On the Reno Part 9

October 23, 2016 - 8:02 pm 6 Comments

If you have the right people helping you, so much can be accomplished in a single week.

I mentioned that the larger room in the front of the house—one of the original 150-plus-year-old rooms—was very large. Probably too big for a bedroom. Yet I wanted a guest bedroom. The other problem that needed solving was what to do with the thousands of books I’d brought from Brisbane, books that have been collected over a lifetime. Though it’s not fashionable these days to collect books, there are enough bibliophiles left in the world who still love them, to feel vindicated by what I wanted to do. People who love the smell and feel of books, who write marginalia in them, or who merely read the thoughts of others before them that are left in the margins. Before I’d arrived in Victoria I had parted with probably more books than I’d brought with me, so there’d been a cull. The few thousand I’d bought were therefore definitely my favourite books (give or take one or two that may have sneaked in somehow). Anyway these books have languished in boxes for months with my increasing feeling of frustration of not being able to access them at times when they were needed. For instance, without my bird books I haven’t been able yet to properly identify the glorious little creatures that chirp and flit around in my garden. But this dilemma is about to end. My elder daughter is a fellow bibliophile who has an excellent collection of her own books. She is also a writer and an artist. Utilising this last talent, she drew a picture of the big front room. With bookshelves arranged around a bed. Her partner, a surveyor, measured the room and produced a 3-D version of her drawing. On Monday of this week I gave this to David. He took it home with him and built the bookshelves. On the third day (it has a Biblical ring to it, doesn’t it?) he started assembling them in situ. And guess what? They look gobsmackingly gorgeous. They even smell great. Scotty stained them and lacquered them so that the colour scheme was consistent with the rest of the house.

Now I’ve quibbled about pictures always being worth a thousand words, and here is a classic example. These pictures simply do not do justice to the reality. But here they are anyway. For your delectation. It’s true I still haven’t decided on a bed to go in that big space under the middle row of shelves, or20161021_reno_1069 organised the lighting, but these decisions will be made as things are starting to fall naturally into place. Remember, this all happened in a single working week, with repairs to walls, floor, skirting boards and cornices. Even the enormous, old-fashioned sash windows which had previously been painted shut, may now be opened. It would seem that nothing is too difficult for these gentlemen you see on the right of this page. Thank you Dave and Scotty, you’re two in a million.20161023_reno_107220161023_reno_1080



On the Reno: Part 8

October 16, 2016 - 9:32 pm 4 Comments

Clearly I needed help. So David and Scotty came to the rescue. Here they are at work. Dave is earthbound, Scotty up on the ladder.



On the Reno: Part 7

October 16, 2016 - 9:16 pm 2 Comments

Possibly because I am a writer, I am loath to admit that a picture is worth a thousand words. But here are a few photographs of the next part of the house that needs renovating. These are two front rooms that were bedrooms. The larger I am hoping to make into a very comfortable guest room. The smaller I would like to use as my office. Both rooms required the removal of some cupboards and the larger also contained a set of drawers. When I removed these items I was dismayed to discover that a lot of extra work was required on the walls. In the larger room I could actually see through into the kitchen. 20160921_reno_103120160921_reno_104820160920_reno_102620160920_reno_1018


On the Reno: Part 6

October 9, 2016 - 9:35 pm 2 Comments

The leeks were amazing! Not just the largest I have ever seen, but succulent, sweet and the perfect foil to roast pork. Combined with the potatoes, also purchased from the Castlemaine Farmers’ Market last Sunday, which had a dense rather than floury texture, they made the perfect Leek and Potato Soup which is a staple in this household whenever good leeks may be had. I gave one of the 3 leeks I purchased for a mere $5.00, to a loved one who walked around the market with it lying in the crook of her arm as if she were carrying a baby. (This is where the image came to me of the leek being the size of a small person). Furthermore, I still have enough left over for another ambrosial soup. Which is very easy to make. Sometimes the best things are the simplest. If you would like a recipe for this dish, let me know by clicking on the red comments line at the top of the blog with your request and I would be happy to oblige you.

