All along the Sunshine Coast Hinterland are architectural gems: buildings with character, homes that make a statement, Heritage-listed shops and halls. One house you can’t miss as you drive through Flaxton is the ‘A-Frame’ at the turn-off for Kondalilla Falls – but how did something so different arrive in that spot? HT writer Victoria McGuin went to learn more about the building and the family within it.
By Victoria McGuin
Window boxes full of dahlias decorate the balcony and the patio of Les and Leonie Gittins’ home in Flaxton, a building with a roof that seems to extend from the ground to the sky, complete with ornate ironwork along its border.
The house reminds me of a Swiss home, but Leonie found the design in an American magazine. I was curious to see inside, with visions of dramatic, sloped rooms and purpose-built furniture to fit the space. The reality is slightly different, with internal walls created to give the main living areas a more rectangular look.
The second floor, however, which houses the bedrooms, has plenty of vast, sloped wooden ceilings. And yet, it’s a cosy, intimate space – I feel like I should be in a period drama, writing with a quill by the window under the eaves!
Les spent most of his life as a professional welder, only retiring a few years ago. “We moved here in 1973 and built this house ourselves,” he tells me. “I did all the steel work, made the A-frame.
“We hired a carpenter and a builder at times,” Les continues, “but we did the whole thing in fits and starts, when we could afford to. It’s still not finished! The outside needs work.”
We are sitting in a bright, breezy kitchen with views to the ocean, although the trees over the road are slowly hiding parts of the horizon. “One day we won’t be able to see the ocean,” says Leonie, “but that’s okay, we’ve had many years with this lovely view.”
When Les and Leonie first came to Flaxton, the land was a dairy farm. “We were trying to find a block for our first home,” explains Leonie. “Everywhere was too steep, and then we saw this. We went to ask the farmer if we could buy some land from him.”
“He said, ‘Nah, not interested’,” Les continues. “But a few weeks later he said he was dividing the land into five blocks, so we bought our block.”
“Over the road used to be all bananas and paw paws down the mountain,” says Leonie. “The landscape has changed so much.”
Les is a Hinterland local, born in Maleny, with his parents running a farm in Conondale. “I spent most of my primary years in correspondence.
“My mother was a teacher and didn’t think the local school, tucked up in Conondale, was good enough at the time, although I eventually went for a while. There was a bus which had to cross the creek 14 times to get us to school!”
Les eventually went to the Maleny Rural School and would travel on the open-back, ex-cream truck. “I was horsing around one day and threw a friend’s hat across the bus and it flew off.
“Ronnie Watt, the driver, had been in the Navy and was an Australian heavyweight boxing champ. He stopped the bus, threw the hat back… then he walked across the paddock and pulled a branch off a tree and stomped over. Luckily, he just gave me a good tongue-lashing, but I’ve never forgotten it! Big brute carrying half a tree over his shoulder!” he laughs.
Les and Leonie met as members of the Maleny Junior Farmers group, which later became Rural Youth. Les says. “It’s state-wide organisation, mainly for training young country people in farming, cattle, judging – it was a social thing really.
“I remember we put on a display of the casein product at the Nambour Show. It’s used as a coating for quality papers and glossy magazines, so we showed people how it began as milk one end, and casein came out the other.”
“There are probably records of the process in the old Butter Factory in Landsborough,” adds Leonie.
The couple married in Maleny 50 years ago, living on the farm owned by Les and his parents, where Baroon Pocket Dam now sits. “We lived there for seven years,” Les shares. “The original cottage was made of pit-sawn beech.
“We sold up a few years before the dam was down there, and the cottage was dismantled and put in a shed by the next owners – it might still be there.”
Les taught himself to weld on the farm, then worked with Hoopers Engineering in Montville before buying a business in Kunda Park. “Steel, framework, tanks and fabrication – I had a workshop for 18 years.”
“He has a welder at home,” Leonie says, “So he is still often making, adjusting and fixings things for people.”
As for the A-frame, Les found it simple to make in steel. “I put up the frame first, then the roof and the lining, although it wasn’t smooth sailing, with awkward angles to cut.”
“Also, inside the house the angles were too sharp for furniture, so we had to modify them. And there still aren’t enough flat walls for my quilts!” Leonie laments.
Indeed, quilts, patchwork and sewing all factor heavily. Leonie has a long-arm pulling machine and over 20 antique Singer sewing machines on various shelves throughout the ground floor.
“I worked as a governess for a while, then did dressmaking and sewing, working part-time in a few shops. Once the children (they have five) were all grown I worked in fabric and sewing machine shops, and I taught sewing classes.”
Leonie makes quilts, bags and clothing for the Sunshine Linus Club, the Women’s Refuge and many other groups. Her work is prolific and varied, some taking her a few weeks, others a few years.
Everything here it seems is a labour of love – from the house itself and the vegetable gardens, to Leonie’s quilts and the furniture Les had made to accommodate his wife’s artistic work.
And so, this building is no longer just the ‘A -frame’ or ‘Swiss house’ to me, it is the ever-evolving home of the Gittins’ family: full of memories, hard work, imagination and love. Long may it stand.