My House

December 5, 2019

 

My house was built on Whadjuk land. For millennia, the people of the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) plains and hinterland cared for the land. In return, they were sustained physically, economically and spiritually by its abundance. All of that changed in 1829 when British colonists arrived, bringing with them notions of private property based on land use that totally disrupted then supplanted that of traditional ownership.                             

     One of the earliest colonisers was Liverpudlian merchant John Butler. He arrived with his brother, Archibald, in their brig Skerne, in 1830. With them was John’s wife (Anne) and their three children (William, John and Ann).
     John brought with him sufficient wealth to attract five land grants in the new European settlement. The last one of these was Swan Location 36, around 970 acres southeast from a Swan River frontage just across today’s causeway from Perth. Its boundaries were roughly those of today’s Town of Victoria Park. John had another riverside grant of land (Swan Location 84) that was to become Peppermint Grove.    
     A condition of receiving a grant was that the land should be developed (“brought into cultivation, or otherwise improved or reclaimed from the wild state”). His other land grants were inland from the Swan River, in the old Avon county and it seems he lost these by failing to develop them. Instead, he chose to focus on Swan Location 84 where he established the Bush Inn at Freshwater Bay (or Half Way House, so named because it broke the journey between Perth and Fremantle), the first such facility in the colony. On the other side of the river, Swan Location 36 was kept because some buildings were erected there, mainly around coach stops on the Albany Road. I like this link between one suburb - mine - that has been denigrated as a working class ghetto and another that has been termed the richest in Australia or, as a Western Australian Premier termed it “Australia’s Monaco”.

     After a series of failed attempts to expand his holdings to include what is now Claremont, an aggrieved John left for New South Wales in 1835 where his family later joined him. Following his death in 1841, Anne ran a genteel boarding house in Sydney but returned to Perth in 1847. Formalising John’s instructions in his will, in 1850 Anne sought and was granted Swan Location 36 in her own right for an annual peppercorn rental. She may have formalised ownership of the Freshwater Bay property at that time because it also was in her portfolio. Anne was the first white woman to own land in the new colony. She died in 1871 in Kew, Melbourne, perhaps at her daughter's house. I have found very little for the Butler children. From various sources, William Burton Butler (1821-66) died in Queensland, there was an inquest but I have not found why or its result. John Burton Butler (1824-61) died in Maitland West, NSW. Ann Butler (1822-1908) married Horatio Samson in 1849 in Perth; she died, a widow, in London.

 

Victoria Park
    
A Wikipedia entry for Peppermint Grove reports a consortium of businessmen bought that property from Anne’s family in 1891 - only daughter Ann was still alive then, perhaps the sale helped finance her family’s move to England or perhaps they knew they’d never be back. It was a very active, not to say cashed-up, consortium because they also bought a great deal of Swan Location 36. The title was transferred on 19 November to proprietors-in-common surveyor Alexander Forrest and solicitor Stephen Henry Rirkert. As an aside, Forrest was a two-term Mayor of Perth: 1893-95 and 1898-1900. When it comes to vested interests, plus de change, eh?
     Following its sale, Swan Location 36 became the Victoria Park Estate, primed for subdivision. In January 1897 sole proprietor George Stubbs, auctioneer, took possession of one such subdivision, an estate abutting Fitzroy Street (renamed Berwick Street in 1918), bounded by Manchester, Gloucester and Tuam Streets. At first, Stubbs had only one full block but, in 1902, he increased his holding to most of the other two blocks bounded by Rathay and Tuam Streets. Stubbs further increased his holding by turning the frontages of the blocks to Fitzroy/Berwick Street between Rathay and Tuam Streets, so halving their depth while increasing their number.

 

 

 

     Stubbs rapidly realised the profits from his holding and in 1907 Lots 62 (mine) and 63 with Fitzroy/Berwick Street frontages were owned by William Morgan. He died the following year and the properties were transferred to his widow, Mary Morgan. In 1925, Lot 62 (224 Berwick Street) was sold to Arthur Richard Thorogood, real estate agent, and Edgar Race Smith, builder. Edgar at least lived locally, Arthur lived in the Hills although, to be fair, his later addresses were in Victoria Park.

 

     The application to build my house was numbered #384/25. Unfortunately, the original documentation is missing so that no date is available to know whether the build was completed in 1925 or 1926. Its design was that of the basic worker’s cottage: A two-bedroom, one bathroom house, built on stumps, clad with weatherboard, covered with a tin roof and with an outdoor lavatory (“dunny”) down the back. Many of these houses still exist and are a characteristic feature of Victoria Park today although the functional part of the dunnies have come inside, in the main. At the beginning of this century, I briefly joined a Council advisory weatherboard heritage committee, the aim of which was to preserve the weatherboard housing stock, and offer guidelines for (i) restoration of individual houses, and (ii) sympathetic new housing development.
     In 1925, Peter Smith was the ratepayer and the 1926 Post Office Directory has him living at 224 Berwick Street. While the family name of the builder, whose name was crossed through on the rates schedule, and the resident suggests a link, the Directory has an awful lot of Smiths living in Victoria Park in the first decades of the twentieth century.
     Over its nearly 100 years, my house has had six owners but many more residents. While it has been possible to find some information about these people, the sources gradually taper off from the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Thorogood and Smith (1925-41)

 

Residents:
1925 - Peter Smith was the ratepayer and the 1926 Post Office Directory has him living at 224

          Berwick Street. While the family name of the builder, Smith (whose name was crossed

          through on the rates record), and the resident suggests a link, the Directory has an

          awful lot of Smiths living in Victoria Park in the first decades of the twentieth century.
1927 - vacant.
1928 - James E Maloney: The only person of that name picked up by ancestry.com is James

          Edward Maloney, married to Beatrice, who was a mechanic when he enlisted for WWI.

