In the last post, I pretty much revealed through the magic of modern photography just what an insane nutter I am. With a crumbling, derelict house and a surrounding bit of land that has been essentially environmentally pillaged, it is fair to ask what on earth I was thinking. In this post, I am hoping to give you a sense of why I am undertaking all of this.
To begin with, the house was built around 1890. It is one of the oldest houses in the region. It’s a typical ‘federation cottage’. As is typical with federation cottages, it has had a couple of extensions whacked on.
What is a bit unusual about it is that all of the wood in it is blackwood. Tasmanian blackwood is now quite rare and rather expensive. What’s more, they didn’t have any mills around. So every board, stud, and rafter is hand shaped with an axe or adze. The nails were all hand forged.
The last owner decided that century old weatherboards weren’t fancy enough and ripped some of them off and replaced them with plywood and plastic cladding. Why? I really don’t know. If you’re thinking that plastic cladding is a good, cheap solution, STOP!
On my house, the stuff is less than a dozen years old and it is already badly degrading. Its insulation qualities are about on par with soggy pasta. It looks awful, requires more maintenance than plain painted wood, it’s subject to drafts, it is a terrible, terrible product. I would glue canvas to my walls before that stuff.
Maybe it is because the previous owner didn’t install it correctly. I don’t know. But I can attest to the fact that the piles of it that were laying around on the ground unattached aren’t in great shape, either.
Once I remove pretty much everything the last owner did, the house will be a pretty little weatherboard federation cottage. I can then put in plumbing and wiring and all of that stuff. I will encase the century old wood and preserve it. I will ensure that the heritage and character of the building are conserved. While I have neither the expertise or inclination to do a full heritage restoration, I can – and will – preserve what’s there so that further down the track someone could.
One thing that has been particularly interesting is that as the clean up progresses, old newspapers or bits of magazines come to light. When the building was constructed (and when modifications were made), newspaper was used as a kind of wallpaper. Layer after layer was glued on and then painted. Floorboards were smoothed out by putting layer after layer of newspaper over the top to separate the wood from the carpeting. So. Lots of old newspapers. My favorite so far has a story of a battle between Allies and the Japanese from WWII.
Another favorite is a job ad for a munitions tester with the CSIRO (This segues beautifully to my next point). Part of what I want to do is to restore the building by reflecting on the lives that were lived within its walls. I am contemplating applying for that job with CSIRO. I think it would be interesting to see how an organisation dedicated to developing tomorrow’s technology and knowledge reacts to receiving an application 70 years late. Who knows? I might apply for several of the jobs in these old papers. I might try buy some of the products from the advertisements. I think I will try to record the reactions and experiences as 2011 crosses paths – albeit oddly – with 1939.
Just as this crumbling cottage is made from century old blackwood, who we are and the world around us is made by the years and lives that came before. covering this house – or our yesterday – in today’s cheap plastic seems to me to be a terrible waste.