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The Orange Cream

21 June 2017
By Neil Gardiner

North Balwyn includes the Riverside Estate, home of the single building covenant.

Riverside Map North Balwyn

Map of the Riverside Estate, North Balwyn (State Library)

The Riverside Estate was developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s and is well known for its significant stock of Art Deco houses, particularly along Burke Road. Due to the great depression and world war two, much of the estate was developed in the 1950’s.

The Boroondara Planning Scheme notes:

The Riverside Estate and Environs, Balywn North, precinct is an area of heritage significance for the following reasons:

  • The large, detached houses built in various interwar architectural styles (particularly those constructed during the 1930s building boom in Camberwell) demonstrate a high quality of architectural design. This architectural quality is combined with the visually unifying factors of lot size, materials and uniform set-backs to create a cohesive and notable interwar precinct.
  • The housing types and styles physically demonstrate the appeal of Balwyn as one of Melbourne’s most fashionable new suburbs of the 1930s, a status which was consolidated after 1945.
  • The precinct is distinguished by the scale and complexity of its building styles, combined with its location on a slope commanding broad views of the Yarra Valley and distant mountains.
  • The place contains individual aesthetically significant sites from the interwar period. The place is a predominantly intact interwar landscape containing concrete roads and mature gardens and street trees.

One of the great things about this area is the beautiful gardens, including the adjoining area toward Bulleen Road where it intersects the Eastern Freeway.

Orion Street runs along the Eastern Freeway. I call this area the constellation belt as it includes streets called Ursa (Great Bear), Aquila (Eagle), Pavo (Peacock), Libra (Weighing Scales), Taurus (Bull) and Capella (Goat). All constellations of the night sky, more so Northern Hemisphere night sky.

Orion Street intersects with Columba Street (Pigeon).

Someone who liked astronomy has been put in charge of these street names.

As I was driving, I noticed there was an auction of the house at number 10 Columba Street. It’s a 1950’s cream brick house with a lot of street appeal. Nicely maintained with a lovely garden.

North Balwyn 1

10 Columba Street, North Balwyn

The house was being auctioned. It sold for a cool $1,590,000 for the 679 square metre block. There were hundreds of people in attendance at the auction.

The agent’s spiel on the board noted “ïdeal to enjoy immediately or renovate over time, this fabulous allotment could also be the site for a new luxurious residence (STCA)’’.

You don’t have to look far in North Balwyn to see the evidence that this home’s fate is soon to be sealed.

I wondered how the owners of the house felt about the prospect of their home being demolished after years of living in it. Looking at the photos of the property online it reminded me of many family homes that my parent’s generation lived in. Neat, tidy and ordered and not over the top. A much loved family home.

North Balwyn 2

Lounge room at 10 Columba St, North Balwyn. Well maintained and lovely furnishings.

North Balwyn 3

Original bathroom at 10 Columba Street, North Balwyn.

Recently I watched an episode of Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery. The guest was Colin Hay, the gifted musician who for many years fronted Men at Work. In the show they went back to the home he lived in growing up at 6 Powys Drive, Beaumaris

Beaumaris 6 Powys Drive 01

6 Powys Drive, Beaumaris

This was his family home since 1967 when the Hay family emigrated from Scotland. The home was sold April 2014.

Similar to 10 Columba Street, North Balwyn, the home was constructed using cream brick with steel windows, tiled roof, and simple decorative wrought iron to the flywire door and handrail to the front porch. It had the obligatory matching front fence which tied the scene in nicely.

Driving in a 1960’s Puegeot 403 with the lovely Julia he drives from the Cricketers Arms in Richmond, through St Kilda Junction to Beach Road to Beaumaris.

Approaching the home he said:

Colin: This is where I lived.

Julia: Pretty posh.

Colin: My sister and I sold the house two years ago. It was a difficult thing to do. I never thought I would drive into this driveway again. It’s a bit strange.

Julia: Well… this is charming…How long is it since you’ve been here Colin?

Colin - after a pause: Ummm….1 day.

Julia: 1 day?

Colin: I was driving back from down the coast and I drove back, and I came back this way so I could drive past the house. Is that weird?

Julia: No, but what made you do that?

Colin - another pause: I wanted to…ummm…. (Emotionally) I wanted to feel my mother and father again….

Returning to his old home had stirred up feelings and connections deep inside him. He maintained a stiff upper lip.

Julia: Let’s go in.

Colin: Is that a bit weird?

Julia: It’s not at all!

They walk in the house.

Julia: With your Grandmother, Mother Isabelle, Dad Tom and brother and sister. What was a Hay family dinner like?

Colin: Lots of laughter, lots of small contained Scottish family against the world.

Julia: Really?

Colin: You would find your parent asked you things, and you’d say, why did my parents ask that? They should know everything. But they were a bit lost as well.

They moved to Colin’s old bedroom.

Colin: After I left home, when I would come and stay, I would come and stay here.

Julia: And was that nice, being an adult and coming back to stay with them? It’s a different dynamic.

Colin: It was lovely. Right up until they weren’t doing so well you know. My mother wanted to die in this house, but of course she had to go and live somewhere else because she couldn’t look after herself, so she was very annoyed about that.