          He was living in Kalgoorlie post-WWI, then a civil servant living in Subiaco in 1929. He

          died while undergoing an operation for appendicitis in 1938. Nothing, apart from his   

          name, links this person to my house.
1929 - George Bunt may have been a police constable, the abbreviated occupation after his

          name is blurry. The only person of that name found by ancestry.com and cemeteries

          records is a Joseph George Bunt who was known by his first name: that is, Joseph, not

          George so probably is not the person who lived in my house.
1930-32 - A Mrs Bryne was here in 1930, in subsequent years she was Mrs Myra Byrne. I have

          found nothing about her at all.
1933-34 - William McCarley was a railway employee in Northam until he and his wife,

          Elizabeth, retired to Victoria Park area at the beginning of the 1930s. The couple was

          living in Leederville when he died in 1939.
1935-39 - Oscar Colley was a shearer in 1927 when he gave evidence to the Federal Arbitration

          Court about the conditions in the sheds (specifically about the appointment of cooks) for

          a claim being brought by the Australian Workers Union that was seeking an award to

          cover workers in the pastoral industry. When Oscar was living in my house, with his

          wife, Nancy, and their family, he was a labourer. A son, Bill, had a letter published in

          The Sunday Times. An infant Fay Colley died in Victoria Park in 1938 but there are no

          other details to know if she was the daughter of Oscar and Nancy. In 1949, Oscar and

          Nancy were living in Balcatta, he was a clerk. Oscar died in 1959, Nancy in 1974. They

          are together in Rose Garden N in Karrakatta Cemetery.

1939-42 - Keith William McPherson seems also to have retired by the time he lived in my

          house. I have found no occupation for him at all although he served in the army reserve

          during WWII. He is in the rates book with his wife, Jessie Mary. I’m not sure what was

          happening here but it was Jessie who was recorded as the property owner - although

          the couple didn’t ever own my house - from 1939 then, from 1943, she and Keith lived

          in 219 Berwick Street, just over the road and two doors up. Keith was born in Victoria

          ca1898. In 1958, the Electoral Roll has him on his own in Kalgoorlie, he died in

          Coolgardie in 1962. In 1958, Jessie (shop assistant) was living with Jean Lillian

          McPherson (typiste) in Mount Hawthorn. In 1980, she was in Floreat.

 

Russell (1941-51)

 

“Russell” - lived at 224 Berwick Street from 1944. While Archibald Arthur Russell (“Arch.” in various records) is the owner of the property in the Rate Books from 1941, the transfer of property title from Thorogood and Smith was not registered until March 1946, possibly related to the disruption to civil affairs brought by WWII.

     Arch. and Queenie May Davey had married in 1939. Prior to his marriage, Arch. was a pastry cook in Fremantle, an occupation he continued during the war years when he and Queenie were on the Beverley Electoral Roll and their address was c/- Mrs Mayhew, Cannington.

     In 1945, the couple became parents of Thea Rosalind, born in Nurse Merry’s Private Hospital, Berwick Street. It must have been a very private hospital because not even Mr Google can find anything about it. There may have been other children but only Thea appears at the same address as Arch. and Queenie on subsequent Electoral Rolls.

     Post WWII, AA Russell was a fuel man (1949) then boiler cleaner (1959). While Queenie’s occupation on the Electoral Roll was invariably “domestic duties”, in 1949 she was “munit worker”.

 

Morris (1951-78)

 

In June 1951, title to my house was transferred to Jack Percival Murdoch, storeman of Manjimup then, a month later, to Thomas Morris, boiler maker’s assistant, and Ellen Margaret Morris. The Morrises seemed to have lived a quiet life, I have found nothing about them in the public record at all.

     As far as my house’s evolution goes, the couple added a car shelter and a timber frame sewing room, and brought the dunny inside. The car shelter (1958) was on the left side of the house when driving in. It was, in essence, a galvanised iron roof (the plans are ambiguous about whether the roof followed the house’s roof line or was flat) that covered the space between the house and a brick wall/parapet built for the purpose on the fence line. An asbestos wall covered the weatherboards on the house’s wall. The wall continues to mark my fence line in 2019. I have no plans to demolish it. The exterior and interior walls where the carport was are very damp, so much so that I replaced the jarrah weatherboards in the 2010s when I grasped I could push my finger into them. The interior walls are very crumbly and, now that I know about the carport, I’m wondering if its construction - or later demolition - caused damage that allowed rainwater to seep into and rot the house’s structure.

