Our house: histories of Australian homes
5 - Tickles' Farmhouse
Upper Cooper's Creek, Northern New South Wales
Tickles' Farmhouse, Cooper's Creek, in 1997.
A gravel road winding through pockets of regenerated rainforest and cleared farming land leads to Tickles' farmhouse in the small community of Upper Cooper's Creek, NSW, locally known as 'the valley'. Lismore is the nearest large town. Simple timber cottages dot the hillsides and makeshift road signs warn drivers to avoid generating dust. A larger Federation timber house, Jasper Hall, once part of a 900 acre property from which Tickles' farm was subdivided, lies hidden in the greenery. The area was completely cleared by late nineteenth century timber workers who farmed out the Australian cedar from the rainforest and later took advantage of incentives for clear felling timber. They totally denuded the landscape and humble mixed farms took over the land to raise dairy cattle and grow bananas on the hillsides.
Tom and Helen Tickle moved into the farmhouse, constructed of timber from the property, when they married. From 1910 they developed the farm and surrounding outbuildings (laundry, chook shed, banana packing shed, combined tool shed/ tractor shed, milking shed/creamery shed and piggery) on their 150 acres. They had two daughters, Mary and Olive, and three sons to help with farm labour - Colin, Alan ('Darby') and Dick. Tom Tickle kept the only bullock team in the valley which ploughed their own and surrounding properties. The farm was a focal point for social events in the community. Photographs record Empire Day celebrations at Tickles' farm with many local families.
Swingbridge at Cooper's Creek constructed by the Tickles. Painting by Rose McKinley, reproduced as a postcard, 1988.
The farmhouse was a simple rectangular building, with a central hallway, three bedrooms and a dining room with a large teak table. Bathing facilities were in the external laundry. An internal bathroom was later created by filling in part of the open back porch. Electricity was only connected after World War II, until then hurricane lights and a wood stove were used. The lorry which collected cream also delivered bread, meat and the mail. Today the garden area to the south of the house is dominated by a giant Moreton Bay fig tree, which Mrs Tickle planted. She also set out a house garden within a picket fence, which included roses, and a row of orange trees lining the eastern edge.
Access to Upper Cooper's Creek initially followed mail runs along the ridge lines to Brisbane and the Tickles built two swing bridges across the river to ensure their farm produce could get to market. In the 1930s a causeway was built across the creek, a roadway prone to flooding several times a year.
Italian migrants also came to the valley early this century, leasing small plots on the steepest hillsides to grow bananas. Their cottages were quite basic. These sites are often marked by clusters of citrus and mango trees. Four or five Italian men were seconded to the Tickles as prisoners of war, to help with farm labour. Farming in the valley was always a struggle. The returns from bananas varied. Pigs supplemented dairying income and Colin Tickle later tried peanuts and corn. By the early 1980s one resident described the valley as peopled by heart-broken farmers, living in crumbling houses, in a landscape seriously eroded by bananas and cows.
Tickles' Farmhouse, before the most recent round of renovations
Rosemary and Geoff Grace bought the farm in the early 1970s from Alan Tickle. They had very different reasons for settling in the valley, with a sympathy for countercultural values (represented publicly by the 1973 Aquarius festival in nearby Nimbin). While Geoff worked in Lismore, the Graces also set up a small-scale nursery business, selling rainforest plants and seedlings, and grafted macadamias, avocados and lychees. They made shadecloth additions to the former piggery and developed a seedling house and a propagating shed. Adjoining the piggery the Graces started a vegetable garden bounded by the pickets from Mrs Tickle's house garden. Lychees were planted on the hillside and eucalypts were grown closer to the house (and possibly a little marijuana) within a new cattle fence. Beyond the fence there were horses and a cow for milking.
The Graces refurbished the house in seventies style. They favoured the oranges and browns popular during this period. Lino in these colours with a hexagonal design was laid in every room. The cottage was painted in mission brown, cream and orange with green trim. The outbuildings were also painted brown. Aluminium window frames replaced the original timber frames, the house was rewired, the water system was extended by poly pipes to the outbuildings and French doors replaced the bedroom windows on the west side. The road on the north side of the cottage dates from the early 1970s when the Graces subdivided their land into five smaller lots.
Ewen Trigellis-Smith and Bradley Wright, longstanding friends, had been searching for a rural property since the late 1970s. They purchased Grace's property in 1990 to continue the spirit of a project begun in 1978 with other gay men closer to Nimbin. They spearheaded a new wave of settlers into the valley, gay men and women looking for a rural setting in which to live simply and healthily while using their labour (or bartering) to renovate houses and gardens. Members of the group shared common interests in gay politics and design, with a knack for recycling building materials and collecting stylish objects and furnishings. Ewen, for example, had been a partner in a secondhand business in Melbourne during the 1970s, and retained many treasures which have been incorporated into the farm buildings.
Tickles' Farmhouse, before the most recent round of renovations
The cottage has been transformed by simple but artful renovations. New broad verandahs line the south and west sides, extending the indoor/outdoor living space, with shelter provided by recycled 1920s doors from the Lismore Star Theatre. A central breezeway and lightway has been incorporated into the house by removal of a central wall, and the addition of a room divider modelled on existing fretwork above a hall doorway. Doors from the Federation Hotel in Fitzroy, Melbourne, extend the glazing on the southern wall. The internal and external colour scheme has been changed to pale blue and white. The refurbished outbuildings have provided accommodation for guests, meditation space and studio space. In 1994 a circular colourbond bathroom with a clear view to the landscape was built beside the former milking shed. The packing shed is being refurbished as a setting for deco and Oceania treasures.
Extensive planting has radically changed the outdoor spaces, creating vistas and exotic gardens which thrive in the semi-tropical climate. Wiring between buildings has recently been placed underground. The dilapidated swing bridge hangs as a romantic relic of an era when bananas and mixed farming dominated the landscape.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
My thanks to Ewen Trigellis-Smith and Colin Tickle, including for the earlier photographs. The 1997 photographs were taken by the author.
Upper Cooper's Creek Parents and Citizens Association, 25 years up the creek: a publication to commemorate 25 years at Upper Cooper's Creek Primary School, 1974.
Anne Gartner has research interests in housing, urban history and the arts. A past Associate Professor in Urban Studies at RMIT University, she is currently director of City.Suburb.Home, an urban consultancy in Melbourne.