Books and winter go hand in hand. I was planning to stick to library books for inspiration but a few purchases have crept through the door. The cost of a good second hand cookbook is usually less than half the price of a new magazine. Savers second hand store provides most of my cheap finds, while the Book Grocer is a great source of remaindered books.
Many species of fish are at their peak in winter. The snapper were almost jumping at the Preston market last week, along with a winter specialty, a rare item, small gutted cuttlefish. I bought one large snapper carcass to make fish stock to freeze, one snapper to bake, and 1/2 kilo of cuttle fish to freeze. Five fishy meals for $19. I was very happy with this baked snapper recipe from Neil Perry. We devoured young Roger the Snapper with gusto.
I feel very connected to Rod’s house. I was there when he decided to buy it, though at the time, I preferred the white-painted, more feminine, pressed metal house around the corner. In hindsight, I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.
We set out on that long road trip to the Wimmera District in 1997, travelling in an old mustard green 1976 Datsun, affectionately known as a Datto in Australia, a car not known for its style or class, then or now. When we first entered the house, I found the darkness oppressive: the house felt sinister, haunted even. Built in 1897, with walls made of thick, unadorned concrete, it was stark and foreboding. The house consisted of two rooms at the front and two at the rear, with a central entrance hall just inside the front door. Off one end of the back verandah, there was a semi functional bathroom (that hasn’t changed much) and at the other end, a derelict room. The only ornamentation back then were the fine wooden fireplace surrounds featuring swastika fretwork. Rod has more than compensated for those austere times with his strong colour treatments and decor.
Rod’s decorating style could be called courageous, or outrageous. He doesn’t follow trends although he has set many in his time. Rod’s previous house in a Melbourne seaside suburb contained wall to wall original framed Tretchikoff prints, Danish mid-century furniture, Sputnik record turntables and assorted retro gems. These were all sold off, once they became desirable and collectible. When Rod moved to this country house in 2004, he started again from scratch, seeking a new rural, eclectic and personal style.
I kept records of the metamorphosis of this house along the way, though some of my treasured files were lost to bushfire, or random deaths of hard drives. At each point along the way, the decor has been quite different. I walk in and wonder what happened to the huge blue and white Chinese urns, or the hand-made miniature bird cages, or the vintage toy car collection. Things are always changing, rotating, or are tucked away.
When Rod first moved in, he began painting the walls. For years they changed colour but lately, he seems satisfied with the chosen colour scheme, especially since the walls are no longer visible thanks to the wonderful art collection on the walls. The kitchen walls can still be discerned, with black, deep orange and pink featuring loudly. Not much sun enters the house, thanks to the deep shady verandahs, so important in semi- desert country. The colours seem right: they breathe life into this old house.
Rod is quite partial to old chandeliers: this one features in the front passage way. There are other chandeliers in the sitting room and bedroom but these have disappeared under veils and bling. New lighting is coming, and once the electrician deals with the antique wiring, the veils are coming down.
The main bedroom has been given a gentler treatment. The bed now has white linen, the only white used in the house. The bedroom is entered through a black cloud of butterflies.The darkness and softer decor beckons. Excuse me while I take a short nap.
As you can imagine, there are thousands more photos. I hope you enjoyed the house tour Maxine, Susan from Our French Oasis , Loisajay , Peter at Tropical Bliss BNB, (who had a cactus juice dream about Rod’s house ) and you also, dear friend and reader. Please comment as I am sure Rod would appreciate any feedback. If I do a post on Rod’s house next year, I anticipate that many things will have changed.
Some of Rod’s pre-loved treasure is available at a stall at the Daylesford branch of the Mill Market. His stall, shared with an old friend Leah, is called Rocket and Belle. Drop in and say hello if you are in Daylesford. Cheap treasure abounds.
As an afterthought, I’m also adding this post to Ailsa’s Cheerful, her travel theme on Where’s My Backpack this week.
Each time I visit Rod’s place, located in the heart of the dry Wimmera district, I do so with a heightened sense of anticipation. I always take my camera along and even the offered glass of chilled Pinot Grigio does not distract me from my snap happy tour. His house and garden is a feast for the eyes. Although he claims that nothing much has changed since my previous visit, I can usually spot major revamping. Lets’ take a walk together through his garden.
One of the major developments is the spill over of Rod’s garden onto the road verge. This began some years ago with a few tough succulents and a rosemary bush or two which thrived in the granulated sand. Since then, he has added some red flowering bottle brush, Callistemon, and a sprawling silver and purple flowering Dusty Miller, some irises and red flowering geranium. Along his fence line are vertical walls of creeping geranium, orange lantana, large agave, and ornate old wire fencing intertwined with rusty bedsteads. Passers by stop in their tracks and gaze in awe. It’s a work of art and enormously inviting in a wild kind of way.
At his end of town, the paths are still rustic, consisting of hard compacted gravel, country paving that suits this rural village. All the town paths used to be so. But sadly ‘progress’ is now just a block away: the local Council is rolling out regimental width white concrete paving. This is happening despite the advice from R.M.I.T’s architectural department, where the students identified that the traditional gravel paving enhanced the visual and historic feel to the town and should be retained. Ugly concrete paving will be another blow to the town. Government grant money, which must be spent, often ignores aesthetics.
The narrow walkway to the front door takes you through a dark forest of succulents mixed with three metre high shrubbery. Rod initially planted out his front garden with rescued agave plants, found growing in abandoned ruins in the countryside or at the tip. To attain height, he has added large pots, urns, and statuary: these are usually placed on top of some found tin object to obtain further height. Other plants, such as geraniums, grow a few metres high in their chase to reach light. There are very few purchased plants in Rod’s garden.
Statues of Buddha feature throughout the garden, but their placements are meant to surprise and amuse. This golden Buddha sits inside a painted corrugated iron tank which is raised onto an old wooden tank platform. The Buddha faces the house, the blue painted tank faces the street. Others can be found about the garden, often in seemingly random positions, on top of fence posts, or inside cages, or lying about, waiting to be painted.
Amid the dense planting in the front yard, Rod recently broke through to create a tiny red brick path leading to another small painted niche and shrine.
The back yard is now a forest. When Rod arrived here years ago, there was an old apricot tree, a sad-looking 100-year-old grape-vine and an old shed. Now the garden is a wonderland. The ancient vine is a monster, twisting its way around the garden and into the front yard. Other statues peep out from the shrubs. One colourful wooden Torii gate is topped with a terracotta chook sitting on a barbed wire nest. Rows of Chinese warriors, bought years ago from the Reject shop, line up in a tall painted wire cage. A classical statue sits on top of an old truck. Frizzle chooks and roosters run amok in the understory. I nearly stepped on a day old lost chicken.
Rod is an artist who is always on the look out for something quirky to add to the mix. He fertilises his garden with sheep manure collected from his brother’s farm and adds thick mulch in summer. He is on town water, but uses this sparingly. The garden thrives due to the microclimate he has created. The garden provides deep shade in summer and protection from frost and wind at other times.
I have thousands of photos of Rod’s garden and have chosen these few(!) to demonstrate what can be achieved with found junk, some good quality statues and urns and plant cuttings from the tip.