 'you were warmer out there leaning against the bricks in the middle of winter'.
The Blamey Crescent cottage in 1958.
Funds from the sale of their Melbourne home allowed carpet to be laid in the living areas during the first few months but, in common with other families facing the demands of establishing a new home from scratch, carpeting the whole house was impossible. So polished floors and mats in the bedrooms combined with their distance from the wood stove meant these rooms were far from cosy.
Fences, footpaths and clothes hoists were provided but the garden required much work, although residents were allowed a free allocation of trees and shrubs. Complementing these early memories of a relatively harsh physical environment are memories of companionship and friendship. Harry worked at the Navy Office and when the Department moved into the Russell complex 'just over the hill' in the mid-1960s he was able to walk to and from the office and home for lunch.
Other young Defence families lived in Campbell and social life revolved around Saturday nights spent in each other's homes dancing, singing around the piano and sharing a few beers. After feeling homesick when their first Melbourne Cup Day spent in Canberra passed without recognition, Shirley and her friends began holding Cup Day lunches at home, a tradition which continues.
Drawn by Shibou Dutta
The cottage has been gradually expanded to meet the needs of a growing family. Eager to reduce rental housing stock, the Commonwealth government promoted owner-occupancy, either through the purchase of a rented government property or the construction of a new, privately-built home. In 1961 Harry and Shirley were among the many residents who took the first option to purchase their government home and gain the freedom to adapt which comes with home ownership.
Another child was born in Canberra and the family structure of three girls and one boy meant that their son shared a room with his younger sister. As the children grew this became impractical and ten years after moving into the house Harry and Shirley built the first extension - a bedroom designed especially for a teenage boy.
Harry and Shirley have transformed the house from a standard design cottage built as part of a bulk government housing project to a unique family home.
Shirley's new kitchen with Simpson wall oven and 'sunshine coming right down from skylights'.
The next extension came in 1979 courtesy of some surplus funds saved initially for a trip to Ireland. Following the advice of an architect friend, the back verandah, which was already under the main roof, was enclosed to become part of the living room and a new kitchen and family room were built. The kitchen is Shirley's pride and joy. An accomplished cake decorator, Shirley's efforts were hampered by a lack of kitchen space which meant storing cake tins on top of her wardrobe. So the new kitchen allowed her the space to pursue her craft comfortably while providing an important focal point for family life.
More recent changes include a door from the main bedroom onto a deck area which surrounds an above ground pool and finally, in 1997, gas central heating.
In Shirley's own words
We've made a beautiful big home out of it and we have no desire to move anywhere else now. We've got a lot of grandchildren and for Christmas Day and family parties it's more comfortable here - they all love to come so we wouldn't want to change it.
The new lounge in 1979 with its ash feature wall and large, cedar-framed windows.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Photographs: the Lennox family.
Interview with Shirley Lennox, Campbell ACT, September, 1996.
National Archives of Australia, A451/1 58/6053, Planning for Transfer of Melbourne Depts to Canberra - Co-ordinating & Steering Committee.
Sparke, Eric, Canberra 1954-1988, AGPS, Canberra,1988.
Christine Cannon was a research assistant in the Urban Research Program at the Australian National University until 1999 and completed a MLitt thesis on the experiences of wives involved in the Defence Department transfer from Melbourne to Canberra. She is currently enrolled as a PhD student in the School of Geography & Oceanography at the Defence Force Academy. Her research is focussing on the interaction between local resident action groups and the formal institutions of government, planning and development in Canberra.