The years of ‘Gertrude’s Cottage.’ (Auto-biography)

'Gertrude Cottage.' Balmain

‘Gertrude Cottage.’ Balmain


The meandering through life’s travels and travails will continue for as long the memory will keep on serving the details or at least the general gist of them. After a while dates become irrelevant. It is the memory of events that count. This writer is not going for a PhD nor fame. A couple of ‘likes’ will suffice and makes him smile. I just read that cooking chefs are now more esteemed and held in a higher limelight than writers. And yet, most chefs on TV shows don’t really say much more than ‘mm’ or  ‘nice, really nice’  at the most. Of course they fill the program with beautiful scenery. Why cooking has to be done with the Austrian Dolomites in the background or in the middle of the Mekong river is baffling and seems to make us want to travel rather than grab the mortar and pestle. It is perplexing though  how cooking and watching cooking has now overtaken reading Vladimir Nabokov or Chekov. Perhaps all this is due to an ageing population wearing multifocal glasses! Many people also go to bed with food platters, (including smoked eels) instead of a book.

After our second daughter was born, the apartment became too small.  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.-. We 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.

Gertrude Cottage with our first daughter.

Gertrude Cottage with our first daughter.

The bath in the middle of living area was eventually screened off. Adjacent to the bath we had a second hand washing machine with draining of rinsing water done by lowering the hose to the outside and then sucking on it to encourage the flow. Nowadays it could be seen as a bit primitive, but to have a washing machine that did everything except pumping out the water, was seen as a minor dysfunction. The cottage itself with its open sunny feeling could only be improved upon by bits of furniture that we mainly scrounged around for in second hand shops, St Vinnie’s etc. It was shielded from the street by a very high timber fence that the previous architect owner had put up. It was so high that you could not even jump up to get a hold and climb over it. Some friends that had lived in Indonesia remarked it reminded them of a brothel that the Japanese were running then during the occupation.  No doubt, if it would have been possible to have had a look inside during the nude drawing lessons that the brothel conclusion could have been drawn as well.” (from Frank’s story)


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17 Responses to “The years of ‘Gertrude’s Cottage.’ (Auto-biography)”

  1. rod Says:

    I like the look of this cottage.
    As for tV chefs, we just have to take it on trust that what they dish up tastes good. Why would we do that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it was a great place even made better by H’s unerring sense for keeping it simple and uncluttered. A massive storey has been put on top since and is now unrecognisable.
      Yes, cooking shows are now so popular, people rush home after work, pizza boxes clutched in their hands, in order to not miss out on the latest cooking demo. There are even shows called ‘master chef’ were young aspiring chefs are bullied and abused, mucking up the rest of their lives.


  2. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    I think it would be difficult to give up Gertrude’s Cottage. It’s charm would counteract it’s shortcomings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes Kayti, it was hard to sell back in 1973. An Englishman named Martin Wood bought it as a week-ender. I believe he had it for many years. Before he bought it he just wanted to sit inside the house in order to experience the feeling of the place. He then flew back to the UK and phoned us up saying he wanted to buy it. He loved it too, which was very gratifying for us as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    I have the romantic notion that certain houses “speak” to us.


  4. berlioz1935 Says:

    It seems to me, you started the trend to change the character of “old” Balmain. “Gertrude Cottage” should be worth a million by now.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I think that Balmain has changed for the worst. It is now a very upmarket place and impossibly expensive, difficult to park and children have all but disappeared. Gertrude cottage was sold for over 2 million, 4 years ago.
      The second house we lived in at Balmain, between 1976 and 1996 was sold recently for over 3 million.


  5. auntyuta Says:

    ” . . . we had a second hand washing machine with draining of rinsing water done by lowering the hose to the outside and then sucking on it to encourage the flow . . . ”
    Something like this is great in times of drought to water your garden!
    How many different houses did you live in? The Balmain property would be worth a real lot nowadays. 🙂


  6. gerard oosterman Says:

    We lived in Balmain between 1969 till 1973 and again between 1976 and 1996. Both houses were lovely when we bought them and even lovelier while living in them.


  7. sedwith Says:

    Makes me feel for our own kids who can’t make the deposit on land let alone a real home like your Balmain beauty. I was about 12years behind you Gerard and went rural to Goughs twin city of Albury by then the city properties were already on the rise.


  8. Julia Lund Says:

    The cottage looks, and sounds, wonderful. As I read this, I have half an eye on Nigella teaching me how to peel an onion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The cottage was magic. We loved the time when we lived there. I did not think Nigella peeled onions. I thought she was more into looking sideways to the camera trying to be the seductive vixen while stirring the cream..


  9. Patti Kuche Says:

    Happy days indeed Gerard and what a gorgeous cottage – did it eventually become a listed area at all?


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