by Iris Brewer, Chairperson.
The Old Lady sat decaying behind overgrown shrubs and creepers, her steps twisted and worn, her gutters, rusted and falling, her paint long faded and flaking. Over 90 years of harsh Queensland climate had taken its toll on the pine building with the huge iron bark stumps and battens. Still, there remained a gentle charm of yesteryear. The simple lines, wide verandas, curved iron roof, were beautifully lifted by cast iron lace panel, frieze and cornices.
For many years, lovers of old buildings had watched the cottage decay and wondered about the prospects of restoration. Owned by the Brisbane City Council, the building had long ago become a liability. Though several groups showed an interest in the property, it seemed appropriate that the leisure Centre, next door neighbour, be the body most willing and able to acquire the cottage and commence restoration.
Serious negotiation began in March 1980 with the then Lord Mayor, Ald, Frank Sleeman and work commenced on March 5th 1984. The committee applied for and received a Community Employment Programme Grant (a scheme to assist the long term unemployed to commence work on community projects).
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?
UNDERNEATH: Because the cottage is a small building, it was decided to excavate to make better use of available floor space. Steel bearers allowed stumps to be removed. A concrete floor was poured and tiled. Bricks were carefully chosen to closely match the original fireplace bricks of yesteryear.
A modern room emerged but the wooden sash windows, warm earthy tones, and natural timber furnishings, combined to create the desired warmth and character. External battens were replaced, maintaining the original outside appearance. For practical reasons, we said goodbye to the leaning outhouse and its interesting annex! We added two brick toilets under cover.
UPSTAIRS: Over the years, the home had seen alternatives and additions. An unsightly enclosure of the northern veranda was demolished by committee members and the Wynnum Manly Apex Club. The back stairs were relocated to their original position. Re-roofing was essential.
OTHER WORK: New flooring to verandas, new front stairs and hand rails, windows repaired and reglazed, several VJ white ant eaten boards replaced, bathroom (once a pantry) converted to storeroom, kitchen sink cupboard built, repairs to fretwork ceiling roses, new veranda rails, coloured glass door panels crafted and replaced. A barrel vault rebuilt and built over the front steps (it was removed in the 1950’s). The terracotta chimney pots were made and fitted.
PAINTING: The building inside and out has seen many colours, types and qualities of paint on her surfaces. On the exterior, our tradesman began the task of burning and scaping back to bare timber – a time consuming but essential task. On the inside, general sanding back was sufficient the cost of total removal being prohibitive. We studied old colour guides and chose the tones which were fashionable in the 1890’s.The Kitchen fireplace which housed the very necessary wood stove was cleaned back. What a task! Furnishings were researched and carefully chosen for style and durability, comfort and practicality. As no one will live in the house, no bedroom furnishings were required. We have attempted to give the two small rooms separate characters.
CAST IRON LACE: Many pieces were missing and Telegraph Newspaper SOS produced a variety of panels, some donated, some purchased. The originals panels were in excellent condition and required only sandblasting and painting. Several lengths of frieze and some cornices had to be cast.
LANDSCAPING: Work has begun and will continue over the years. Leisure Centre Volunteers, community service worker’s and committee members have worked to clear the spacious grounds . Planting of traditional shrubs, ferns and palms has begun.
USAGE: The Leisure Centre activities programme demands more space. The restored cottage has met that need.
WHY RESTORE THE OLD LADY?
Wynnum has not lost her last visible sign of her years as a municipality – The Shire Clerk’s Cottage.
It was never a grand old home. We did not attempt to turn into one. It was once alive with the sound of families going about their lives and building a township.
It housed official town council guests, travellers from the city of Brisbane.
It survived several wars and the depression. It deserved a second life.
We are grateful to have been able to allow the building to live again in a most practical way.