Man with a plan: Masculinity and DIY house building in post-war Australia

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Abstract:

In the period of reconstruction that followed World War II, Australians experienced a severe housing shortage. The Commonwealth Government's own wartime estimate was that there would be a shortage of over 300,000 dwellings in 1947. While it collaborated with state governments to build public housing, chronic shortages of materials, of labour and an increasing population, meant that the demand could not be met. As a result, many Australians found that the only way they would get a home was to build it themselves - up to 30 per cent of all new houses in the 1950s were owner built.

DIY home construction provided a tangible representation of a husband and father's capacity to provide shelter. While women became involved in planning, sourcing materials, labouring and project-management, men undertook most of the heavy construction. At the same time, a significant shift occurred in the way manual labour around the house was viewed. DIY activity became seen as a pleasant and meaningful contribution to family life and part of the solution to the potential feminization of the suburban father.

The values associated with DIY and the practices of a new kind of suburban masculinity were promoted in popular taste-making publications such as Australian Home Beautiful, Australian House and Garden, and ephemera published by the manufacturers of building materials, tools and other commodities. This article uses these sources and interviews with people, most of who were traced from articles about their DIY homes, in local magazines.

Keywords: DIY (do-it-yourself); housing shortage; lifestyle magazines; masculinity; owner-builders; post-war suburbia

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/ajpc.1.2.165_1

Affiliations: Swinburne University

Publication date: September 8, 2011

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  • The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.
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