Thatching in Australia, New Zealand & the Islands of the Pacific

The craft in Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia & Polynesia; until c1930

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his is a big page... That covers a vast area; which includes a large portion of the world’s greatest ocean and the continent of Australia. Thatching was carried out on every inhabited Pacific island and in many areas of Australia. The materials used, varying with availability and climate...

To the modern eye a few of the dwellings, in images shown below, look 'primitive'. However what is illustrated, is the result of the clever use of local thatching and building materials. Employed by people with limited resources; more than likely living on some unforgiving land. Nevertheless creating stout & weatherproof homes.

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Stout and Weatherproof... This shot from 1880, depicts a very common method of thatching, in this case using the widespread palm leaf... These have been doubled and tied into rows, which the young lad is passing up to the thatchers. Who layer and fix these from above. Tying the thatch to the roof timbers being almost a universal practice... Many of the lands covered by this page were subject to various forms of colonisation, mainly by European powers. Their influence on the craft was slight, except contact also brought the introduction of corrugated iron sheeting; which replaced most thatch as time progressed.


We'll now follow a gentle ocean current; that begins in Hawaii, drifts across Micronesia and down through remaining Polynesia; up through Melanesia; ending in Australia... Not all the islands will be visited, as there are around 25,000!

The Hawaiian Islands... Mokupuni o Hawai‘i


An independent kingdom, until the late 1800’s; now very much part of the United States... Two thousand miles of ocean lie between this group, of 130 or so volcanic islands and North America; lying on the eastern fringe of Polynesia. Pili grass was the favoured thatch hereabouts; used on both walls and roof, as the images below clearly show. Traditionally women and children gathered the material and pairs of men tied it to suitable roof purlins. The enterprise being undertaken along with friends and neighbours.

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The upper print depicts a village visited by Captain James Cook, near Waimea on the island of Kauai; in what he named The Sandwich Islands. The captain and his expedition became the first non- Polynesians to visit, in 1778. The scene shows all structures having a grass thatch; similar to the more modern images... The photo’s opposite and below date to around 1900. The lower being captured by Frank Davey in Honolulu...
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uam... Guåhan


One of the Mariana Islands and the biggest island in Micronesia, but still only thirty miles long. Part of the Spanish Empire, it fell to the United States in 1898 and remains part today. However, from around three and a half thousand years ago several waves of settlers have arrived here. Guam’s larger size provided them with several thatching materials.

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Neighbourly thatch... The favoured thatch here consisted of Coconut palm leaves, lasting a few years or ‘Nipa’; leaves of the Mangrove Palm, lasting a decade. Less well used was ‘Nette’, or Swordgrass. The longest lasting thatch, was thought to be created, if harvested during the last quarter of the moon, at low tide. (A similar tradition existed in the Caribbean.)

The upper image depicts roofs at Umatac, on the southwest coast in 1846. Similar work is shown opposite, being done half a century later. As in other parts of the Pacific thatching was a communal effort, with women making the lengths of woven leaves or ‘Higa’. Several hundred being used to create the smallest thatch. Ridges consisted of tightly woven ’Pupong’ mats, held in place by sticks running under the ridge pole, as seen above… Much drink and food was provided throughout…


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aipan... Sa’ipan


Around half the size of its southern neighbour Guam, this island shares much culture and history... Except it fell under German then Japanese rule, after that of Spain; all of whom changed the population somewhat, but not it seems the thatching tradition.

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Moving... The upper left print depicts an island village in 1885; when Saipan was part of the Spanish Empire. It had removed many of the local Chamorro people in the early eighteenth century; replacing many in the early nineteenth, with groups from the Caroline Islands. This process seemed to continue under the German Empire. The upper right image dates to 1910, showing a ‘House of the Carolineans’...
After the First World War, the island saw many immigrants from the Japanese Empire, to which Saipan had been given. The group below date from this period, but seem to be locals... After the Second World War the island fell into the orbit of the United States. But throughout all this, the craft of thatching followed that of the original Chamorro people. Being very similar to that found on Guam, another of their ancestral lands.
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alau...Beluu er a Belau


Lying at the western end of the Carolines, this group of 340 islands has a land area of only 180 square miles... Inhabited for three millennia, like other Caroline islands it fell under Spanish, German, Japanese and United States control, until independence in 1994. As on other islands, these colonial powers had no input into the craft of thatching...

