The house my Dad built

My dad had bigger dreams than living in an old rented farmhouse. He already had a job at the local brick works in Armadale, though this was a fair ride on the push bike every morning. He used to say that it wasn’t the ten miles that bothered him, but the fact that he was riding into the sturdy and blustery easterly wind that came down from the Darling Scarp in the morning, and in the afternoon he was riding into the south westerly sea breeze on the way home! But at least it cooled him down after a hot days work making bricks.

Dad had bought a five acre block of land about a mile or so closer to town. Still on Third Avenue, still on the same side. It was just over the road from a swamp that the authorities were trying to drain, and the drain ran right through our property. This drain was a source of constant delight and adventures to the small boys who grew up there! You’ll hear more about this drain later. This whole area of Kelmscott right through to Westfield is very low lying and should never have been allowed to be subdivided for housing. But it was and in later years there were all sorts of legal problems with compensation claims for flooded houses.

We lived in this house for maybe five years while Dad built it from the ground up. For a man with no building experience, in fact no trade background at all, who worked as a labourer all his life, to build a double brick home by himself – with help from Mum, of course! – is a remarkable achievement! And this while holding down a full time labourer’s job at a brick works and having to ride his pushbike both ways. Dad was always a hardworking man, and at the age of 62 when he was forced to retire because his body could take no more he was still working as a labourer, but in a meat works, working long hours. He died comparatively young at sixty nine, simply because his body conked out after too many years of hard work. He never had the chance to rust out because he was worn out.

When we moved in there was only the structure that was there was to become the back verandah. Divided by curtains into a kitchen and bedroom area, and at one end there was a room that would become the bathroom but was used for storage. The room that would become the toilet was the pantry. We three kids shared one bed and Dad and Mum had their own bed. Bathing was done in a galvanised tub which would hold about an eight year old child. We’d start with the youngest and each would use the water. After the kids were washed we went to bed and presumably Dad and Mum had some sort of a bath, probably a ‘half and half’ bath so neatly described by Patsy Adam-Smith in her book ‘Outback Heroes

The toilet was in a little timber framed asbestos sheet covered outside dunny twenty or thirty yards from the house right near the back fence of the house block. The receptacle was a large bucket which Dad would empty whenever it was close to full. I don’t remember where he emptied it, but a do remember a large and luxuriant vegetable garden in the sandy soil of Kelmscott!

I do remember the rubbish dump. Dad would take the rubbish every Saturday right up the back corner of the main block, just inside the fence line and close to the Banksia scrub that surrounded our property and that burned so very fiercely when the bushfires came a few years later. There was a slight rise near the back of the block and Dad would dig a hole about four or five feet deep in the sandy soil and tip all the rubbish in the hole. He then covered the rubbish with sand and left the hole till the next time. Next time he would add the next layer of rubbish and then cover with sand. And so on, layer upon layer, till the hole was filled. Then he’d dig another hole.

© Copyright Willem Schultink