Heritage advice - fences

Heritage advisory notes provide general guidelines to help you design new buildings and additions, including fences, gardens and colour schemes, to maintain the character and style of your property and surrounds.

Heritage fences at a glance

fences gable roofed timber residence

Design guidelines

This advisory note seeks to provide general guidelines for the design of fences in heritage and character precincts. Home owners often work hard to restore and preserve their houses but overlook the importance of the front fence. The fence is an integral component of the street as it is the first impression gained of the character of the house and garden it encloses.

The Toowoomba Regional Council planning scheme does not prescribe specific fences for your property.

Just as house styles varied over time, so did their corresponding fences and garden designs. If the original fence has not survived, it is important that new fences and gates should be appropriate to the character of the locality and to the era of the building. An ornate Victorian fence will not suit a 1930s bungalow, just as a 1930s fence would look out of place on a Victorian residence. It is also important that any new fence not be overly elaborate for the house or street.

Photo: Gable roofed timber residence called Shandon, Pittsworth, Queensland, ca. 1915. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative: 199235.

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A general characteristic of heritage areas is that the houses and their garden settings are the dominant elements in the streetscape. Traditionally, front fences were low, allowing views into the garden of the house and beyond. In preserving a heritage streetscape it is important that high screen fences or solid fences are not built on front boundaries. Heights can range from as low as 300mm up to 1200mm in height, with the average falling in the range of 600 – 900mm in height. Fence heights above 1200mm should be avoided.

Existence of an original fence

If the original front fence is still in existence it should be kept and repaired where possible. Alternatively, a new fence can be constructed to match the original details such as height, profiles, sizes and materials. Evidence of early fences can often survive: old posts or postholes or even old fence parts such as chain mesh or pickets may be found either along the boundary or elsewhere on the site. Early photos are a rare but invaluable resource. Neighbours may also have memories or photos of earlier fences on your property.  

Most of the early fences in Toowoomba and the surrounding region were timber picket or post and rail fences with timber paling or chain mesh infill panels. Occasionally cast iron, palisade, steel ribbon, brick or stucco fences, or a combination of the above, were constructed. Colours and materials typically matched those of the house.

As a rule, decorative fences were provided to the street frontage with side and rear fences constructed of less expensive timber paling or strained wire. Gates usually matched the front fence in style and materials, although steel ribbon gates appear regularly on all styles of fences in this region.

Brick fences are most suited to brick homes. Victorian and Edwardian era fences are more likely to have a combination of brick or render and cast iron, rather than solid brick walls. Inter-war and post-war brick fences are generally solid but low in height, often only 300-600mm high.

Where screening for privacy is required, hedges are an appropriate alternative to fences. Hedges can be environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Whilst privet has been a traditional hedging plant, it is no longer recommended as it is a weed. Instead consider gradually replacing or planting with species such as the Lilly Pilly, Photinia or Double White May, a medium sized shrub popular in the region. Contact us for a copy of our planting guide for water wise gardeners.

Heritage fence descriptions and images

The heritage character of a property can be greatly enhanced by an original or correctly reconstructed fence. Indeed, good fence design can enhance the historic character of an area as well as complementing individual heritage buildings.

It is important to note that that not all houses had fences. Immediately after World War II, for example, there were shortages of materials so fences were relatively rare at this time and those that were built tended to be very low. The materials used often reflected those used in the construction of the house so brick fences became more common.

Side fences were less ornate than front fences and commonly were simple paling fences. New side and rear fences can be of a more contemporary design and are usually constructed or repaired by mutual agreement between adjoining owners. The use of colorbond for fencing is not recommended in historic areas.rhythm to the timber styles.

It is a good idea to maintain the height and proportions of the front fence along the side boundaries, at least to the front corner of the house. 

Fences less than two metres in height do not require a building or planning permit. There are specific requirements for the location and heights of fences on corner lots. It is best to check with council's building department for current requirements. The style and materials can still be planned to suit the style of your house and street.

In hillier areas, fences usually step between support posts to follow the slope of the footpath (see image on right). The horizontal rails are perpendicular to the posts rather than parallel to the slope of the land. This rhythm is an important characteristic in the streetscape and should also be repeated in new fences. Masonry fences tended to follow a similar pattern and rhythm to the timber styles.

This rhythm is an important characteristic in the streetscape and should also be repeated in new fences. Masonry fences tended to follow a similar pattern and and those that were built tended to be very low.

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Reference: National Trust of Australia (Victoria), Technical Bulletin 8.1 Fences and gates 1988.

Last Updated: Sunday, 02 July 2017 13:44