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The opposite 1788 print depicts a ‘’View of part of the town of Pelew, and the place of Council’. from 'An Account of the Pelew Islands, situated in the Western part of the Pacific Ocean'.


The 1920/30's image below shows similar dwellings and dates to the period of control by Japan. Much was lost in the Second World War; including many thatched homes and their inhabitants... The skill of the thatcher survived however; the craft following other Pacific islands, in tying on layers of palm leaves, bent and fixed over sticks... One of the roofs below having some non traditional tin sheets covering the ridge.
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ap & Satawal...


The Yap Islands are part of the Caroline Islands, which stretch for two thousand miles... Yap itself consists of four islands close together; with associated lands including Satawal, a solitary atoll; all now making up a state in the Federated States of Micronesia. Like others, this group passed from Spanish to German to Japanese rule; with no effect on traditional thatching hereabouts.

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Wealthy thatch... All three of these images appear to date from the period of German influence and occupation of these islands, which ended with the outbreak of the First World War. The upper and middle depict the Stone Money, unique to these lands. Heavy enough to leave outside your thatched home; displaying the family’s status... The value being created by having to bring it from a long distance.
The four islands of Yap are large enough to provide several thatching materials. Apart from the ubiquitous coconut palm; pandanus leaves and mangrove palm were utilised.
The lower photo, depicts a ‘Traders House’ on Satawal in 1886. On an atoll of less than a mile square, the coconut palm was seemingly the main resource for thatch and a host of other uses.
Middle image courtesy of British Museum, under Creative Commons Lic. Lower, courtesy of Museums New Zealand under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Lic.
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iribati...


Once the Gilbert part of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands, the modern state consists of thirty or so islands, spread over nearly one and half million square miles of the Micronesian Pacific... (The Ellice islands becoming Tuvalu) The coconut tree providing wood and Pandanus leaves the thatch hereabouts.

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Gilberts... The stamps issued on these islands have always been a favorite with collectors; often depicting thatch; many being issued by the British colonial government.
Similar sized buildings, to that on the stamp are seen on the upper right image on Teraina or Washington Island in around 1910.



The photo opposite shows the Mission Press and staff, on Beru Atoll in around 1913; neatly thatched...
Much of thes islands culture is still based around often extremely large, thatched Maneaba or meeting houses. The lower print depicts one in 1866.
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uvalu...


Once the Ellice part of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands, Tuvalu is made up of three reef islands and six atolls, in a chain of over three hundred and fifty miles but having a total land area of only around 10 square miles... Polynesians seemingly spread out from Samoa and Tonga into the Tuvaluan atolls at differing periods, finding familiar thatching materials on hand... ,

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The upper image depicts buildings on Funafuti, the largest island, in 1904. The left home has whole palm leaves being used to weigh down the thatch, similar to work on the Samoan Islands.
The stamp dates from the colonial period, when these island were grouped with what became Kiribati. Tuvalu retaining the Queen Elizabeth as head of their independent state.
Thatching here followed the favoured method found in the South Seas… Layers of leaves, mostly Pandanus, folded and tied to sticks; then closely layered and tied to roof timbers. Women traditionally making up the thatch, with men fixing it.
This work is visible on the wall, constructed with the same method; of the home behind the local young lady in the opposite photo. This was captured in around 1910, on the atoll of Nukufetau. Seemingly thatched roofs on the Tuvaluan atolls were capable of being quickly removed, until after an approaching storm had passed... As with thatching a communal exercise.
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he Samoan Islands...


Once referred to as The Navigator Islands, they were annexed by colonial powers; with the islands today consisting of two nations. Samoa, an independent western group, once subject to German then New Zealand rule and a smaller set of islands, part of the United States; American Samoa. Thatching on both being very similar; mainly based on the Coconut Palm. The craft predating any political divisions...

