Timber cottages: portable, machine-made, ready-cut

As early as the 1830s, a small number of timber cottages were prefabricated by Australian joinery companies before being transported and erected on site.

Because these types of ready-made or portable cottages did not require a high level of skill to assemble, they were particularly popular in remote areas where skilled labour was scarce.

By the end of the 19th century, joinery factories had taken on much of the building work previously performed by on-site carpenters. These factories commonly produced, in bulk quantities, tongue-and-groove floorboards, window frames, skirting boards and doors. Some companies then took the next step and supplied complete timber cottages.

For most of the 20th century, timber cottages largely made in the factory – known as ‘pre-cut’, ‘ready-cut’, ‘machine-made’ or ‘portable’ – were a popular and affordable form of housing in both the countryside and suburbs.

The Hudson family was one of the best known Australian makers of timber homes. By 1874 the firm of Hudson Brothers was producing ‘portable houses’ in timber to be erected in the countryside, as well as in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. According to a newspaper report at the time, ‘every piece of timber is marked for its appropriate place so that the houses can be put together by unskilled labour on arrival at their destination’ (Sydney Mail, 1874).

In the early 1890s, George Hudson formed his own company, a joinery business in Redfern, which in 1908 expanded into new premises in Glebe. By the mid-1920s, George Hudson had an extensive range of portable or ready-made timber cottages, now branded as ‘Ready-Cut’ homes. Hudson’s homes went up throughout Sydney’s suburbs, in the country, and as holiday homes, well into the 1970s.

Past exhibition

  • 3 October 2014 - 27 February 2015