A Place for Everyone: Constructing 1920s Suburban Sydney

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Locating Suburbia: memory, place, creativity, 2013, 1, pp. 88 - 102
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After WWI, Sydney experienced an enormous surge in the construction of suburban homes. These ranged from modest wooden cottages for the working classes to mansions in areas such as the North Shore. Collectively, these buildings formed a mass of material culture and represented a specific form of cultural consumption. The new suburbs, divergent and demarcated as they were, became vehicles for the expression and identification of class and the foundation for modern community formation. In a period of rapid change, suburbs were also, paradoxically, a bulwark against mass society. Ideologues, experts and others promoted the virtues of the salubrious suburbs. But the new suburban order perpetuated old hierarchies and heightened class quarantining. Dependent on industrialization heralded in Australia with the opening of BHPs Newcastle steelworks in 1915 the rise of mass society had on one hand a leveling effect on the culture. Mass production of homes and building supplies, clothes, furniture and art fostered or at least appeared to foster a growing homogeneity in society. Developments in mass or popular culture including radio, first commercially broadcast in Australia in 1923, cinema and sport did likewise. Radical changes in mass communication and transportation also increased contact between different classes and groups. On the other hand, the emergence of mass society challenged authority and tradition. Class differences became blurred as status symbols changed and social and physical mobility increased. The spread of the new suburbia entailed a re-configuration of social relations and perceptions of class in the process of community formation. The proliferation and consolidation of local government as well as cultural institutions such as golf clubs and progress associations were integral to this process, and impacted on the landscape. But it was not the ideals of enlightened politicians and bureaucrats or the new breed of crusading town planners that underpinned these developments. Rather, bourgeois culture, with its characteristically galvanizing adaptability, assimilated ideological conflicts, appropriated planning mantras and relocated an expanded antipodean version of the English code of gentility involving notions of gentlemanly virtues and cultured living into an evolving pattern of respectability which was becoming increasingly suburban and anti-urban from the latter half of the 19th century. The self-professed heirs of the gentry tradition were to see themselves, and be seen, as steadfast social pillars in a rapidly changing and threatening world. Modern ideas and social practices were shunned in suburbia, which became the heartland of a refurbished liberalism. The emerging suburbs became material expressions and confirmations of the new social order. Their growth was driven in part by the powerful ideology of `progress.
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