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In ‘An Account of Samoan History up to 1918’, the author Te'o Tuvale mentions the craft of thatching... He noted that all buildings were either round or had curved ends. The thatching method was similar to that seem at the top of this page, in that prepared lengths of palm leaves were tied in place. And as the upper image shows, thatch covered some very elaborate roof construction. Each layer of thatch only extended the coatwork by a short distance, creating the thick coating as seem above. Perhaps 3000 lengths of palm were prepared, by women, to thatch a normal house or ‘Fale’. Well thatched roofs lasted around seven years...
All three images date to around 1900. The opposite depicts US marines in action, during a civil war that led to the annexation of the islands. A more peaceful scene below depicts a well thatched roof, weighted with palm branches and timber.
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Tahiti... Otaheite
Once known as Otaheite, it is the largest of the Society Islands. Although two and a half thousand miles south of Hawaii, Tahiti shares a Polynesian culture and was also an independent state. Before annexation to France in 1880. Thatch and much else here relied on the Pandanus group of trees; more of a pine than a palm.... Second only to the Coconut Palm, as a resource in the Pacific...
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Captain Cook, by no means the first European visitor, stayed here on several occasions. The image opposite is from a publication of Joseph Bankes, his fellow traveller on his first voyage; ending in 1771. The ‘Thatching Needle’shown, being similar to those in use in Britain... The upper photo dates to 1910, depicting a ‘Typical Tahitian House’. The roof likely covered with Pandanus leaves.
The Cook Islands... Kūki 'Āirani
Named after the captain, in the 1820’s; but settled perhaps by peoples from Tahiti a millenum ago... ‘Kikau’ is the local word for 'home' as well as the leaf of a coconut tree... Having the same word for a dwelling and it’s thatch covering, is a feature also found in other cultures... However Pandanus Leaf roofs or ‘Rau’ were also common; thatch consisting of both materials also being found.
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Washing Day... On Rarotonga, largest of the fifteen islands of this group. This Edwardian image has two types of thatch depicted. The far right thatch is coated with palm fronds; with less coarse material used on the remaining roofs; very likely Pandanus leaves...
Niuē...
A single island of 100 square miles, makes up this territory. The locals saw off Captian Cook three times but later requested Queen Victoria, to "to stretch out towards us your mighty hand, that Niue may hide herself in it and be safe". The island’s name "Niue" is the local name for a coconut, which gives a clue to the main thatching material hereabouts...
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Missionary thatch... Apart from giving Captain Cook the cold shoulder, the locals also resisted the arrival of missionaries for quite a while. But the widespread acceptance of Christianity is shown above; with this 1886 image of a well thatched church... image, courtesy Museums New Zealand under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Lic.


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onga...


Captain Cook named this group, the Friendly Islands, but the locals were canny enough to retain their independence; remaining a kingdom to the present day. Coconut Palms seemingly provided the thatching materials, on some well roofed buildings, as seen below....

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Friendly thatch... These three images depict a very similar type of dwelling, with curved hipped ends; both walls and roof consisting of palm leaves, the walls being neatly woven... The thatched ridge was created, by folding the final layer over the apex and fixed, by pushing rods through at intervals.
The upper and opposite images date to around 1900; the smaller shows a scene at Neiafu, on the island of Vava’u, in Northern Tonga.
Similar buildings are shown below, in a cropped image, of that captured by George Dobson Valentine in 1887. Traditional thatch is shown, along with modern buildings, at Nuku’alofa; the nation’s capital. The tower of the Royal Palace can be seen on the extreme right... Last photo courtesy of Archives New Zealand, (under licence cc-by-sa-2.0.)
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ew Zealand... Aotearoa


Polynesian peoples settled here four to five centuries, before Captain Cook put these islands firmly on the map, in 1769... The next century brought the lands into the British Empire. Being much larger than the other islands, colonised by the Polynesians; enabled them to access a much wider range of materials, suitable for thatching...

