The soldier-settlement cottage

In the 1980’s we sold our new house in town and moved to a 200 acre farm. The farm had been a soldier-settlement farm, a scheme devised by the Australian government to give employment to returned service men at the end of WW1. The government agreed to lease or sell the small holdings to the service men and they in return agreed to stay on the land for 5 years. The new farmers were assisted with money to build fences and houses. The farms changed hands many times over the years as farmers struggled to make a living from the small blocks. They made ideal bush retreats though and it was onto one of these farms and into one of these houses that we moved with our three small sons.

Thick, two foot high tree posts supported the cottage and raised it off the ground so that small boys and dogs could crawl underneath and hide. They weren’t concerned about the possibility of spiders or snakes joining them, unlike their mother. The original 1920’s building had been a wooden square with a kitchen and sitting-room taking up half of the area and two bedrooms divided by a hallway and leading to a tin-roofed verandah. It had been added onto in an ad hoc fashion over the years so that, by the ’80’s, there was a bathroom, a third bedroom and a laundry. The laundry still had a copper with a firebox underneath for boiling the hell out of the washing.

The cottage had a corrugated iron roof, usually called a tin roof in Australia. I have never really appreciated the Aussie love of a tin roof but in the countryside, where rain is a gift, you can smell the approaching rain, you can see it though the windows and, with  a tin roof, you can hear it. The roof and ceilings of the cottage had no insulation nor did the walls. The walls  were wooden slats that the wind whistled through in winter. The ceiling in the bedroom was made of  wooden slats too which didn’t quite meet in places. Early each morning the noise of the sparrows nesting in the gutter and under the roof could be heard and in the evening it was the sound of rats scuttling around.

The cottage was at the end of a dirt road in a little valley. There were no neighbours nearby and it was a very quiet place. One night I was alone in bed. The farmer was away and the boys were asleep. I had drifted off to sleep thinking about the new house we were going to build the following year on the hill overlooking the creek. I woke to a sound that I thought was rain-drops plopping onto the pillow next to my head. Cursing the old tin roof I switched on the lamp and gazed at the ceiling. Then I saw it. A maggot dropped down from the gap in the ceiling slats and onto my pillow. It joined several of its wriggling mates already there. Who would have thought that something so small could wake you up! I did a quick check (hair, sheets, hair..) to make sure that the maggots were just on the pillow then I dragged the bed away from the wall. It was a very small bedroom and the bed just fitted into the space so the maggots now fell onto the floor instead of onto me.  Now I couldn’t  hear them as the room was carpeted. If they were going to continue falling from the ceiling I hoped it would be from the one crack which was now behind me. When the farmer returned he climbed into the roof and found a dead rat. We all knew it was there by then. It had been a warm few days. 

We painted the old cottage and sold it. And yes, in 1984 I got my new house on the hill. It doesn’t have a tin roof.


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