Monday, October 29, 2012

If Betsy could talk...

she would tell you to pop on the kettle, grab a crochet blanket and sit back while you hear a story she has been waiting to share for 83 years. In the meantime, please enjoy some pics of the pastel hued treats that followed me home from the beach on our recent holiday. (And the scales work perfectly too).

So, I snuck into the Titles office as soon as I could to track down previous owners of Betsy. And soon I was clutching a veritable dossier of documents written in tiny cursive script dating back to 1854 with the sale of a parcel of crown land. As I work my way through the pages, the original 61 acres of land shrinks down to 38 acres when it is purchased by two brothers who start farms of arrowroot and potatoes.  In 1885 the land passes to the eldest son and somewhere along the way only 9 acres remain. It seems when this prominent man dies in 1896, about an acre goes to his 4 sisters and the remainder is divided into typical house blocks. He in turn has all three of his names used as local street names, one of which is our street. It dawns on me that the gorgeous mansion diagonally behind Betsy, is probably the architect designed house on that one acre of land that his spinster sister lived in until she died.

And now it starts to get interesting. In 1913,  a parcel of land equivalent to two house blocks, us and our neighbours is sold. It is likely that Betsy was built some time after this date. The land sells again in 1923 for the sum of 180 pounds.  However, it is perhaps more likely that she is built when the two blocks are split and sold again in 1929. And the owner of our little parcel of land? Well that would be one Alured Stuart Ducat. Told you I had a funny feeling about that name.

Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I know a lot about Alured. When he bought Betsy, he would have been 29 years old. His mother, Ethel Amelia Annie Antionette Ducat, obviously thought she would share the joy of an obscure name with her second born son, her first born named Percy after his father.
I know that when he was 22 he went to Townsville to marry Edith Helen Ashley. Did they build Betsy? Did they paint her and agonise over her every detail, or was she already waiting for them? I do know that in February 1931 a notice was placed in the newspaper of the day to welcome the arrival of their little girl, Alice Helen Ducat, who was born at their residence. Yep, that's right, Betsy saw a baby being born, all those years ago.

And such is the circle of life, only months before Alice was born, another notice in the paper.  A funeral notice, for Mr Richard Ashley, age 72 who died at home, in the house of his daughter Edith. Someone asked on my last post, if I was worried about turning up something gruesome in my quest for Betsy's history. To be honest, I wasn't at all worried. This house has the most wonderful sunshiny positive energy within it, you can just feel that Betsy is a house who has felt much love, and the laughter of many many families. I am comforted by the fact that Edith was able to care for her father at home until his last moment, and then she was given the gift of a new baby to help her grieve. And an young young Betsy quietly watched over them all.

But that isn't all, oh no. Because this suburb we live in is special. When we bought here 12 years ago, our neighbours told us that no one ever leaves, they just buy a bigger house. (Which is exactly what we ended up doing 10 years later, along with three of our neighbours). And many, many families have siblings and parents in the streets around the corner.

So, Edith's sister Ivy marries a boy and ends up living two streets away. And because this is nearly a century ago, and one cannot take children for granted, Ivy has a baby girl who dies as an infant. Edith and Alured are the godparents and post a heartfelt notice in the paper for baby Marlon. Did Edith walk those few minutes around the corner to comfort her sister in the days after this tragedy? They had only purchased Betsy six weeks beforehand, presumably to be closer to each other when they had children.

Ivy does have more children and both families are noted to attend a big party in a local house in 1933. Edith and Alured have another daughter too, in 1939, this time at the local hospital. Eight years is a big gap between children in an era without contraception, I wonder if Edith may have had medical issues or if the doctors were just being cautious due to her advanced maternal age which must have been close to 40. From what I can work out the Ducats lived with Betsy for 17 years until they sell in 1946 and move interstate. I can imagine those two little girls climbing our massive poinciana tree and sneaking through the back fence to visit the neighbours. If they are still alive, Alice would be 81 and her sister Judith would be 73.  How I would love to find them and discover their memories of growing up here with Betsy during the great depression and world war two.  For now it is back to the archives with everything I now know, to trawl through some records and find out for sure who built Betsy and maybe even how the old girl looked, back in the day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Digging around at the Archives

So, I have been meaning to dig around and find out more about Betsy for months and finally I set aside some time to trot down to the Brisbane City Council Archives. It is a treasure trove of maps and photos and all sorts of other goodies relating to the city's history.

