SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Gold Rush Kit Homes

Yesterday I had an adventure. I crossed the Yarra - not something we Northerners do lightly - to visit down south, or South Melbourne to be exact. I wasn't only travelling in kilometres but in time, way back to when today's uber-cool gentrified suburb on the edge of the CBD went by the much more alluring name of Emerald Hill.
And alluring it was to masses of optimists who came in the mid-nineteenth century from all around the world to dig for Victorian gold. Many concluded that there wasn't enough to go round, but they might as well put down roots in the 'new world' anyhow.
Something I hadn't realised fully until yesterday was that putting down roots, then as now, was no easy task.
Although Melbourne was surrounded by bush, building materials were scarce and as many tradesmen were on the goldfields themselves, knowhow was hard to come by. So some clever people ordered pre-fabricated portable houses from Bristol or Manchester or London. These were transported in crates and advertised as being erectable 'in a few hours'. Having recently tried to assemble a 'simple' Ikea bookcase, I have grave doubts about that claim.
But there was no doubt that if you were intending to leave home to dig for gold in Australia it would have been a good idea, not only to pack your swag, but your kit home as well. In fact even Governor La Trobe, who I suspect didn't come here to dig, had that thought. He ordered two pre-fabricated homes, one of which can still be seen in Sydney's Domain.
But getting back to South Melbourne, the three houses there, maintained by the National Trust, are extraordinary. For one thing, they are all made out of iron.

Abercrombie House, originally located in Arden Street North Melbourne

I imagined that iron would have been impossibly weighty to transport, until I learned that galvanised and corrugated iron had already been invented by the 1850s in Europe, where it was all the rage. But one reason why iron houses' popularity was short-lived in Australia became apparent rapidly yesterday.

Bedroom/sauna upstairs in Patterson House

Although admittedly it was hot outside, by the time I had taken a few photos of this charming children's bedroom up under the roof I was dripping with perspiration.
Perhaps you are wondering at this point: 'Why this sudden interest in houses?' After all, they are not something I have ever written about before.
I should come clean: I was a bit of an interloper at yesterday's event in South Melbourne. My current interests lie somewhat closer to home - actually in my own home in Fitzroy.
With the National Trust Heritage Festival coming up in April, I have recently taken on the challenge of our local council to 'research your own house'. I'll post about the thrills and spills of the 'Happy Birthday House' challenge very soon.
But the opportunity to visit the iron houses and learn about the lives of their residents seemed to dovetail nicely with my own investigations. And the other bonus was that the entertaining and informative writer, Tony Birch, was presenting a workshop. As I surmised he would be talking houses and how best to write about them, I thought the event would be too good to miss.

Tony Birch in action

That proved to be the case. Tony was great. Especially as many of the examples he used came from his child-hood memories of Fitzroy in the1960s, the workshop was right up my alley. So too was the discovery that the third house's original site was in Moor street Fitzroy.
All in all I had a great adventure crossing the Yarra. And I ended up right back where I started from.

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