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Dark Times...Above is the thatched village of Parihaka, on the North Island. Once said to be the largest Māori settlement. It fell prey to a rapacious colonial government. Illegally in search, of nearly two million acres of native land… In 1881, 1600 armed police moved the inhabitants out. This image, shows a large new building already in place, built in a more ‘civilised’ tradition…
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Tourist times... The Edwardian images opposite and above show the same Māori village, with the locals posing for the camera. The lower photo is older and more realistic...
As with other cultures, Māori thatching made use of whatever was at hand. Be it Nikau leaves from the island’s only native palm; Kauri grass; Tī kōuka leaves, or Jointed Wire Rush..'being by far the best of all the rushes and sedges for thatching, on account of its durability'.
H. W. Williams, noted in 1896 that ‘Toetoe and raupō also used to cover the roof, with a top thatching of toetoe.... Ridging sometimes protected further with ponga fronds. Vines ... or in the north, mangemange were used as lattice work across the roof to protect it from wind’. The roof pitch was greater in the South Island than the North, due to the increased rainfall...
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Home from Home... Many of the early Europeans who settled here, followed native building traditions, including thatched roofs; often employing the locals to help out... A wooden chimney being a major difference in their construction.
The glass slide opposite is titled ‘ A settler’s first home’, which sums up the situation. This must date to around 1890, depicting a roof of palm leaves, with some outside fixing. Very similar to Māori thatching...
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Damp Spot... The location of the upper image is unknown, not so the glass slide opposite. This depicts the 1880's home of one Donald Sutherland (Most likely the gent in the smoking cap); an early settler at Milford Sound, known to the local Māori as Piopiotahi. Located in the south west of the South Island it is now this country’s most visited spot, set in ‘Fiordland’. It is also one of the wettest, raining on half of the days in a year. Donald’s thatch looks fairly thick and of a good pitch; which it would need to be...
The lower photo shows a derelict thatch at Taioma, in around 1926; taken by A.P. Godber. By this time thatching was being rapidly replaced by other roofing. The colonial government had never liked it; passing the ‘Raupo (reed) Houses Ordinance’, in 1842. This banned new thatch and penalised existing ones, in urban settings. Auckland enacted it firstly, followed by Wellington, after a major fire...
These images copyright & courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library.
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ew Caledonia...


Named thus by Captain Cook in the 1770’s, the area seemingly reminding him of Scotland. The main island, Grand Terre, is one of the largest in the Pacific; with the nation including several smaller groups. Thatchers here followed the same methods as their neighbours; but worked on some very distinct structures. Annexed in 1853, this land is still held by France....

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Unchanging... The ‘Village Scene’ above was photographed in 1906; a print from seventy years earlier, depicts an almost identical group of dwellings; shaped quite differently than homes found on other South Seas islands.
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Conical... The two upper images also date to the early twentieth century, showing very tall, conical thatch. These buildings were often the ‘Great Houses’ of various clan chiefs, the left photo being named so. At the apex is a carved wooden ‘flèche faîtière’; placed there to provide a home for ancestral spirits. Important to the indigenous Kanak people who have had an often troubled relationship with the French Government.
One cause of friction was when the authorities decided to create a penal colony hereabouts in 1864. The image opposite shows men convicted of taking part in the Paris Commune in 1871, the ‘Communards’. Their thatched building, on the Isle of Pines, looks quite European; being coated in grass, which appears to have been widely used throughout New Caledonia.
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F

iji... Viti


A kingdom in 1874, then part of the British Empire for nearly a century, this land consists of more than three hundred and thirty islands, of which around a third are inhabited. Although part of eastern Melanesia, the islands were also influenced by the culture of neighbouring Tonga... Having a total area of over seven thousand square miles, allowed a good choice of thatching materials and some variation of styles....

Cultures... All the images from Fiji date from the early twentieth century. The right hand image shows a small dwelling, with thatch weighted with whole palm leaves. The building is of a very similar style to that found on Tonga. Captain Cook met Fijians there, who had crossed the 500 miles or so of open ocean; a regular trip it seems...
Locals followed the South Seas practice of fixing layers of folded thatch, tied to battens; Coconut Palm, Pandanas and the unique Soga Palm being used. The latter lasting perhaps a decade.


