Often mistakenly thought to have been designed by Walter Burley Griffin, who also planned Canberra, Australia’s capital city, the town was planned by A.R. La Gerche, the State Electricity Commission’s Architect. The design of Yallourn incorporated lessons learnt from the early UK garden cities of Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City inspired by Ebenezer Howard. Walter Burley Griffin also drew on similar sources for his designs.
The design of Yallourn established a formal central square adjacent to the shopping area and a formal “Broadway” bounded by parks between the shopping area and railway station. The whole town area was surrounded by a green belt varying between native vegetation, open parkland and sporting and recreational complexes.
The majority of the land and buildings, with the exception of the churches and several minor properties, were owned by the S.E.C.V. Residents were charged below market rentals and the S.E.C.V. adopted the role of paternalistic landlord in addition to its role as employer to the majority of the town’s income earners. The conflicts this created caused continuing concern throughout the life of the town. For the majority of the town’s life, citizen involvement was limited, residents being represented in their dealings with the S.E.C.V. by a Town Advisory Council.
Houses within the town were constructed to a limited number of designs but these were varied by differing external detailing and surface finishes. A brick and tile manufacturing plant was built near the town and produced a characteristic terracotta roofing tile which was used to clad most homes. The pitch of the roof structure and overhanging eaves remained similar throughout the town, providing a common theme without the sameness characteristic of English garden city developments. The homes were placed on large plots, typically of 1000m2, the design brief from General Sir John Monash, the initial S.E.C.V. chairman requiring that each plot should have sufficient land to permit the tenant to keep a horse and a garden.
The town boasted outstanding public facilities many years in advance of similar rural or suburban communities of similar size, the majority funded by the S.E.C.V. A close community spirit developed within the town, in part through enthusiastic usage of the excellent facilities.