One of the nineteenth century’s most popular roofing materials, shingles, were cut from a variety of timbers, including eucalypt, casuarina and stringybark. An experienced shingle-splitter could cut about 700 shingles a day, enough to cover three square metres of a roof. Shingled roofs were popular when labour was cheap and trees were free.
The bush yielded a selection of useful building materials. For roofing, there were thatches of native grassses or the fronts of the grass tree or ‘blackboy’. Bush dwellings with walls of bark, slabs, earth or milled timber were roofed with sheets of bark, which because they could not be nailed, were held down by thick saplings tied together with greenhide thongs. In the dry inland where rain was rare, roofs were sometimes formed of brush, spinifex or boughs. Roofs of sawn and split palings were ocasionally used, particularly in Tasmania.
While these materials were effective, durable and freely available on many building sites they were clearly unsuitable for large-scale housing in cities. Shingles wer an exception and retained a loyal following in cities and towns across Australia from the first settlement period right into the twentieth century.