The lower photo is titled ‘Cannibal Temple’, on the island of Bau. This small island was the power base of the future king of Fiji. Europeans told many lurid tales of cannibalism on Fiji; it certainly took place, but was apparently more ritual that gourmet; seemingly taking place in a very well thatched ‘Temple’!!
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Variations... The left image depicts a thatch, heavily weighted with bamboo. The material may simply have been spread over the timbers and fixed from the outside... The upper photo shows a thinish roof, more like those found on the former New Hebrides, now Vanuatu.


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anuatu...


Named the New Hebrides by Captain Cook; a chain of eighty odd islands of volcanic origin, spread over eight hundred miles, make up modern Vanuatu. Claimed by both Great Britain & France, in 1906 they decided on a joint rule, creating a condominium. As ever this had no effect on the craft of thatching hereabouts, all islands continuing with the same basic techniques......

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Similar... The building on the 1921 French banknote, closely resembles the homes opposite, in scene captured in 1885 on Ureparapara, a northern island. With thatch consisting of layered palm leaves.
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Climate... The left image, from around 1900, depicts a low building being thatched. A household would often consist of several small buildings, each with its own function. As in other South Sea Islands, layers of palm, folded over sticks are tied in place. The “Natangura” Palm being utilised in the Northern islands, with Coconut Palm and grass locally called “waelken”, in the south.
These islands enjoy a year long rainy season, with very high totals... Ureparapara above receives around 160 inches/ 4 metres a year; thus thatching had/has to be of a good standard! Other natural forces at work are earthquakes and more seriously cyclones. This century has already seen two major ones. With thatch roofs seemingly to fare better than corrugated iron; also being much less dangerous. Many locals are now building traditional ‘cyclone houses’ of thatch, to shelter from the next storm.


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olomon Islands ...


A country consisting of six large islands and 900 or so smaller ones, lying between Vanuatu and New Guinea. They share many thatching traditions with both neighbours... Britain took control here in 1893; holding the islands until 1978; with the independent nation retaining Queen Elizabeth, as head of state.

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Gathering house... The Edwardian postcard above depicts a scene from the Santa Cruz Islands, which lie just north of Vanuatu. The locals are assembled with rolls of ‘feather money’, one of several currencies used on the Solomons. This one being made up of tightly rolled bird feathers... The thatched ‘Gathering House’ is coated with palm leaves, as is much thatch hereabouts.
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Thatch of all sizes... On Malaita, the most populous of the islands. Both upper and opposite images date from around 1900. The small dwellings lay in the village of Fiu. The upper thatch covered the chief’s house at Roapu Roas Bay, on Small Malaita, just off the main island. No doubt the thatch being provided by the Thao or Sago Palm, widely used, with the leaves bent over sticks and these being layered, as seen on other islands. A finer, grass like thatch being used on the small dwelling in Fiu.
Chief’s Thatch... on the Shortland Islands or Alu; in the very north west of the Solomons. The opposite image dates to 1886, taken by naturalist Charles Wooford. It shows Gorai chief of the locality and some of his extensive family. He lived in a house 40 feet by 20; near to a much bigger one for his wives... These may be the buildings in the photo; neatly thatched, with walls made of the same material.
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ew Guinea ...


