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Australia Meet the man making miniature model Queenslanders and helping keep the dying art alive

03:15  28 november  2020
03:15  28 november  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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When people talk about Queenslander houses, you might conjure up images of raised timber cottages, tin roofs, pastels, verandas and intricate fretwork.

For Stanthorpe-based model maker Shane Donnelly, it reminds him of his youth.

"Growing up in Brisbane, I always loved the inner city — the Spring Hill, Red Hill areas and all the little Queenslanders," he said.

"[I] always wanted one as a child and maybe that's part of the reason I made them, something I'll probably never have so I made a model of it."

Mr Donnelly's passion for model making was ignited some 30 years ago after losing his job.

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"I was laid off from work once, and I was looking through the Courier Mail one day, and I flicked through, and there was a big photo of the Expo [88] site, and it was a model, it was massive," Mr Donnelly said.

"I thought, that's something I'd like to do. I gave this guy a ring and sure enough, I got a job straight away."

Fast forward to today, and Mr Donnelly works for parks and gardens at Stanthorpe and makes the miniature models in his downtime.

"You'd be able to put the model house in the palm of your hand, they're gorgeous," he said.

The palm–sized dioramas take an enormous amount of time and precision and each is based on a real house — sometimes using the original house plans.

Most of his work is based on Brisbane homes and businesses.

"The one I'm working on now, it's in Geebung," Mr Donnelly said.

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"I did one in Stanthorpe, and I've done one in Warwick and a few others around Brisbane and Nundah."

Models of caravans and commercial buildings also make it into the mix.

"The most common things can be the most appealing," he said.

"They're just something you see every day but they're miniature, they're quite good to look at."

He recently started posting photos of his work on social media, and it's seen a flood of interest with many people commissioning him to create models of their family homes.

"It kicked off before COVID and I had a massive list of people," Mr Donnelly said.

Each commission has its own story and Mr Donnelly's models play a part in the retelling of the history of the house and those who lived in it.

"A lot of families back in the day had 10, 11 children," he said.

"Another thing that sort of pops up a lot is dads: dad's handywork around the house.

"Most of them say, 'Dad did this' and 'Dad did that', 'Dad nailed that up'."

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Mr Donnelly says as he works on each model and talks with the client as he goes it can become quite personal.

"I'm sort of honoured to be creating this little thing, this little house that these people grew up in, or they knew someone who grew up in or one of their relatives lived there," he said.

"That's a bit special too."

What exactly is a Queenslander?

Despite widespread use of the term "Queenslander", conservational architect Peter Marquis-Kyle says it is not an official name and, in his opinion, too broad a term to be useful.

Mr Marquis-Kyle instead talks about the state's iconic architecture by the era and materials in which different houses are built.

"These pre-40s houses are predominately timber and tin," Mr Marquis-Kyle said of the houses commonly referred to as Queenslanders.

He said they were often symmetrical, raised cottages with a deck across the front.

Meanwhile, Californian bungalow-style homes were typically seen post war, but they were not just seen in Queensland.

"A lot of houses built in the 1950s are not much different to houses built in Sydney, Melbourne, Wagga Wagga or Perth," Mr Marquis–Kyle said.

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'I could get that 3D printed'

While Mr Donnelly has no plans to down tools, he says model making is a dying art in professional terms.

"A lot of it is done with computers and the computers are so accurate and so fast that this personal stuff ... there's a little market for it," he said.

"A few people have said to me over the years 'I could get that 3D printed' or 'why don't you do that on the computer', and that's not why I do it."

"Where's the fun in that? Whatever I can make myself, I do."

Older Queensland homes in their original state could be dying off too as what people look for in a home changes.

"The practicality difference between the old and the new has a lot to do with expectations," Mr Marquis-Kyle said.

"It used to be that a shady, dark interior was a valuable thing. Whereas a more modern idea is to have a house full of light."

Mr Marquis-Kyle says small houses where a family of seven might have once lived no longer accommodate a couple.

He has seen many of the original homes expanded to meet modern needs.

"[The house] needs to be lifted up and extended and tripled in volume just to live in what some people think of as the bare minimum accommodation," he said.

"These houses are very adaptable. Too adaptable. You lose a large part of the character of the house."

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