With all the rain we’ve been having, the garden has become wildly overgrown and full of weeds. I spent several sunny afternoons this week pulling out weeds and pruning bushes that have grown over the pathways through it. There was some linoleum that I didn’t throw away that has become a weed discourager. It was probably an idea that Bill Mollison, who died this week, had. One of his many brilliant ideas. Vale Bill. We renovators will miss you. I have a few rooms in the house that still have their old carpet because they haven’t yet been repainted. Instead of worrying about taking this to the local tip, I will be cutting it up and putting it into my garden.

Now, because a picture is worth a thousand words—or so they say—I will show you another room that is nearing completion.
This was one seen in an earlier “On the Reno” with its floor missing and one of its walls all but destroyed during the re-stumping process. It is the one with the wallpaper on it.20160915_reno_088520000101_reno_0955

This is what it looks like now.




On the Reno: Part 5

October 2, 2016 - 8:40 pm 2 Comments

20161002_reno_1004Before the rain started again, today was a delightfully sunny Spring day for all to enjoy the Farmers’ and Artists’ Market in Castlemaine.

This occurs on the first Sunday of each month. It is a place you can buy local, organic food and original artworks, and all at very reasonable prices.

Now you may be asking yourself why I am wandering off the subject of renovating. It is simple, really. When you are working hard on your dream home, you need sustenance. And at places like local markets, you can often pick up something quite wonderful in the furniture line that perfectly fits the style of the house you are re-making, as I did today. I also picked up some delicious-looking potatoes and some amazing leeks, which, it is no exaggeration, were the size of small people!

Yesterday I pulled up the  linoleum that had been under carpet I  had also removed—but some time ago—from the largest room in the house, plus all the old newspapers which were underneath, dated 1947,  which is before I was born. Now, after I had read those items of the news that I simply couldn’t ignore, I broke the rather brittle lino into fairly small pieces so that I could dispose of them thoughtfully.  I was wearing a dust mask at the time, something you might consider using yourself when working on a very old house. This big room presents a little problem because it is so large, but I will tell you more about that later. Today was a holiday for me after all the hard yakka, and so off to the markets I did go.

The picture at the top of the page is of one of the two items I purchased from a clever man called Robert, who fashioned it. How could I resist a traditional meat-keeper that would fit perfectly into a house that was built on the Victorian goldfields? Well, I couldn’t. Especially with that delightful poster advertising Bendigo Digger Jams. It seemed to be made for my house. Serendipity, my father would have said, though I believe I was just at the right place at the right time.


On the Reno: Part 4

September 25, 2016 - 9:50 pm 2 Comments

20000101_reno_0959Since I have hinted about the awfulness of the re-stumping process, I’ll show you a few pictures so that you can get an inkling of it. The one immediately below and the picture on the lower left of the page give you a glimpse of the tunnel which the re-stumpers filled in with rubble.

The basin was left in my garden as was much of the timber  which the re-stumpers claimed they had cut up for my fire. However, I had decided that having a fireplace and burning wood was not an environmentally friendly option and too labour intensive for me, so I had arranged for a new gas heater to replace the one in the house. When the re-stumpers left my garden was littered with cigarette butts, paper and polystyrene food wrappings and even food scraps. They did remove some of the wood in the pile (which was as tall as the back part of my house) but much was left behind for me to remove. I appreciate that re-stumping a house is not a pleasant job and I suppose this is partly why it is such an expensive project for the renovator, but I couldn’t help feeling that neither the house nor myself were treated very respectfully. Anyway, the horror of it is being erased as the renovations proceed. The first picture at the top of this page shows the back of the house and the kitchen area. On the Reno Part 3 contains a picture of the kitchen that has emerged thus far. (Just scroll down a little). I think you’ll agree that things are definitely looking up.






On the Reno: Part 3

September 18, 2016 - 10:17 pm 3 Comments


Here is another photograph from the Real Estate agent’s catalogue.  The actual size of the chimney is hard to ascertain from this picture, but it was huge, taking up about a third of the room, with very little clearance on the top of the gas oven under the flue. It was also a very dark space.