The earth’s second largest island; bigger than all the lands so far seen on this page, put together... Also an island of many peoples and languages; thatch having perhaps sixty or more names. But the traditional thatching styles seem to be similar throughout the main island and the lesser ones hereabouts. Which consists of two political parts. The west, once Dutch, now home to provinces of Indonesia, with the eastern part independent Papua New Guinea; based on former German and British colonies.
The few images below can only represent a small sample of the craft here. Nearly all were taken by John William Lindt, a German born Australian photographer. Featured in his 1887 book ‘Picturesque New Guinea’; which shows some amazing buildings...
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The upper image is titled ‘The Chief’s Spire House at Kalo’; this is being thatched; seemingly with palm leaves, as ever in this area, tied on in layers of bent leaves folded over a stick. The left photo dates to around 1910 and depicts a similar building, in an unknown location.
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Above is a ‘Magiri Village, Bertha Lagoon, South Cape’; opposite is a larger village from around 1900; both have steep, layered thatched roofs; the right hand ones being much larger. It seems living on a large island, with more resources, allowed bigger structure to be built and thatched, when desired...
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A ‘Village scene at Moapa, Aroma District’ is shown on the left. Like the above pictures, steep thatched roofs were the norm here. All thatched with palm leaves, probably with the Sago Palm being utilised, for both roofs and walls.



The two shots below depict ‘Sadara Makara’ a ‘Koiari Village near Bootless Inlet’. The tree houses are quite remarkable; a real head for heights being required to thatch these... Roofs shown here are a little flatter than the others so far seen. These were in south eastern New Guinea. Other similar types were/ are located in more western areas. Mainly used for defence by the Kombai people; the ‘Ironwood’ tree that often supports the thatch, being resistant to fire.
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ustralia......


Consists of a mainland, being continental in size; along with the large island of Tasmania and many smaller ones. Considered the ‘oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils’; it is not noted these days for any thatching. But what follows, shows the craft being practised, in former times, by distinct groups of people. Two with a long heritage hereabouts and some more recent arrivals......

Torres Strait Island Thatch... These islands lie between New Guinea and mainland Australia. Although some are just off the coast of the former, they were annexed in 1879 by the then colony of Queensland. The peoples, who have lived here for at least two and half millennia, also occupy the very north of the Australian mainland.  Never one homogenous  group, they seemingly built homes of differing designs; to suit their local environment.

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Above is a ‘Village Scene’ on Murray Island or Mer; in around 1890. The homes consist of Coconut Palm leaf thatch, a material also used for the walls. This resource was widely used on many islands. The roofs look similar to those of other Melanesian lands; demonstrating the ethnicity of the Torres Strait Islanders.
The images opposite and below depicts thatch on neighbouring Darnley Island or Erub. The print dates from 1849 titled ‘Huts and Natives of Darnley’. The lower photo has a similar dwelling from fifty years later. This type was also noted on Murray Island and the type of homes shown there were seen on Darnley...
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Both the upper scenes come from Tudu, which lies in the central part of this island group. The left image dates from 1888, captured by Alfred Haddon, who photographed much on the islands. Similar low buildings are on the right; all perhaps thatched with a grass, rather than palm...
South Seas Islander Thatch... Todays South Seas Islanders are the descendants of people from four score and more Pacific islands, mainly in Melanesia. Who were ‘recruited’ by various means, often dubious, to work in the sugarcane fields of Queensland; from the mid 1800’s. Like other groups, transplanted into another land, they built and thatched in the manner of their home islands...
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Hard times... Whatever method was employed, to ship the inhabitants of various islands to the cane fields of Queensland; the result was very hard work for little pay. Seemingly, like the earlier enslaved peoples of the Caribbean, the islanders built and thatched their own homes. With what appears, from the upper image, was the ‘trash’ from the sugar cane harvest.


