Last week we visited Coonawarra in South Australia for some wine tasting and buying. It also turned out to also be an unexpected vintage experience, and I don’t mean wine! Unable to find accommodation in Penola, hub of the Coonawarra, we opted to stay at Myall Cottage in Lake Mundi, about 20 minutes down the road and just over the border into Victoria.
We met the owner, Ree, at the intersection of the main road and the gravel road, then followed her to the entrance of a cattle farm, through the farm gates, past the bulls (yeek!) and to Myall Cottage.
The cottage belonged to the farmer's Aunt Daphne, who lived there from birth until she died aged 95. One step inside and I'd entered a time warp. Completed in 1907, Daphne lived in the cottage with her parents, and then after their deaths for the rest of her life, successfully running sheep on the property as an independent single woman. The cottage is full of the original furniture and Daphne's belongings, many of which had belonged to her parents before her.
The parlour - British Racing Green was the only color they could get during The Depression, but it suits
The third bedroom - with drawers full of treasure
The owner, Ree, wants people to explore the cottage and to get an idea of what it was like to live on a farm in the early 20th century. I spent the next three hours looking in every box and tin on every shelf and in every drawer in the house. I felt a bit cheeky looking in other people’s cupboards but I couldn’t resist. Treasures! - a Bandaid box full of collar buttons, a tin of broken jewellery on the mantlepiece, a box of teeny tiny cotton reels, a bakelite pencil sharpener in a tobacco tin!! I felt like a child at Easter, playing hunt the treasure. Every drawer and cupboard in the house was filled with interesting paraphernalia. The book shelves housed not only a lot of interesting old books and photo albums but also a lot of Daphne's hand written recipe books, and a few from her mother as well. It was obvious that Daphne loved to cook - the cupboards were also full of baking utensils. I thought it was sad that Daphne loved cooking and baking but only had herself to cook for.
Tins and boxes to tempt the curious - Guilty!
The top drawer
Daphne had told Ree stories of the Afghan traders who passed through, selling bolts of cloth and household utensils to homesteaders. Daphne and her sister would choose beads which the trader would fashion into necklaces for them over his campfire at night. Ree believes that some of these items, especially the trinkets, are amongst the hidden treasures in the house.
The Old Kitchen
And then my partner came in and said "You've got to have a look out here, you'll go nuts". I followed him to the shed adjacent to the back of the cottage, to find the remnants of the original kitchen from the 19th century, and two adjacent rooms - the larder and the dairy. The older buildings incorporated the historic chimney and hearth dating back to the 1860s. The original red gum slab walls had been replaced with corrugated iron over the years. The old buildings were the place where the farm workers were fed, and Daphne continued this tradition and used the outdoor kitchen for most of her life. All the meals were cooked there and the farm workers were fed there, although the family used the dining room in the cottage. A leg of lamb and dozens of scones were cooked every day for the workers. I was glad to learn that Daphne had indeed had an appreciative audience for her cooking skills after all.
The original wood fired stove in the outdoor kitchen
The next day I was a golf widow for a couple of hours and I set out to find any unexplored spaces. In the glass bookcase in the parlour I found a copy of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management from 1869. Browsing this I learned the duties of the lady's maid, parlour maid, butler and first footman, but searched in vain to find the best method for cleaning kid gloves, which I really need to know. (If you know, can you please tell me?) I also explored the outbuildings and discovered the old blacksmith's forge and the two gigs in the chaff shed. Ree later told me that Daphne’s zinc bath tub is also still out there in Bobby’s Hut.
There's no TV or WiFi in the cottage, and that evening, we sought alternative entertainment. Ree had a sign on a box we found in the cupboard beneath the bookcase saying "Please Play Me". It turned out to be a piano accordion. I wasn't game for that, worried it would fall apart, but then saw "And Me" on a nearby box. It was a gramophone! We wound it up and played Aunt Jemima singing "Can't Help Loving That Man Of Mine" from Showboat on a 78 speed record. "Old Man River" was on the flip.
There is no lack of modern comforts at Myall Cottage. There was a kitchen and bathroom reno done around about the late '70s, I'm sure it was to help an aging Daphne to continue to live in her own home, although apparently she was not pleased with the kitchen (Daphne: "This was a nice room once"). However, it did make it more comfortable accommodation for us. I'm so glad I didn't have to trot down to the back of the garden to go to the "dunny", or bathe in a tin tub. Two fireplaces keep the little cottage cosy in winter.
Front view - blue wrens hop about the garden
Staying at Myall Cottage turned out to be the highlight of the holiday for me. It was like an interactive vintage playground. Thank you Ree for not only preserving this little piece of history, but for sharing it in such a generous manner.