The life and times of Kondalilla Cottage

Kondalilla Cottage - Peg, Ron and Norm Higson in 1926

Peg, Ron and Norm Higson in 1926

The Hinterland is full of historical buildings, peppered across the range. From barns to hotels to rickety Queenslanders – there are interesting stories behind each façade. Victoria McGuin recently found out more about an architectural gem in Flaxton: the soon-to-be-named ‘Kondalilla Cottage’ – and the families behind it.

By Victoria McGuin

Veterinarian Justin Bulling and his wife, children’s author Maryanne O’Flynn, are the current owners of a beautiful cottage in Kondalilla Falls Road, Flaxton. The home is so picturesque that Maryanne tells me it has become an unexpected tourist destination.

“We often see tourists taking photos outside. In fact, recently a Japanese group came and sat on our swing and took pictures under the Jacaranda, throwing blossoms in the air around them for effect. They were there for about an hour!”

Justin and Maryanne run the Montville Veterinary Clinic, which is nestled alongside the cottage. They have been enjoying gently restoring this home with their children in tow, since they moved in, in 2003.

‘Funnily enough, my wife Maryanne, before I ever met her, looked at renting this place,” shares Justin.

“I decided not to bother,” says Maryanne. “It was too horrible.”

Justin explains, “The previous owner operated a cafe / restaurant for a while, then left and rented it out to people who also operated a restaurant. There was some dispute with the tenants selling some of the restaurant equipment, with the police involved, then they left with rent owing and the house in a terrible state.”

When Justin moved in the house had been empty for nearly two years and was infested with rats and cockroaches.

Kondalilla Cottage - The Bulling boys on the front steps today

The Bulling boys on the front steps today

“The inside was in a terrible state and all the original trim and doors were missing, the walls covered with layers of asbestos and fake wood panelling and lowered false asbestos ceilings installed. I have since restored the inside of the house with original Queenslander doors and reproduction trims.”

Maryanne and Justin have learnt much about their home over the years, and its rich history. “It was a simple farm cottage originally, owned by the Skene family for workers’ accommodation, when the area was predominantly under citrus,” Justin explains.

In fact, Justin has met at least one member of every family who has lived in the cottage since 1924, and recalls receiving visits from some previous owners.

“There was a knock on the door one Sunday about 11 years ago – a lady called Olive and her son were there and asked if they could take some photos of the house. Of course, we invited them in,” says Justin.

“On the sixth of January 2007 she came again with her sister, but I can’t remember her name. I remember the date, as my second son was born that evening.”

Justin and Maryanne found out that Olive was born in the house in the late 1920s, the fourth of seven Higson children. “Her parents, Alf and Jennie, had sailed out from England on the Themistocles. Jennie’s parents, the Guy family, also came out and lived in a house on Flaxton Drive, opposite where the paragliders used to launch.”

Alf was a ship’s engineer, heading for a new life, with the prospect of farming in Australia ahead of him; he and Jennie bought the house in 1924 and it was quite a few years old then. “Based on that information and looking at other houses in the area, I assumed it was built in the first decade of the 20th century,” Justin shares.

In addition to Justin and Maryanne’s knowledge through Olive, research by Barbara Ramadge-Ross on the Higson family was published in the Montville Gazette, July 1998, page six.

The Higson’s had 25 acres of ‘virgin scrub’ and a few orange trees. Alf burnt the remaining tree stumps and scrub, so a horse plough could till the soil.

The family’s first crop was pineapples and vegetables and, like others in the area, they learned to milk their cows and make butter for delivery – the cream was railed from Palmwoods.

Olive’s brother, Ron, remembers the hand-picked fruit being packed in homemade cases, and then when the Depression hit they received a bill for the dumping of cases of their fruit.

Life became a struggle. Their only earnings came from Jennie’s baking, the butter and vegetables, and Alf working on the roads, breaking rocks by hand, for which he received credit from the local grocer. The boys, Norm and Ron, worked at the larger dairies to help.

Despite these hardships there are still fond memories from Olive.

“The house was smaller then,” Justin explains, “with just the two bedrooms, lounge, a small kitchen with wood stove and stairs at the back. There was a dunny outside.”

“The memories really paint a picture,” says Maryanne. “Olive’s parents slept in the bedroom, the three girls in the second bedroom and the four boys on the verandah. Every morning they had to walk to the bottom of the valley to bring up the cows.

“None of the children ever owned shoes and Olive remembered standing in fresh cow pats as she herded the cows, to warm up her feet!”

Update: Read Part Two here