Because the chimney dominated the kitchen, I wondered whether removing it would damage the integrity of the building. I asked a couple of people who assured mew800-h534-2012498993_12_pi_160109_053229-1 that all would be well and asked a local man, Jason Williams, to do the job. What transpired from this was nothing less than a revelation. Very old bricks—perhaps aged more than 150 years old—which is the approximate age of the house. While the chimney was being dismantled, I asked the gentlemen doing all the hard yakka to stop. I think they initially thought I was a little mad, but they humoured me, thank goodness.  This is the result. Now I know I am getting ahead of myself, because the picture (bottom right) shows not just the wall of bricks, but more of the renovations. However this was one of the mysteries of the house that really excited me because it was something discovered and certainly not expected, so I guess I want to share it with you now.

And since I have started on this trajectory, I might as well show you what the kitchen looks like now. Not completely finished, but definitely getting there.

The photograph was taken late in the afternoon a few days ago  during heavy rain, so the interior light was turned on. However this is no  longer a necessity during the day, as it was before the renovations were started. It is a very light and airy room now, with cupboards and  a feature wall of very old bricks at one end and an eating 20160914_reno_0944area at the other.




ON the RENO: Part 2

September 11, 2016 - 11:08 pm 5 Comments

So, when does a house you’ve moved into become your own? There is, for weeks, months, or even years the otherness of the occupation of the last owners or tenants. Maybe a sense of strangeness—even foreignness—because the house is daunting in the way  that it seems to have  been neglected. It could be that it appears an absolute slattern in its presentation. You cast your mind back to the last house you lived in and you think, that house was never like this. . . That house I slid into as cosily as if I were putting on a new skin. I snuggled into its nooks, glorying in its cooling places in the harsh, unremitting days of Summer when the sky was as hot as ashes making sweat run down my body as if I were standing in a cauldron of soup. But think again. Suddenly you recall that you made those cooler places by putting up blinds to block the light, shuttering western-facing windows that stared into blistering  Summer; you stripped off rococco wallpaper that made your interiors feel claustrophobic,  painting the space instead  white or  pastel coloured;  you added windows to confrontational walls that didn’t allow you to breathe easily until you did so; you put fans in ceilings after insulating them and  planted trees that offered more shade. And by draping enviro-cloth over the struts of a carport so tall it lowered the temperature of the house another 5-10 degrees, you achieved your goal. All this and more I did. But these are the sorts  of things you forget, because you tend to make  these innovations over time—especially when you’re working for a living and trying to bring up kids simultaneously—and you forget the little details that are making your life more comfortable. That is why it is a good idea to take photographs of your house at its most unattractive, so you’ll remember. Or, if you don’t really want to remember it at its worst, at least get hold of a picture or two from the real estate agent’s catalogue that beguiled you in the first place. Not because it was exactly what you wanted, perhaps, but because you saw some remarkable potential for putting your own imprimatur upon it. For making a stranger’s house your own. Here is such an example: This is a picture of my kitchen as it was. You cannot actually see the cooking apparatus because it is hidden by the big brown bench.w800-h534-2012498993_13_pi_160104_012221

The photo shows quite a large space split into two by that bench and a partition. The actual working space of the chief cook and bottle washer was very small, because, once again, the space was dominated on one side by the bench and on the other by an enormous chimney that took up about a third of the rest of the room. It was a concrete construction over 150+-year-old bricks which had, I guess in the psychedelic sixties, been wallpapered over by that interesting orange and green pattern (now somewhat faded) you can see to the far right of the photograph. This wallpaper made another bold statement in another room and was treated with the same respect.

You can see the floor of the kitchen tends to be somewhat aslant. That is not an illusion. It actually dipped with alarming alacrity towards the back of the house. It was this propensity plus the couple of accidents I had slipping on worn ceramic kitchen tiles and off a decontextualised stair, that caused me to consider re-stumping the house. Though that was a ghastly experience, what we found under the house added to its allure for me, making me respect it for its great age and even love it a little more. So I won’t become boring and repeat myself about the mystery that unfolded in the re-stumping, instead I’ll direct you to an earlier blog called “For My Brisbane Friends and Anyone Else Who May Be Interested” which explains it. Read it and weep.



