A "Perpetual Lease" in Indooroopilly

Chris encountered some challenges when researching her 1920s bungalow in Indooroopilly. The house was funded under the “Worker’s Homes Act” of 1919, where properties were bought, built and owned by the Queensland Government and rented to workers under perpetual leases. The research had to proceed without the usual chain of title deeds, but she found a way around the obstacles and in the process opened a new avenue of enquiry for local and family historians. With some collaborative research we also uncovered the brief history of suburban development in this leafy pocket of the western suburbs.

1850s to 1920s

In the 1850’s the pastoralist and politician Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior (1819-1892) began to acquire land throughout the parish of Indooroopilly. His properties came to include several portions between today’s Swann Road and the Brisbane River, forming a continuous holding of more than 200 acres.

T.L.M. Prior’s land holdings, Brisbane 40 chain map of 1919 over a contemporary aerial photo. Click to enlarge.

Prior had arrived in Moreton Bay with Leichhardt in 1843 and proceeded to a career of rural squatting, land speculation and eventually public service as the postmaster-general in 1862. His properties around western Brisbane were extensive and included another 250 acres on the southern side of St Lucia.

 

In 1884 a 15 acre portion subdivision on what is now Saunders Street, where Chris’ house lies, passed to Graham Lloyd Hart (1839 – 1897). Hart was a lawyer, chancellor to the diocese of Brisbane and director of A.M.P., and he joined many other wealthy citizens in the intense and ultimately disastrous wave of land speculation that accompanied the 1880’s boom. He also built and occupied the magnificent Greylands residence which still stands on nearby Dennis St.

T.L.M. Prior (left) and G. L. Hart (right), owners of the land south of “Swan’s Road” in Indooroopilly.

Hart continued the process of subdivision and one of the first subsequent sales was in 1888, of a lot located on the corner of Swann Rd and the future Saunders St. The purchaser was a William Saunders and as the first settler he later gave name to Saunders Street. His small corner lot is marked “1888” in the top-right of the aerial photo overlay, below. 

1894 G. L. Heart title deed over a contemporary aerial photo, showing dates for subsequent land sales. Click to enlarge.

Saunders' settlement would have been an isolated affair, one of a handful of houses scattered in the scrub along the dirt track then referred to as “Swan’s Road”. Typically for the hilly suburbs north of the river, the first roads and dwellings were established along elevated ridges and then on side streets as residential development advanced. William was a man of modest means, listed as a “Draper” in electoral lists of the early 1890s. We haven’t found him in any of the commercial directories suggesting that he was an employee rather than proprietor. It is likely that his house on Swann Rd was a classic, pyramid-roofed cottage in a similar vein to a handful of original houses remaining in the area.

 

Saunders’ St was established in the early 1920s and over the following decade further subdivision and development along the eastern side produced a string of properties of the usual 16 perch configuration.

The Worker’s Homes Lease, 1923

In previous articles we’ve looked at the Worker’s Dwellings Act (WDA) of 1909 which funded thousands of worker’s dwellings throughout Queensland. The WDA enabled owners of suitable land, earning less than £200 a year, to secure a mortgage of up to £300 to build a house. The loans were repayable over twenty years at an interest rate of about 5% and applicants had to put down substantial deposits using the land as collateral. 

 

The second government housing program operated under the Worker’s Homes Act (WHA) of 1919. In contrast to the WDA, the WHA enabled the government to build houses and rent them to employed persons who did not own any land and earned less than £260 a year. The land and house remained the property of the Crown and the applicant was given a perpetual lease – guaranteeing possession as long as conditions were met. A land rent was charged and the cost of the house was repayable over a period up to 30 years. The elimination of capital expenditure made WHA homes cheaper than WDA homes, but despite the generous terms relatively few developments were funded under this scheme. Both the WDA and WHA were replaced by the State Housing Act of 1945.

 

Chris’ Bungalow sits on a lot of land which was leased in 1923 by William Fisher (1888-1957), listed as a “carrier” or “traveller” in the post office directories. The house is in the comparatively rare “single gable” bungalow style, with a single, half-timbered gable spanning the width of the house and facing the street. We have not been able to find any catalogues for “Worker’s Homes” patterns so the origin of the design is unknown, but a similar pattern can be found in another catalogue from 1927. 

 

From the date of construction in 1924 the Queensland Government owned the property until 1968, when it again passed into private hands.

Researching “Perpetual Leases” and Occupants

The absence of title deeds presents a challenge when researching the past occupants of a house. “Worker’s Homes” properties are rare, and I haven’t come across any other case where the history of “Lessees” has been traced. 

 

Through her enquiries, Chris established that records of ‘Worker’s Homes” agreements were held in a restricted register by the Department of Housing and Public Works (DHPW). After some lobbying the DHPW made a policy change to allow Chris, and future researchers, to view the workers homes application books. There are three books, all hand-written and fragile, and for future viewing they must be requested in person from the Queensland State Archives. Researchers should refer to the following entry in the QSA catalogue:

QSA Catalogue item, Worker’s Home Loan Registers Click to enlarge.

For Chris, the register confirmed William Fisher as the first lessee and by cross-referencing postal directories, newspaper articles and other sources she managed to identify later sub-tenants of the house during periods where the Fisher family lived elsewhere. In conclusion, a very successful investigation and foray into a new branch of building history research.

 

Thanks to Chris and family for the opportunity to look at her cottage, and for sharing the research on the Worker’s Homes scheme.

Key sources:

- Deed of Grant and historical Title Deeds for the property, sourced from Queensland DNRM
- TROVE historical newspaper archives
- Genealogy.com, for family trees, census records, electoral rolls and passenger lists
- Post office directories from the 1870's through to the 1940's
- Pugh's Almanac, 1859-1927
- NSW and Queensland Government Gazettes, 1836-1900
- Miscellaneous texts on Queensland history
- Parish and miscellaneous maps, courtesy of the Queensland State Archives

- "Every Man's Right: Queensland Labor and Home Ownership 1915-1957. Hollander, Robyn.