weatherboard and iron

Weatherboard and Iron.jpg


This emerged as one of the mysteries of Barnaby Joyce’s farewell speech to Federal Parliament when it was confirmed that he was a New Zealand citizen and thus ineligible to be a Member of Parliament. In looking back over his career, he claimed that he had always represented the people of the weatherboard and iron. Most people heard it as ‘weatherboard nine’ and wondered who this previously unknown group of tragic victims were and why we had not heard about their suffering.

Even once it was realised that ‘weatherboard nine’ was ‘weatherboard and iron’, some explanation was still needed. It turned out to relate to an aspect of our architectural history. In the early 1800s cheap housing was needed in Australian cities and the solution was to build cottages with weatherboard walls and galvanised iron roofs.

 By the late 1860s an enthusiastic reporter commenting on the new buildings taking shape in Melbourne proudly maintained that ‘the “weatherboard and corrugated iron period” which was in vogue a few years back has passed away, and now we behold dwellings erected which would not discredit London or any other English city.’

 Mind you, the weatherboard and iron regained its popularity in the 1930s and 1940s as cheap housing, so this style lasted 100 years. It came to be associated with the poorer sections of society, the people whose cause Barnaby Joyce had espoused, so he claimed. The shift in the use of this name from the building style to the social group, 'the weatherboard and iron', seems to have been Joyce's own invention. I can find no other references to it and I doubt that anyone will follow him down that track.

 This is not, however, the end of the story. If you look at more recent citations for the weatherboard and iron, you will find it described as having charm, adding an aesthetic to the street. The traditional corrugated iron roof has authenticity. ‘I do love a house with a bit of iron’ says one enthusiastic contributor.

 It is comparable to the story of the gentrification of terrace houses in Sydney.  A genuine weatherboard and iron is rising in value. So Barnaby is perhaps a little out of date in his choice of imagery, adopting a rhetorical motif which is fading along with his style of politics.


ZG: 6

It is an interesting bit of Australian history but given that this particular usage is a one-off, I think it earns a relatively low score.