Our house: histories of Australian homes
6 - Orcades, a Central Coast holiday house
Dark Corner, Patonga, New South Wales
Orcades in 1997.
Patonga, near the mouth of the Hawkesbury River on the Central Coast of NSW, was explored in 1788 but the steep hills and heavy timber did not meet the need for agricultural land. Grants were made from the 1820s and land began to be used for timber getting, crops and cattle. The population increased only slowly until the railway was built in the 1880s, being completed by the engineering feat of the Hawkesbury River Bridge in 1889. This brought the region within a few hours of Sydney, facilitating a southward traffic in agricultural produce such as citrus fruit and the northward journeys of holiday makers.
In the early twentieth century estates were subdivided to allow vacationers to buy their own small blocks. Thousands of inexpensive holiday homes were built, some of them prefabricated and most using local timber and asbestos sheeting. Since 1945, many holidaymakers have decided to live year round on the Central Coast and have made substantial alterations to their holiday houses or have subdivided their blocks. The original fibros are increasingly threatened and soon a brick veneer villa in a medium density estate may become the typical Central Coast house.
Dark Corner's holiday houses in earlier days.
This house at Patonga is not lived in year round but functions as a symbolic permanent residence for the family which holds its lease, the Doughtys. Six generations have passed their vacations within its fibro walls. They have celebrated Christmas feasts in its tiny front yard, and have wooed and won their spouses as they gazed over the tranquil waters of Brisk Bay. The holiday house is a point of convergence and continuity for a family whose members live north, south and west. While other homes are acquired and sold the holiday house remains a place of permanence and tradition.
As one of the closest areas to Sydney, Patonga was attractive to holidaymakers travelling across the Hawkesbury by boat but it was protected from large-scale tourism by the lack of road or railway access. A group of Scottish descent began to visit Brisk Bay around 1914. Their shacks and tents were deemed to be unsightly, so they were offered permissive occupancy of 2,500 square foot blocks on a Reserve for Access at nearby Dark Corner where they built more substantial dwellings.
The house constructed by the Taylor family in the early 1920s is at the end of the row, farthest from the village of Patonga and nested into the hillside. All construction materials had to be found locally or brought in by water. InHeroes, John Pilger described the building of a Patonga holiday house by his father and a mate during the Depression. The materials, from a Sydney racing stable, were carried to Patonga Beach by steamer.
Dark Corner's holiday houses in earlier days. Orcades is at the far end.
Little of the wood used in the Taylor's house seems substantial enough for a stable. Rough boards, fibro sheets with wooden strapping and corrugated iron on the simple A-line roof are the principal constituents while sandstone piers support the structure. The piers have fretted and some have been protected with cement render.
The original house consisted of two bedrooms joined by a verandah-cum-living room. There was limited privacy with doors and windows linking all of the spaces. The builder had an eye for detail and an appreciation of current art deco and Californian Bungalow styles. Features included tapering or curved architraves around the windows and built-in wardrobes and cupboards. The doors, however, were not 1920s style but narrow low-waisted three light doors, perhaps recycled French doors.
The long, enclosed verandah had small paned windows fitted with ornate flyscreens overlooking the water. Reflecting the found nature of many of the materials, the panes were a mix of clear and obscured glass. Generous eaves were augmented with awnings to protect the interior from the sun. Pressure lamps provided artificial light while tanks supplied water. Sanitary arrangements were west of the house up the rise.
Dark Corner and Orcades in 1997.
Later, a kitchen/dining room was added to the western side. In the sink with its black and white terrazzo surround, cold tank water flowed from a single tap. Cooking was done on a Bega fuel stove which was later replaced by an Early Kooka gas range, brought from a home in Sydney.
Wider recognition of the attractions of the area changed the context of the house. A road was put through to Patonga in 1933. In 1935 and 1936, the surrounding area was reserved as Brisbane Water National Park, with 2,000 acres at Patonga designated as a public recreation and flora reserve. In 1940, the NSW Director of Physical Education established the first National Fitness Camp there. While this brought more visitors, the park ensured that Patonga was protected from the encroachment of urban or agricultural development.
The house was passed to the next generation of Taylors who used it until 1941. When Mr Taylor died, his widow offered the house to her relatives, the Boltons. Their young family made new demands of the house and named it 'Orcades' for a ship on which an uncle worked. In the late 1950s, electricity brought light to Dark Corner. The pan system toilet was moved to the eastern end and when the waste collection service was discontinued, a Hygiea on-site disposal system was installed.
