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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Torode, Walter Charles (1858–1937)

by Peter Bell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Walter Charles Torode (1858-1937), master builder, was born on 17 September 1858 in North Adelaide, son of Henry Kaines Torode, storeman, and his wife Sarah, née Sperring. Henry, who had migrated from Guernsey, was a cabinetmaker and Walter's uncle was a brickmaker. In 1873-79 Torode trained as a carpenter at William King & Co.'s steam sawmill, North Adelaide. On 12 May 1881 he married Sophia Minnie Gellentien; they were to have six children. Torode seized opportunities offered by the new hills railway which converted Aldgate and Stirling villages into fashionable resorts for Adelaide's leading families. Leasing several quarries, he specialized in contracts for architect-designed mansions; he avoided sub-contracts, employing day-labour exclusively.

By 1900 Torode's self-sufficiency, entrepreneurial flair and building skill had won him a number of large contracts, among them the Allan Campbell Building at Adelaide Children's Hospital, the Elder Conservatorium, the Adelaide Stock Exchange, the Lady Chapel and western spires of St Peter's Cathedral (his favourite achievement), several suburban churches, extensions to Unley Town Hall, Ruthven Mansions and additions to Pulteney Street School.

Among the first Australian builders to grasp the structural potential of reinforced concrete, he used it as early as 1907. Next year he built himself a concrete house at Unley, employing cavity walls cast in situ with perforated steel sheet reinforcement; he also constructed a substantial concrete bridge and buildings at Anlaby station, near Kapunda. By 1909 he had adopted imported asbestos-cement sheeting for linings and stucco render over external cast-concrete surfaces. He built many concrete houses in Adelaide over the next two decades and the South Australian Railways adopted his method for their low-cost cottages. While he was not an innovator in concrete construction and took out no patents, he skilfully rode the wave of modern building techniques.

Torode's designs favoured the picturesque and arts-and-crafts motifs, as if to temper his mechanistic technology. His own homes, which also served as display houses, revealed an eclectic mind that ranged across techniques and styles. Torode's most remarkable home was Amphi Cosma (Wayville, 1914) which was inspired by the work of American architect Orson Fowler. Daring in its reinforced concrete structure and octagonal plan, for all its impracticality it was a minor landmark in Australian domestic architecture. A tall, broad-shouldered man of jocular ways whose fame owed much to self-promotion, Torode published How to Build (1904) and At Home (1917). His achievement commands respect for his technical mastery, his success at vertical integration of the building industry, and his fine craftsmanship.

After his wife's death in 1913, Torode married Ida Edith Lower (d.1928) on 4 April 1914 at North Adelaide. He was active in the Brougham Place Congregational Church and the Sunday School movement within the Congregationalist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches. He played cricket when young and later bowls. Buying a motor cycle in 1902, he became patron of the Motor Cycle Club of South Australia; he relished anecdotes about his one-day round trip from Adelaide to Murray Bridge in that year. Torode moved in 1928 to Melbourne and in 1935 to Sydney where he died on 28 January 1937 and was cremated. Three daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smillie, Descriptive Australia and Federal Guide (Adel, 1890)
  • Architecture Australia, 77, no 4, June 1988, p 65
  • Mail (Adelaide), 13 Sept 1913
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 Jan 1937
  • J. Ashton, Personalities Remembered: Walter C. Torode (ABC radio script, 18 Oct 1970, State Library of South Australia)
  • recollections of incidents combined with the career of Walter Torode from boyhood until he became master builder (typescript, 1931, State Library of South Australia)
  • Torode papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • miscellaneous Torode papers and memorabilia (privately held).

Citation details

Peter Bell, 'Torode, Walter Charles (1858–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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