Armed with only a rates notice confirming the property description and our address I was hoping to find out as much as I could about Betsy's roots. When we bought Betsy, the standard city council searches dating back to 1946 had revealed council approval for a garage in 1959, a carport in 1969 and the granny flat in 1990 (explains a lot really as the granny flat is pretty ghastly but recent).  Legoman has been cleaning up decades of debris under the house and had noted several random concrete slabs under the house and deck suggesting previous structures long gone. A 1921 penny above the front door and a California style bungalow suggesting construction somewhere between 1910 and the 1930's. And that was pretty much all we had.

Within ten minutes, I already had some decent clues. With a magnifying glass, I could clearly see Betsy on the 1946 aerial photo above. And copies of the 1952 plan revealed a few new details. (Sorry for the blurred photo).

That's Betsy in the middle, it appears she had a water tank at her back left corner (looking from the street), stairs at her back right presumably from a kitchen and unusual angled front stairs. And a shed up the back right. None of these things are here now but that probably explains a few of those concrete slabs.

But what I really wanted to know was how old was Betsy, who built her and what other stories does she have to share?

Looking for more clues we discovered that our street is clearly named on a 1904 plan. The land was yet to be subdivided in 1887.  Unfortunately, that was about it for the archives. There was more information available but not  until I had some names. And the only way to get the names of previous owners was to obtain a Historical Title search, and that meant trekking into the city to the Titles Office with a ticketing system and public service waiting times. Something for another day.

Just as I was packing up, Robert suddenly remembered that the 1931 Greater Brisbane Residents and Street Atlas Directory not only listed streets, but also the names of people living in them. And there listed on our side of the street, were three names.

G Craddock
G Ellis
and A Ducat.

There are only three old houses on our side of the street.  Betsy, our immediate neighbours and their neighbours who you would all know as the Menace brothers. So, this was it. A moment of time, closed up in a very old book. One of these families lived with Betsy in 1931. I rolled those names around but kept coming back to Ducat. An unusual name, and Legoman has an unusual surname. Difficult to spell or say correctly. So gang, are you thinking the Craddocks, the Ellis family or the Ducats?

Back soon with part two and some answers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Best bits of Betsy

The jacarandas have all burst into bloom and it is a whole party of purple on Betsy's front lawn. We have five jacaranda trees in our yard and this sight reminds me why October is one of my favourite times of year. The hot days are upon us, see the dryness of my lawn and that washed out, heat hazy sky? We really need a good dump of rain, perhaps a thunderstorm would be a good start.

It reminded me that I wanted to share some other bits of Betsy. Some of her gorgeous trimmings that inspired us to buy her more than two years ago.
Firstly there are the ceilings, horsehair apparently, with amazing decorative features. This is the hallway, we cannot wait to choose a new light fitting.

Roboboy's bedroom , quite simple. We will be replacing the fan but will be keeping it as it makes sleeping in summer so much more bearable.

But my absolute favourite is our bedroom, I could lie in bed looking up at that giant sunflower all day long. Another ugly but essential fan, has anyone come across a fan that is not really ugly?

And now for something that I didn't notice straight away. A 1921 penny stuck above the old front door entry. See that brown spot at the top of the door frame? (Ignore that nasty stripe of custard that I haven't got to yet). Before the front verandah was enclosed, this was the main entry into the house. We have the old leadlight door but it has weathered poorly and is not able to be re used elsewhere in the house. 

