Inside the Collection

Dream Homes

Killarney Heights Estate Foreshore Recreation poster
Artwork for poster, J & J McAdam, 1963. PHM collection 93/112/1-7

The poster artwork above is the work of Jean and Joan McAdam, twin sisters who ran a successful graphic design business for several companies including LJ Hooker, developers of the Killarney Heights Estate. Recently I posted about a Beachcomber project home built at Killarney Heights in 1965 for Ruby Matthews and family.

The poster artwork is one of couple of Killarney related things I’ve since stumbled across. As an address Killarney Heights dates from 1963 when Hooker Rex launched the Estate overlooking Middle Harbour.  Killarney Heights wasn’t just another subdivision – when it opened the Estate featured a ‘Parade of Homes’ of 17 display houses by several project builders and a ‘Dream Home’ built for the winners of a Women’s Day competition.

The 1950s and 1960s were the high point of popular interest in home design. Many people were designing and building their own homes and ‘design a home’ contests become a media favourite, sometimes offering a cash prize, on other occasions the winners had their design built. Not surprisingly the most high profile contests were run by the Australian Women’s Weekly. Eventually Women’s Day, the Weekly’s Melbourne-based competitor, got into the design contest game, giving it a novel twist by using one of Australia’s first computers. As Women’s Day told its readers:

‘All you have to do is answer a series of questions…which will tell what you think is the ideal home for your State. Utecom, the electronic brain at the Universityof NSW, will determine from all entries received what the people of your State consider their ideal home. If your entry is the one identical with the popular vote calculated by the electronic brain, you will win the Dream Home’ (WD, 24 September 1962, p.59)

Get it? Basically Women’s Day readers were being asked to win by proving themselves the most average, as far as domestic dreams went. (There is something very 1962 about that). Utecom, by the way was UNSW’s first computer and one of the first in Australia.

Not surprisingly 18 NSW entrants (of 140,000 entries) matched  the computer defined average in preferences for appliances, space, layout, materials etc. The 18-way dead heat was resolved via answers to a ‘building and architecture quiz’, with the result that ‘young South Coast couple Mr and Mrs Barry Lee… became the most envied young couple in  New South Wales’.  However the actual designing was in professional hands, with Sydney Ancher converting the NSW design average into three dimensions (in consultation with Mr and Mrs Lee). Architects being architects, there were complaints re the lack of ‘adventure’ evident in the popular mean: ‘The choice is the type of house that is seen in any middle-class suburb’.  However the Lees’ Dream Home stood a little outside the mainstream, being designed around a courtyard with screened patios on two sides also creating a combination of privacy and openness.

'The Key to a Dream Home' Magazine article
Barry and Sheila Lee are welcomed to their Dream Home by NSW Premier Playford and wife. Women’s Day 29 April 1963, p.3. Powerhouse Museum Library courtesy ACP Magazines.

Killarney Heights was one of three Hooker housing estates launched in 1963 with a winning Dream Home. The others were at Burwood, Melbourne and the Centenary Estate, Brisbane. At this time Hooker was the largest estate developer in Australia.

Leslie James Tingyou anglicised his surname in 1925 to conceal his Chinese ancestry. Three years later he opened the first LJ Hooker real estate office at Maroubra. During the 1950s Hooker became the first national estate agency thanks in part to its success in pioneering franchising. LJ Hooker’s ‘model estates’ at Castle Cove, Winston Hills and Killarney Heights are perhaps its main legacy in Sydney although as you can see from Ruby Matthew’s photo Killarney Heights was pretty stark at the beginning.

Killarney Heights Estate 1965
Killarney Heights Estate 1965. Photo courtesy Ruby Matthews.

By the 1960s the Hooker company had expanded its activities into related fields included project homes; Hooker Homes was one of numerous builders servicing the designer home market during the 1960s. Although this venture was successful for a time it now mainly remembered for a high-profile copyright infringement case brought against Hooker’s by Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley, claiming that Hooker Homes’ Cassandra house was a copy of  Pettit & Sevitt’s Split Level house.

Killarney Heights High School Poster
Poster artwork, J&J McAdam, 1963. PHM collection 93/112/1-6.

The promised Killarney Heights school accepted its first pupils in 1967.

Charles Pickett, curator.



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