     The Council said the plans for the dunny were submitted in 1966 and those for the sewing room in 1972 but there is a 20 January 1972 date stamped on the dunny plan which also shows a “sleep out” where the sewing room was added. Further, while the sewing room was “timber frame”, its walls were actually asbestos. The walls for the little inside lavatory were Hardiflex. While James Hardie stopped using asbestos in its products in 1981, it carried warning labels from the early 1970s. I’m wondering whether the product being labelled with the brand name, rather than just ‘asbestos’, confirms that the indoor lavatory was built after the sewing room. The sleep-out/sewing room was still attached to the house when I bought it. My son assures me that, while water poured down its walls when it rained, we didn’t do anything that damaged the walls so should be safe from asbestos-related harm.

     Thomas died in 1975, aged 73, and the house title was transferred to Ellen. Ellen died in 1983, aged 79. They are buried in Lawn 6, Gravesite K032, Karrakatta Cemetery.

 

Turner (1978-92)

 

Peter George Turner was a foreman carpenter, and Isobel Louise Turner a housewife when they bought my house in 1978. The couple had come from Bowral, NSW, and that is about the extent of my knowledge. The Council has no record of any application to renovate the house during the Turner’s occupancy. There’s a seat memorialising a Peter George Turner (aged 77 when he died in 2004) in Karrakatta Cemetery but no Isobel Louise Turner in those records. Another Peter George Turner had grown up in Perth and had become a director, it is likely the seat commemorates his memory. My Turner couple may well still be living, the likelihood of finding information about recent contemporaries lessens the closer to the present we get because of privacy issues for the living.

 

Shoebridge (1992- )

 

My house had been empty for a while before I bought it. Neighbours have spoken about a  woman renting my house in the 1980s, and it being bought - the records would suggest rented - by a farming couple for their sons to stay in while studying in Perth. These budding scholars used to enjoy playing indoor cricket and there are several indentations in my interior walls to prove it.

     When Karl and I moved in, the rear of the estate was a maze of brick paths that marked where aviaries apparently had been. The bricks later paved the carport I built out the front, parallel to the verandah. My first neighbour at 222 Berwick St, whom I termed “the maritime gentleman”, said the bricks were well travelled, having moved around my estate several times.

     At some point, an interior wall had been removed to open up what is now my study while leaving a very small entry space behind the front door. Each time he showed me over the house, the agent would turn on the air conditioner that was on the side of the house, where the Morris’s car port had been. I realised later this was to mask the sound of traffic passing on Berwick Street which was then four lanes. I can’t remember when I replaced the air conditioner with an old ripple glass window sourced from a demolition yard. I’ve never noticed much traffic noise. Once the front door is closed, it fades away. On the other hand, it took me five years’ lobbying the Council to have the four lanes reduced to two: this was because of the damage being done by the vibration from passing traffic to the structure of the houses, old and new, on both sides of the street.

 

My renovations

All the stories are true about house renovation. Friends recommended an architect who designed the addition to my house. In essence, a large room was added to the rear. Then began the long, tiresome process of trying to get the building contractor (I was the owner/builder) to do as he was contracted to do. In the end, the architect insisted several of the larger problems were fixed before he sacked the contractor. Then followed years of me slowly finishing the work on my weekends and holidays. Signs of his shoddy workmanship are still obvious. I hope only I see these although my grandsons did comment on the grass growing through the wall when they visited in the 2000s.

     Also in 1992, I made my first European trip and was so impressed by the cooling decor in a very hot Florence that I copied the plain interiors and wooden fittings when choosing colours. So the surfaces in every room in my house is painted Solver’s Old Ivory, and all the new wood varnished jarrah. Where existing wood was painted, it too became Old Ivory.

     My house’s exterior is coloured Wheat, which was a fortuitous choice because it is one of the few colours available for the later additions of a garden shed and water tank. The contrast colours are white and Solver’s Carmine (red). I discovered in 2019 that this had had a short run in the early 1990s and is now impossible to buy unless mixed specially for me with the mixer’s experience vital for getting a good colour match.

     Over the past 25+ years, I have pulled down the dunny building and marked its spot by re-using the bricks to pave the area. There is a carport out the front and gates on each side of the house. The bathroom was redone after Karl fell through the window - don’t ask - in 1996 and demolished the earlier one in the time it took for him to reach the floor. The kitchen was redone in 1997. Neither look too different from the original. My roof has solar panels and, in the fullness of time, perhaps a battery will be added. I pulled up the carpet in the front of the house when I moved in and had the floorboards polished. In 2018, I covered them with carpet again for insulation purposes. The other floors continue to be polished wood. The floor in the living room (extension) is terracotta tile chips designed and laid by local artist, Lesley Barrett, to create a shattered tile effect that includes a line of suns across its width and the female symbol under the steps between the new and old levels.

     I have thought, from time to time, about moving but not seriously. With its centenary looming, I need to be here for its party-time. My house will likely outlive me because  protections are in place for ‘original buildings’, that is, those existing pre-1945. Its new owners will continue its evolution, but not too radically, I hope.  

 

 

MXLLS


 

 

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