There is a matching half penny above the external verandah doors dated 1953. Both coins are glued head down and Google tells me that this was done to bring luck and fortune into the house and because the heads are facing away the evil spirits will also be looking away and not into our home.  I wonder if the 1921 coin is symbolic of the year Betsy was built, or just random luck. I would have thought she had been built in the 1930's based on her style but I think I just need to get down to the City Council archives and see what I can dig up.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beach goodies and white walls

There is nothing better than a good beachside op shop spree. Especially when there are vintage sheets involved, and peachy pink ones at that. As soon as they were washed, guess who snaffled them up for her bed?

In an effort to curb miss Liongirl's sampling of my lipsticks I bought her a pink chapstick that smells like watermelon. Unfortunately, it has been liberally applied to any set of lips in sight, if you look closely at the doll above you will see what I mean. In fact I was awoken this very morning pre dawn to the sensation of having my lippy applied before I had even opened my eyes. And by applied I mean something akin to the Joker from Batman.

Aside from sheets, there were a few other treasures. I love old tins and Australiana, could not believe my luck when I stumbled across this one for $1.50.

I'll share a few more things next post but I have been absolutely busting to show you my newest white wall. This is now the glorious view from my bathroom. Look back here for the custard version.

And the new home for the Golden Book collection, complete with a little seat to perch upon for a quick read. This little spot gets the best morning sunlight too.

And it's also perfect for testing out a new ensemble and some funky moves. This outfit was selected for going visiting, on a balmy summers day.

Like I've said before, I really hope she does not get her fashion sense from me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mr McGee and his tree by the sea

So we spent a good portion of the school holidays on this beach. Catching a few waves and soaking up the salty sunshine.

Finding sea slugs in the rock pools,

and playing games of stone tower buildings, if you make it topple you lose.

Of course there was a a lot of time spent in here,

Doing ridiculous crazy stunts with Dada,

some exploration of the river bank, finding little jetties and rope swings,

and a long scooter ride up to Dicky Beach to explore what remains of the shipwrecked SS Dicky.

where we stumbled onto this glorious specimen of a vehicle,

and most excitedly the one and only Mr McGee tree.

Our tree,

Mr McGee's tree,

can you see what we see with these matching trees? by the side of the sea? Even better once you start climbing too.

We could have stayed up there for hours. But so much to do at the seaside.

Perhaps some fishing with Grandad, or some castle building with Nanny. Would you believe Roboboy caught his first fish within about ten minutes. Too small for us to eat, the seagull who snaffled it up before our eyes had a good meal though.

I leave you with an image of when small children turn. She is three going on 23 this child. That would be my sun lounge, my towel,  my sunnies and my phone. Enough said.

Now that the holidays are wrapped up, I cannot wait to come back and share some white walls, some seaside finds and some Betsy news.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gadding About and some Goodies

Well, there has been a bit of a bloggy break over here at Betsy's but it's just because we have been gadding about all over the place. More on that later but first I had to pop back and share my goodies from the Toowoomba opping adventure. This little pile came to the princely sum of $2, a pink pillowcase for Liongirl and a little collection of colourful plastic trays for her to serve up her cakes and cups of tea.

And a few wonderful vintage sheets of course. Mostly from a little oppie that was not on my map. We had just left a fancy Lifeline Emporium with the most amazing range of vintage frocks and we were a little lost and there it was, with a few baskets stuffed full of vintage sheets and some gorgeous vintage baby clothes, must find those to share as well.

The top one is my favourite, who knew that butter yellow, apple green and turquoise were so complimentary?  The pink one is actually  a massive matronly housecoat nightie number but is destined for the chop for miss Liongirl. And the towel at the bottom has already been snaffled  up and hung on the bathroom hook in her spot of course.

Other than that it was a few other fabric finds, some barkcloth,

some Richard Scarry fabric,

and a vintage pillowcase that not long after I found it, was reunited with the matching doona cover from another oppie around the corner. Bizarre. It is a heavy thick cotton, almost like linen, if only I had the sewing skills to turn this into a dress for myself.

And lastly a solitary piece of pyrex, a very unusual limey olive green with a matching lid. Not sure if this is really my colour but it was in perfect condition.

So, how is that for a burst of spring colour? Back soon with the rest of our adventures.