Neater roofs are shown opposite at Childers in 1904. The lower postcard, from the same period, is entitled ‘Family Group, North of Hinchinbrook Passage, North Queensland’. The thatch suggests work by the South Sea Islanders; with a least one European and a perhaps a few Aboriginal people posing for the camera. The right roof being coated in sugar cane trash...
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Aboriginal Thatch... Living in the ‘‘... driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils’ has its drawbacks; especially when it comes to providing vegetation for any thatch. But the peoples who have lived here for perhaps fifty thousand years, have adapted well... With much of the continent hot and dry, thatch was often used as much for shade, as well as shelter.
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Well thatched... Above, at Rockingham Bay, North Queensland, in around 1900. This group of dwellings were constructed in the same area as the image above, at Hinchinbrook. Clearly showing the differing, traditional building methods of the peoples involved. The Aboriginal group making use of the local palm trees...
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Wurleys... Most of the Aboriginal images on this page follow a basic domed shape. The structure often being refered to as a wurley, wurly or wurlie. A word likely from the Kaurna people of South Australia. The term Humpy or Gunyah is also used...
The upper left print dates from 1847, titled ‘Native Village in Northern Interior’. The upper right Edwardian photo, simply states the image is an ‘Aboriginal Worley’, the thatch consisting of a mixture of materials.
The location of the opposite scene is noted as near ‘Alice Spring, Central Australia’; dating to 1896 and dipicting Walter Baldwin with elders of the Arrernte people. Their Wurley consists of well laid leafy branches.
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Oblong thatch... The images above and on the right, both from the early twentieth century, contain Aboriginal thatching, on rectangular structures.
The upper roof, at an unknown location is likely coated in rushes from the adjacent river. The opposite building was situated at Whim Creek, on the coast of Western Australia. Thatching here appears to be of grass; probably carried out by the Ngarluma people.

No doubt other forms of Aboriginal structures existed in this vast country; which were not considered worthy of record... As were many of the people who built them.
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Colonial Thatch... Home from Home. As in other colonial societies, thatch was employed by the first waves of settlers to roof their homes. Usually employing the materials in use by the indigenous population. The images below, from several parts of Australia, show a variety of working methods; and date from the time the various colonies became the modern state.
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‘Homesteaders’... Depicted above at Macfarlane in Central West Queensland. The image dates to around 1890, showing buildings coated with a leafy thatch, tied on to roof timbers. The surrounding landscape would seem to have been a good source of both thatching and building materials... Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland.
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Central thatch... the two upper images depict thatch in the centre of this vast country, in the Northern Territory. Left, at Alice Springs Telegraph Station; showing the home of Bessie and Ernest Allchurch, dated 7th March 1906. Similar thatch appears on the right, seventy miles away at the Hermannsburg Mission. This dates to 1935, captured by Frank Hurley. The thatch on both roofs appears to be of a grass tied in layers on roof timbers and topped with tin sheeting on the mission roof.
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More shade than shelter... The left hand 1880’s photo depicts Australia’s first mosque. This lay at Hergott Springs near Marree in South Australia. It helped serve the religious needs of the many Muslim ‘Cameleers’, known as "Afghans" or "Ghans", although they mostly came from British India.
Using their home grown skills they provided camel trains across central Australia until succeeded by motor transport in the 1930’s.
The structure here is open, with a thin thatch, in poor condition, on a flatish roof; designed to provide shade, more than shelter...
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Crooked thatch... The postcard above is titled ‘A Bush Farmer’s Homestead South Australia’ and dates to around 1900. Of interest are the outside fixings, holding the thick thatch in situ. This would not have looked out of place in Scotland; with the ‘Crook and Caber’ method seen here being widely used there. The ‘cabers’ being pegged into place with ‘crooks’; consisting of pointed hooked, small branches. Perhaps hinting at the ancestry of the ‘Bush Farmers' family...
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Seaside thatch... These two images depict very similar thatched dwellings, although a century separates them. The print illustrates the home of George Prideaux Robert Harris, in 1806. His home lay at Sandy Bay, now part of Tasmania’s capital Hobart. He surveyed much here and was granted land. The photo was taken in c1910, being noted as a ‘Pug & Pine‘ cottage, at Tumby Bay, South Australia. Wheat is still grown here and seemed to have provided the thatch.
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Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia
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Mountainside thatch... In the State of Victoria, at Arthurs Seat. The small home shown above dates to around 1890. Well coated with thatch, tied on and with outside fixings; which would have been needed in this windy location...
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Piled High... This group are in front and on the top of one of the many thatched woolsheds, that lay in the outback. Providing shade more than shelter, during the shearing season; with straw simply piled onto a flatish roof structure. An extant example exists at Clayton Farm Historic Site in South Australia. A state where the above image hails from... Image courtesy of Art Gallery of South Australia.