Our Austrian Heritage

Under a Labour government, the state had been both land developer and builder of state owned homes. When the National Party took over the government in 1949 they wished to promote private home ownership. As it turned out, the private sector proved incapable of filling the need and the housing situation was just short of desperate.

So the government decided to prompt the local industry into stepping up their construction of low-cost housing by allowing the importation of houses. In 1952 the then Minister of Housing, the Hon W.S.Goosman, gave the green light for 1000 prefabricated houses to be bought overseas, 500 of them from Austria. The connection to Austria came about because New Zealand firm Unibuild Construction Ltd was linked to Thermal Insulation Ltd (England) which in turn had an Austrian afilliate: Thermobau.

The Houses

Although the houses imported for construction in Titahi Bay were pre-cut and manufactured with Austrian timber in Austria, they were designed in New Zealand.  In 1936, Arthur Tyndall became Director of Housing.  He engaged a town planner and two architects (one of whom happened to be Austrian - Ernst Plischke).  This talented team became instrumental in designing mass housing which was economical to build whilst also providing a healthy standard of living for its occupants. 

When the Austrian saw-mills received the order for manufacturing the houses, they also received tried and tested blueprints.  The kit sets were transported to New Zealand on the SS Aida Lauro and SS Polonia arriving in February 1953.

The construction of the Austrian houses in Titahi Bay turned out to be a great success. They were well designed and solidly built. They still form a distinct and unique neighbourhood of Porirua City and now, sixty years on, many of the original residents still live in them.

The ploy of animating the local building industry failed, but it helped to alleviate the housing shortage of the day and opened a window to a fascinating new world for a number of young Austrian men whose descendants live in the Bay area to this day.

(Excerpts kindly taken with permission from the publication: 'Osterreichische Einwanderer in Neuseeland 1953-1955 - Austrian Immigrants in 1950's New Zealand' by Wolfgang Passl (aka Joe Paul), translated by Angelika Schonegger.)

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