Our house: histories of Australian homes

Julia Marsden
Australian Heritage Commission, 2001

20 - Yallambee, A soldier settler farmhouse

South East of South Australia

Yallambee in 1997.

Yallambee in 1997.

The Marsden family moved into their new house, 'Yallambee', in 1950. Max Marsden had been allocated this farm of 706 acres (280 hectares), one of three soldier settlement farms along Piccaninny Lane, 12 miles (19 km) from the nearest town of Beachport. The Marsdens were amongst nearly 400 families allocated land in the South East of South Australia under the War Service Land Settlement Scheme which had the dual aims of rewarding returned servicemen and increasing agricultural productivity by closer settlement.

The house was a basic South Australian Housing Trust house with three bedrooms, built by Housing Trust contractors for the War Service scheme. There was a living room with a tiny porch at the front, a kitchen with dinette, a small bathroom, and a laundry, lavatory and porch on the back. In 1950 it was an asbestolite box, uncomfortably intrusive in the stringy bark and wattle scrub. For the family of four, Max and Lois (aged 36) and two children, Julia (7) and Peter (5) it was an exciting new home of their own.

However, there was at first, little comfort inside. They arrived at the end of winter to find there was no water - the builders had forgotten to attach the downpipe to the tank. Fortunately they were accompanied by Lois's sister and brother-in-law who celebrated their first wedding anniversary and then got on with the job of digging a 'well' to provide emergency water. The downpipe was attached and rain fell, but there was no proper water supply until the bore and windmill were in place months later. Sanitary arrangements were primitive.

In spite of dire warnings of local 'old hands' that the farms would not produce enough, drainage schemes, superphosphate and clover had made possible intensive grazing of fat lambs and beef cattle, but before stock could be brought in, fencing had to be constructed and windmills installed.

Light was provided by kerosene lamps, a wood stove burned all day, keeping the kitchen warm, a kettle on the boil and, on ironing day, heating the 'Mrs Potts' irons. In the laundry there was a copper for washing the clothes and making soap and in the bathroom a chip heater that made the evening bath a major chore. A kerosene fridge was the first taste of 'luxury'.

The 'basic' farmhouse, Yallambee in the 1950s.

The 'basic' farmhouse, Yallambee in the 1950s.

In parallel with the shaping of the farm went the shaping of the garden. At first it was vegetables, but quite soon came blue and golden cypresses, the silver birch, roses and fruit trees. These were the foundations of a garden that centred on a superb gum tree and blended with the surrounding bush.

The first structural change was the back verandah. This extended from the porch/laundry the full length of the back. On the northern end a small bedroom was enclosed. The rest became a combination work and relaxation area. The table was used by Lois for cutting up the meat, for storing boxes of fruit and for cutting out many sewing projects, providing clothes for the children and furnishings for the house. Work boots were exchanged there for cleaner footwear. The dartboard was there and a spare bed, useful for visiting children. The western facing wall was opened up with louvre windows.

The Marsdens and visiting family in the front garden at Yallambee in the 1960s.

The Marsdens and visiting family in the front garden at Yallambee in the 1960s.

Other changes were gradually introduced. A hot water service with copper coils in the wood stove spelled the end of the chip heater; a washing machine spelled the end of the copper. The laundry was then accommodated on the porch and the bathroom replaced the old laundry. The old bathroom was transformed into a pantry which was every summer filled with the fruit that Lois turned into preserves and jam. The Yallambee orchard became a neighbourhood fruit provider with jam also going to the Hospital Auxiliary or other fund raising stalls. In the 1950s when cash was short and the farm was still isolated Lois was kept very busy making full use of the food produced from the garden and the farm. Shearing demanded the most serious catering of the year. Shearers worked strict hours and had to be fed promptly when the machines went quiet.

These jobs became easier with the purchase of the 32 volt power generating plant which led to the washing machine which changed life. Even an electric iron was possible although this was only done with the motor running. The telephone also came in the fifties although the extension line had to be constructed first.

With a new bedroom on the verandah came the possibility of a dining room. An archway was cut in the wall dividing the bedroom and the living room. Until this time most changes had been for comfort and convenience. Beauty had come from the garden which in 1970 won a prize as the best country garden in the Millicent Centenary Garden Competition.

In the late 1960s the eastern facing wall of the living room was replaced by a large picture window which looked out onto a patio crowned by a magnificent glory vine. This change opened up the house to the beauty of the garden. This was supplemented in the 1970s by a cedar panelled room which was built by Peter to reach out into the garden and which was used for Lois' spinning and weaving, for reading and watching television, a true living room.

A 'comfortable home', Yallambee in c1978.

A 'comfortable home', Yallambee in c1978.

The house was by then very comfortable. However, Julia was living in Malaysia and Peter had developed his interest in joinery and building into a small business based on his well- equipped workshop in the farm shed. Max was not able to do heavy work after a heart attack in 1967 so in 1978 the farm was sold, but the house block kept separate. Max and Lois stayed in the house until 1981 when they moved to Millicent to be nearer medical services for Max.

In 1981 it was sold to Alistair Dow, a teacher. Now the house was fully separated from its original function and it changed hands several times. The current owners, Mary and Don McDonald have been there for more than ten years. Yallambee is a place for their retirement after working for one of the biggest landowners in the district.

They welcome the peace of country living but isolation and ill health are problems. The house is nearly 50 years old and showing it. The surrounding bush is more luxuriant and beautiful than ever but there are only faint remnants of the once elegant and gracious garden.

Acknowledgements and Bibliography

Based on interviews with Lois and Peter Marsden and Don and Mary McDonald and personal memories of Julia Marsden.

Marsden, Susan, Business, charity and sentiment: the South Australian Housing Trust 1936-1986, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1986.

O'Connor, Pam and Brian, In two fields: Soldier Settlement in the South East of South Australia, The SE Soldier Settlers Committee, Millicent, 1991.

The Author

Julia Marsden, BA (Hons) University of Adelaide, MA (University of Malaya), Graduate Diploma in Education (TESOL) (University of South Australia). More generally known as Julia Segaran, she works now in Adelaide University in the area of international education administration and marketing after a major career shift following 25 years teaching History and English. Woven through her public career have been the many large and small satisfactions of motherhood and grandmotherhood.