ON THE RENO: Renovating & Restoring a House on the Goldfields

September 6, 2016 - 9:03 pm No Comments

This is a blog about renovating an old house. A very old house that was built on a goldfield. Not that I had a clue about what I was doing, at first, so I’ll call this section So Who’s a Silly Girl, Then?

Seriously, I did know that a right angle, or a corner, has 90 degrees and that a straight angle has twice that at 180. But practical knowledge about restoring an elegant old house? Not much, if any at all. Anyhow, I sold my house in Brisbane and suddenly found myself homeless, wanting to move closer to my family, that had migrated south. To this end, I had chosen an area to live in central Victoria.

On the several occasions I flew down to see what sort of real estate was available within my budget in the very pretty little town of my choice, there was nothing that really grabbed me. One house stood out, but it probably needed more work than all the others put together. Yet it was the one I kept going back to look at online.

Close friends (who are not so very close these days) and even family members cautioned me against buying this house, calling me at all hours of the day or night to warn me of the dangers to my pocket and peace of mind if I was stupid enough to purchase it.

Perhaps because I was something of a tomboy during my schooldays, and loved a bit of danger and risk-taking, I bought the house. Okay, you are saying, she is in her second childhood, now, going through all that kids’ stuff again. Well maybe, may be. The point is, I believe I made the right decision, even though I underestimated the cost of the renovations. You may have an entirely different opinion—which I would love to learn— but I ask you to hear me out first.

Anyway, while all the paperwork on the purchase was going through, I obtained permission to live in the house.

On my first perambulation through it as vendor, I noted the floors were uneven. There was a step down from the hall into the kitchen and a step up from the dining room to the sitting room and the bathroom floor seemed to be sloping off to somewhere else entirely. The creaking boards in the bedrooms were in no way muffled by the layers of ancient carpet and linoleum on top of them and one or two seemed to sink alarmingly under my weight. You may well ask why I hadn’t noticed this rather salient feature myself before purchasing the house. My only reply is that I was already succumbing to a bizarre condition that has afflicted the best and the worst of us, somewhat blinkered by something that has the ability to curse or to bless. Slowly and inexorably I was falling in love, and falling for something that probably couldn’t even return my affection. . .

On my second visit to the house, I conscientiously noted the step up from the kitchen into the hall, but somehow miscalculated in the gloom and slipped, viciously wrenching my ankle and banging my head on a built-in cupboard so hard I saw stars. I actually think I knocked myself out for a little while, because I was quite astounded to find myself in a prone position on the hallway floor with a cupboard door wedged against my shoulder and neck when I returned to consciousness. It occurred to me then that I needed to get the house re-stumped.

This caused a bigger headache than the fall. There was no re-stumper in the immediate area who could begin a new job in under five months. The costs ranged from quite expensive to astronomical! My daughter, however, solved the problem by discovering there were some re-stumpers at work three doors away from her flat in Melbourne. She asked them if they could work on our house and they said they could and would start in a matter of a few days.

For one who has never had a house re-stumped, nor even seen a house undergo this phenomenon, having it done to something you love is life-changing. Well it was for me, anyway. For starters, I had to go and find alternative accommodation . . .

Join me for the next thrilling installment of ON THE RENO (which has a working title of WTF!) and I’ll tell you what happened next.


Not quite winter’s end, the garden is stirring in Victoria.

August 28, 2016 - 1:27 pm 2 Comments
The yellow blooms of this bush were here right through the winter, where many others were of course, missing.

The yellow blooms of this bush were here right through the winter, where many others were of course, missing.

But the divine passiflora, Australian native passion fruit, does not like the cold

But the divine passiflora, Australian native passion fruit, does not like the cold

As you can see.

As you can see.