The Boltons extended the house in the early 1960s adding a lounge room on the eastern end. This room was quite different in finishes and dimensions, exemplifying its period as well as the rest of the house does the 1920s. Although the same materials of fibro and corrugated iron were used, the roofline was raised to obtain a high ceiling. Ceiling and walls consisted of large fibro panels with lighting from fluorescent tubes. Large-paned corner windows gave an unbroken view of the Bay while hopper windows allowed for ventilation. Curtains replaced the venetian blinds found elsewhere in the house.
The garden is in keeping with the holiday atmosphere. The aged bougainvillea and two frangipani trees create a tropical appearance. Other than the lawn, it requires little attention. A concrete terrace extends along the front with a sandstone retaining wall. The retaining walls are decorated with seashells pressed into the concrete. The bush behind the house bears the scars of a recent controlled burn off, a reminder of the real threat of bushfires. Soaring up behind the house is one of the heavily treed hills of the National Park.
The lease is now held by Mrs Caroline (Bolton) Doughty and a modest annual rent is paid to the Lands Department. The house is used regularly by family and friends. The Doughtys are very conscious of the heritage value of their house and have maintained original fittings and artifacts such as the toasting fork and fly swatter made by Mrs Doughty's father.
Built as it was with inexpensive materials, the house requires regular maintenance. The most serious risk is from the sea. When built, the house was 25 metres from the waterline. By the 1950s, wind and waves had reduced the setback to just five metres, ending car access to the house. A sandstone seawall was constructed but the large seas of 1975 undermined the wall which was reinstated with the help of the Gosford Shire Council.
View from Orcades in 1997, showing the old blinds and windows.
Where deemed to provide a real improvement in enjoyment, changes have been made. Electrical wires loop along walls in the oldest rooms for refrigerators, microwave oven, heaters, radio and television. A telephone line was reluctantly installed in the late 1980s. The toilet is operated on an electric composting system. A hot water heater with a gravity fed cold system produces a warm if brief shower at the push of a button. A security system augments the informal surveillance provided by the people of Patonga.
The significance of these houses was recognised by inclusion in the Gosford Council's Local Environment Plan in 1989 and the Register of the National Trust (NSW). However, since 1960, the Department of Lands has attempted to enforce its policy that permissive occupancies should be vacated upon the death of the current leaseholder. Several nearby houses have been demolished after reversion.
Orcades has been enjoyed by the Taylor-Bolton-Doughty family for six generations. Each generation has made the house more comfortable but has respected its basic nature as a place of ease and simplicity. Mr Doughty is often asked why he does not move to Orcades permanently. He says that residence there would change their relationship with the house. It is important as an alternative, a symbol of the family's ability to escape from the daily routine and cares of home.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Kevin Doughty, for his generosity in allowing me into his home, and Gosford City Library for access to their Local Studies Collection, also the source of the historical photographs. The 1997 photographs were taken by the author.
Commins, K, 'First National Fitness Camp', The Home, 1 November 1940.
Davies, Stephen, Director Conservation of National Trust of Australia (NSW), letter to the General Manager, Gosford City Council, 11 March 1996.
Doughty, Kevin, Submission to the Committee considering a Management Plan for Dark Corner, Patonga Beach, on behalf of the owners of the cottage located at that site, 10 March 1995.
National Trust of Australia (NSW), Classification Report, Patonga, Cottages, Dark Corner, Patonga Beach, nd, approved 24 February 1996.
Interview with Mr Kevin Doughty, 7 July 1997. Site visit, 7 July 1997.
Pilger, John, Heroes, Jonathan Cape, London 1986.
Stanley, Howard, A history of the establishment and administration of Brisbane Water National Park, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney 1984.
Strom, Beryl, Gosford/Wyong History and Heritage, Gosford: Gosford District Historical Research and Heritage Association, 1982.
Educated in Canada and Australia, Dr Nancy Cushing lectures in Australian history at the University of Newcastle's Central Coast Campus. Her research interests are in the area of cultural history, especially Australian domestic and leisure spaces. She has published 'Newcastle's Beaches, Found and Lost' in Hidden Newcastle, the invisible city and the city of memory (Sydney, 1997).