Chris Smith in her Maryborough home Cawallin
Chris Smith in her Maryborough home Cawallin JOY BUTLER

Surprising discovery during 150-year-old M'boro home reno

If these walls could talk is a phrase that's been thrown around for eons with songs, books and movies claiming it as their genre's titles.

The walls have ears is a phrase of a similar ilk that is linked to the secretive, more private aspect of the closed-in places that four walls provide.

Imagine you owned a home that was more than 150 years old? If it could talk, what stories would it tell?

There are some who love people, places and cherish the rich history which has formed that sense of place of the abode in which they choose to live. They want to know the stories encompassed within those four walls and how and why those four walls were built.

Christine and Wayne Smith are a couple whose romance transcends modern bricks and mortar, always preferring the nostalgic comfort of an historical abode.

Chris Smith in her Maryborough home Cawallin
Christine and Wayne Smith in their Maryborough home Cawallin. JOY BUTLER

For a young couple in love, engaged at 17 and married soon after, they purchased their very first worker's cottage in 1970 at 88 John Street Maryborough for $1200.

"Shortly after we were married, we borrowed the money from my mum and Wayne went to Weipa to the Bauxite mines to work so we could pay her back," Christine said.

She tells me that they both had a love of old homes since they were young, always revelling in the things of times past, restoring, updating and loving the old home's bones. Wayne maintains the structure while Christine's love of textiles and furnishings inspires her to redecorate.

"Even before I knew my husband I would roam through antique shops and I knew that I would buy an old home. I loved my grandmother's home. I love the feel of those houses," she said.

"Wayne would go to work and when he came home there would be different colours on the walls.

 

At home in historic Cawallin
At home in historic Cawallin Christine Smith

 

At home in historic Cawallin
At home in historic Cawallin Christine Smith

"I worked in textiles and it was a real passion for me, never a job. I was at Lincraft in Toowoomba and I collected interesting fabrics and boxes and boxes of old doilies and lace over the years.

"During the '90s I had my own business and worked with crazy patchwork and made bustiers and vintage jewellery and embellish them with vintage lace and fancy stitching. I always made cushions and throws."

For this couple who grew up in among Maryborough's historic houses, their old home journey took them from their worker's cottage in Maryborough to Nambour, Toowoomba, to Hervey Bay and finally back to Maryborough again where they bought historic Cawallin.

Built in 1885, the home sits proudly on the corner of Zanti and Ann streets and partially overlooks the old Albert School. Christine tells me the meaning of Cawallin may have Scottish or Gaelic origins and that somewhere she noted it meant gentle slope as the home is built on the top of a rise.

Daniel MacTaggart, a wool stock and produce broker, purchased the land from Edger Aldridge - one of the largest landholders of the region. The home has a fantastic history which has been chronicled in the local papers and Christine is currently sourcing.

She tells me the papers show postings for many ads for rental and that Zanti Street was originally named Vulcan Street and that there were stables and servants' quarters out back. The size of the land was considerably reduced over the years as various owners sold surrounding portions that were no longer needed and perhaps to make a little money on the side.

Christine says the home was fitted with gas lighting which a news article written in the 1930s supports.

"George Noakes received a visit from an employee in the middle of a terrible storm. The boy was struck by lightning at the front gate which rendered him stupefied. After attending to him Mr Noakes noted that the gas lights began to dim. On further investigation Mr Noakes climbed up onto the roof and just above the water tank there was a fire which took 20 buckets of water to douse."

It's, in part, these stories, illuminated by historical records which fascinate Christine and Wayne but even more - it is a sense of place and connection, an invisible thread which pulls at their heart strings and binds us (the people of present and past) together across time.

"We were looking for an old home in Maryborough and hoped to buy on the river but there was nothing available. We knew the owner of this home. It was my daughter-in-law's father. He began to renovate the home, the kitchen, dining room and main bathroom. We moved in and there was a lot of repairs which Wayne is doing. It's constant maintenance and upkeep. But we feel like custodians of the home and it's giving us a lot of joy seeing it come back to life," Christine said.

The connections go even deeper as Christine relays the story of her late brother's teenage crush.

The girl of his dreams lived in the home and he would regularly visit the home in which she now lives.

 

At home in historic Cawallin
At home in historic Cawallin Christine Smith

It's as if Christine can feel him among the fabric of the home.

"The Benson family owned the home. He would frequently visit at 17. He'd come to the home with his guitar strapped across his back and then he would sing to Sandra. They would have rock and roll parties and the mother would play piano on the front veranda," she said.

"I feel like my brother, his memory, is a part of this home."

And the connections continue as Christine uncovered a marriage notice published in the Courier-Mail from 1932.

"It was formally worded, and it showed that the youngest daughter of the Novak's family was to be married to Burnett Netterfield and I suddenly got this shiver that went up my spine.I recognised the name as being a close friend of my father's who died 50 years ago, and he was also a close friend of my grandmother who I never met. I have a letter he (Burnett Netterfield) wrote to dad after my grandmother died, describing the woman that she was, and it was a fascination for me to know her. I love knowing that my father's best friend and grandmother's friend has walked the rooms of this house."

Christine was further inspired by her now good friend and author Ann de Lisle who has extensively renovated while writing.

I imagine Christine and Ann enjoying a glass of wine over dinner and sharing stories that only their homes can tell, ruminating over the challenges of restoration and revival.

Old homes may not be for everyone but for those whose calling is to give old bones new life, it is certainly a grand passion beyond what any of us could imagine.