Our homes have history
by Stephanie Ryan
Where we live forms a rich context for our lives. The major events, celebrations and relationships often centre in our homes. We express ourselves in how we present them and use them to enhance our existence. Our memories and feelings are inextricably and powerfully tied to these places.
Our homes reflect not only ourselves but also our family and the time and place in which we live. As many of us move into houses of another era previously owned by others, we connect to a wider personal and social history.
We can learn about this history of our house, which does not have to be a heritage structure to be fruitfully explored.
The Corley collection
Frank Corley took photographs of houses of south-east Queensland similar to the way Google operates today. He processed them in a van nearby, selling them to residents often inserted in a calendar. Those not sold are now in the State Library collection and form part of a current exhibition Home: a suburban obsession which brings to life what our Queensland homes mean to us. Denis Peel and the Annerley-Stephens History group Inc. have already done extraordinary and revealing research in the southern suburbs, an insight and inspiration for many.
The photograph was a photo Corley sold in a calendar frame. The home was then owned by Bill Ryan and occupied by him and his family of six girls. The two enclosed verandahs, a feature of the Baby Boomer era, were like dormitories. Consequently, the original steps, which came down the side of the house from the verandah, were supplemented with another entry which replaced the porthole stained glass window. The original fence, which matched features of the house, had been replaced by one of wire. Like most of the fences of the time, it was transparent and porous as children poured out and over them to play in each other’s yards. The lattice skirt, hiding a fernery, was one of the favourite cool places for this.
The origin of this home: the property title, the Axelsens and John Leckie
The title deed is the starting point for research. In 1927 the Axelsens bought land at Kedron. The title links the Axelsens’ property back to the original Deed of Grant given to John Leckie, the first land buyer.
It is possible to buy a copy of the original deed of grant from Department of Natural Resources, Mining and Energy using their business page. However, the Moreton Bay Courier via Trove also provides information. In 1857 John Leckie, a Scottish immigrant, jeweller and land speculator purchased Portion 5 in the Parish of Kedron, a wide swathe of land extending from Kedron Brook to Edinburgh Castle Road for £1.
In 1923 Isles sold remaining blocks to T. M. Burke who resold them throughout the State (T M Burke Real Estate Agents records 1922-1939). Augusta Axelsen purchased 2 lots in Sixth Avenue. The Brisbane City Council Building Register Index February-October 1927 shows that her application for this home on a hill at Kedron overlooking an arc of Kedron Park, Lutwyche and Gympie Roads was approved during this time, construction starting soon after. A Supreme Court action involving payment among the builders provides further detail outlined in the Brisbane Courier 28 September 1927 p16. We learn that Arthur Bressow was taking action for payment of £300 in relation to a building contract. “On April 13, 1927 defendant received from Mrs. Augusta Pauline Axelsen, of Albion, the sum of £600 due to John Harvey, a builder and contractor, for whom Warren had acted as agent for several years.” Bressow, the sub-contractor was not being fairly paid. Mr Justice Macrossan simply resolved the matter with the question: “Do you want me to believe that Bressow took on this contract without knowing when or how or under what circumstances he was to get paid?” Harvey said: “This is so.” The Judge found in favour of the sub-contractor, Bressow.
BCC information about Brisbane properties and streets: Brisbane images and Detail plans
Local councils provide information specific to their area: plans and images of houses and streets such as the following plan.
The Kedron corner
The Axelsens with a daughter moved to Kedron into a quiet, conservative, church-going, 1950s corner. Down the hill behind the property were Henry Roberts, his wife and the 2 Misses Roberts in Malayta. Henry Roberts owned a furniture store next to Bell Brothers in the Valley and was a bastion of the Baptist Church. Next door to the Axelsens were William and Margaret Packer with the 2 Misses Packer in Derrington. William Packer, with his brothers, owned a tannery at, what is now, Craigslea and were foundation members of the Kedron Methodist Church. They were neighbours who assisted each other. When Augusta Axelsen was sick Mr Axelsen had the use of the Packers’ phone. He was an electrician but a phone was seen as a luxury. In 1951 Mrs Axelsen died and in July 1952 the house was advertised and auctioned.
The buyer, Giovanni Constanza stayed only a few months but he left a collection of tropical shells, wonderful toys. Before the end of the year Bill and Marjorie Ryan bought the house. Their 2 small girls were joined by another 4 small girls by the end of 1955. The house was modified to accommodate them. The quiet corner was under siege. The girls chased the chooks in the backyard, hunted chokos, pawpaws and mangoes on the vines and trees and raced the especially large clothesline around. Cubby houses erupted around the gardens. Gifts of jam drops from the Misses Packer and Roberts did not brake this activity. The Packers enquired as to why all the house was ablaze at night. The answer was that there were now 8 people living there. A new generation had arrived in the area.
These few documents pick up only on a couple of points about this house.
Research your house history using:
- the information guide House history checklist
- Queensland sites in Useful websites for family historians including links to Brisbane City Council Archives sites and the Brisbane City Council’s Your house has a history updated with Guide to researching your house history with hyperlinks
- Corley Explorer and look for your house in places and suburbs. Tell your story.
This story captures a period of growing up I well remember – lots of kids in the neighbourhood to play with and a somewhat bemused older generation of single women, unmarried because of the war.
The house style is also familiar.
I had no idea there was so much to find out about on the ordinary home.
It’s great to read about the homes many of us knew, not just the heritage houses. I enjoyed this blog and checking out the Corley Explorer. The huge changes in the way we lived over the last 50 years are evident from the big yards and low fences to the hidden garages and simpler, smaller houses of this earlier period. I loved the stories people have written on the Explorer and what their homes meant to them.