So she sat in there (pointing to the lounge room) and she said “I’m not going to that place”.

A couple of days before she died, I was sitting on the bed and she said something very profound to me. And I think about it every day, she said to me, morphed up but looking beautiful with her soft, white hair, and she just looked at me and said “we had a good time, didn’t we son?”

This was gripping television, the stuff of life laid bare. Julia allowing him time to elaborate, dragging the feelings that he had deep inside him out into the open.

Why is it that people are so determined to die in their home, in their familiar surroundings with the associated memories? Compared to previous generations, very few people actually die at home and yet it’s what they want to do. Recently there was a report by the Productivity Commission that stated that seventy per cent of people would prefer to die at home, yet in reality only about ten per cent actually achieve this.

Then I thought, how would Colin Hay have felt if the house had been demolished with a brand new one in its place. His mother’s garden trashed? All over Beaumaris houses have been demolished with new homes replacing them. The fact that his family home was still there was special to Colin Hay.

Indeed the real estate spiel that was produced when the house was being sold goes along these lines:

Of good bones and solid provenance; phrases that fit beautifully with this 1950s cream brick classic - the childhood home of Men at Work's singer and Australian music icon, Colin Hay, and still within the family to this day. Lived in and enjoyed by the Hay family for just shy of 50 years, this perfectly positioned Beaumaris home, sitting on approximately 636sqm, offers significant scope for a renovation, or prime possibilities for replacement (STCA) to create a fabulous double-storey bayside residence for the future.

Did I miss something? On the one hand the agency promotes the benefits of the house as it is, including its history and the fact that it was a much cherished family home for 50 years. But then the agency focuses on land size and location, and it’s potential as a building site.

There is seemingly nothing wrong with the house. The orange cream is an endangered species. It’s not fashionable.

I personally have an attachment to orange creams. Both the brick type and the biscuit of the same name.

When I think about it goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a weatherboard farmhouse on a dairy farm at Bamawm, on the hot Northern Plains of Victoria.

Bamawm 1

Bamawm farmhouse c.1974

Bamawm 2

Bamawm Farmhouse c 1920.

This house was constructed when my father’s parents married in the early 1920’s. The farmhouse had a 1960’s renovation and alteration – the ornate front verandah was filled in to accommodate the needs of a growing family and the chimney removed. Timber sash windows replaced with aluminium.

But this doesn’t explain why I like orange creams, but perhaps the next photo will

Pascoe Vale 1

63 Cumberland Road, Pascoe Vale.

This was the home of my grandmother. She lived there from around 1960 until she died in 1978. As a toddler I loved coming to Melbourne and visiting her. Even though the house was sold after she died I can still walk through the house in my mind. The blackwood sideboard with the family photos, the sound of the door-bell chimes. Her stroppy cat. The Astor Radio broadcasting Blue Hills at lunch time. The kerosene heater. The Hoya plant at the front door and the bromeliad in the sunroom.

Whenever I am close by I always take the chance to drive past and revisit my Grandmother. I dread the day this house disappears – it’s on a corner site in a street full of units so I guess it’s just a matter of time before it goes.

Pascoe Vale 2

Elsie Gardiner and four of her Grandson’s c.1972. I’m the handsome one on the right in my favourite Bamawm Football Club Guernsey. Unfortunately for me my enthusiasm for the game at that age was never backed up by talent or stature.

It was more good luck than good judgement, but I was fortunate to have been able to purchase my own cream brick house in East Ivanhoe in 1994.

Ivanhoe East 1

House in Ivanhoe East

The development of Ivanhoe goes along similar lines to North Balwyn, both being a similar distance to the city and on opposite sides of the Yarra River. Many of the homes built in Ivanhoe are post war although there also many grand Arts and Crafts, Federation and Californian Bungalow style homes in the area.

The house is a maisonette, with brown bricks from the footings to the floor line and orange creams on the façade. There is a decorative element with a row of half-height bricks and brown window sills. You might just make out the inverted sword near where the power connection is. A friend of mine calls it the witches cross.

This house was constructed in about 1950. Building materials were relatively scarce and so its size was limited. But it was dressed up to greet the street with the latest materials, and the brick of the day was the cream brick. Steel windows were also the latest trend.

The front fence was a low level cream brick with a glossy brown decorative cap, similar to the Hay family home in Beaumaris.

Ivanhoe East 2

Side view of the house in East Ivanhoe showing different brick types.

The street view was one thing, but out the back, cheaper materials were used. Clinker bricks and wooden sash windows. The inner skin of bricks at the front (the house is solid brick) were cheaper red bricks.

When my wife and I first purchased this house, it was just a co-incidence that it was cream brick. It wasn’t really a selling point. At one stage we toyed with the idea of getting it rendered, or painted. I’m glad we didn’t because over time we have actually began to appreciate the warmth of the bricks and the intent of the builder using the more expensive bricks for what was on show.

So even though I didn’t grow up in a cream brick house, it is a housing style that has good memories for me. As these homes disappear slowly from the streetscape, I’ll make a prediction now that sometime within the next two decades they will be valued more than they are today.

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