Gertrude’s cottage in Balmain, including Goats

Harbour foreshore and Gertrude’s Cottage

Of course, with the business doing well, and family growing we needed more space. We happened to look at The Sydney Morning Herald with an advertisement for a cottage for sale, which was called ‘Gertrude’s Cottage. It faced the harbour and had a goat. The advertised price was $12.500.-. I knew this was ours right from the start. I don’t believe in premonition or future or fortune telling devises. I took a drive to the address which was right near the harbour of Sydney in Balmain which was an area that used to be ‘working class and ‘cut-throat’ territory, belonging to thieves, drunkards and Irish Catholics. I say, that ‘used’ to be, because it had become a bit of a low cost housing area for students and artists. It was changing and in an upward transit.

Even so, the rabbito men were still doing the rounds, albeit in its final years and the milkmen and bread delivery were still a daily event.  I am running ahead somewhat now. The Gertrude Cottage was as charming as I had imagined it to be with a large living-dining-kitchen area and with the bath all out in the lounge area. I knew Helvi would love it and she did. Upstairs were 2 small bedrooms. The whole cottage was weatherboard, very old and one corner had sunk on its foundations which made the floor canter to the lower side. It was a private sale and the owner a well known architect with 2 blond little daughters and a vivacious wife. The goat was tethered to a stake and eating the vegetation of derelict land between the house and the harbour. In the middle of the ground floor it had a slow combustion cast iron wood heater with a galvanised chimney going up through the roof. As an extra bonus it could also include a huge boulder that was about ten metres by thirty metres long and could be leased from the local Council. This boulder would extend our property to the next street corner giving us the right for intruders to be excluded.

We immediately went to the bank to try and get a mortgage. The manager promised an inspection and after a week he got back to us. Look, Gerard mate, he said, you are buying a glorified shed. Are you sure you want to go through with it?  Our deposit was sixty percent, so the bank had little option but to approve of the loan. The ‘shed,’ after six weeks or so became ours. It was heaven. The morning sun would come up over the harbour bridge and then reflect on the hardwood timber flooring. Looking against the light, the water was sparkling and shimmering, boats and ferries busying themselves with large merchant ships reversing engines before berthing making the landmass our house shake. Sydney still was an industrial harbour and full of life. The derelict land  adjacent and in front of the cottage facing the harbour was ideal for throwing in a fishing line and many did so, especially during week-ends. Our little family thrived and business thrived as well. In the meantime I kept on with my art and painted many pictures. At one stage we had nude life drawing classes and our friends would sometimes strip off and allow themselves to be charcoal drawn. Many early and adventurous couples decided to also buy those cheap places in Balmain, do them up and restore them to former glory.  Of course, working class cottages that were small and modest could hardly become ‘former glory mansions’ and some of the results were far from modest and ruined many of them. Extensions and extra storeys on top of former two bedroom cottage on small parcels of land ended up ugly and bloated. The flexing of moneyed people did not enhance the area in later years either.

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8 Responses to “Gertrude’s cottage in Balmain, including Goats”

  1. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Gertrude’s cottage sounds absolutely enchanting and I read this post twice over because I enjoyed it so much.

    I would have loved to have lived there too and the fact that your friends stripped off for Life classes and you had a goat, a wood burning stove and lived near water, all very bohemian and right up my street!

    Gerard, is this one of your paintings?

    You must let me know when you are thinking of coming to Bali, it would be such fun to meet you. Lottie


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Hello Lottie,
    Glad you enjoyed that bit of my history. No, it is not one of my paintings. I have many pieces in which I put some of my work. I’ll try and dig them out and re-wordpress them here.
    How are you going? I am curious what you are doing in Djakarta, apart from doing brilliant photography..


  3. Helen dean Says:

    Hi Gerard

    I once worked with Helvi at Grace Bros buying office about 20 yrs ago. I was thinking about Helvi and googled her name and found your wonderful blog. Can you tell me how she is going. I live in Byron bay now. I have fond memories of lunches in Balmain and your arty house.


    • helvityni Says:

      Hi Helen, I thought of you only the other day, of course I remember you, Lisa, our lovely lunches and all those nice Italian shoes I bought on the sample sales…
      We visited a friend in Byron Bay a couple years ago, maybe next time we can get together…it’s a bit colder here in Bowral, but we love it…


  4. Intricate Knot Says:

    How lovely and sad, too. Lovely that you followed your heart and bought a “shed” making into a home. And wonderful that others followed suit! Sad though that some over renovated their cottages and to try to change the essence of thing is to destroy it.

    Thank you for painting such a beautiful picture with words.


  5. gerard oosterman Says:

    Hi Helen,
    Helvi is well and we now live in Bowral and are very happy. Our children are grown and we now have three grandsons. Glad you like this blog of many words. Helvi also remembers the lunches vividly.
    After Balmain period we had a farm and bred alpacas for 14 years.


  6. auntyuta Says:

    I bought a beautiful shawl made of alpaca wool in Berrima. That was quite a few years ago. What were your experiences with alpacas?

    Thanks for your wonderful descriptions of your early life in Australia.


  7. gerard oosterman Says:

    The alpacas were wonderful and very easy to handle. They are wonderful animals. You would have bought your alpaca shawl from Coolooroo Alpacas .They have a shop in Berrima.


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