The first house and Billabong

Billabong by Oosterman.jpg

Billabong 1972 entree for the NSW Wynne Prize.

It is a miracle that this painting has survived because, as indicated above, it was shown decades ago in 1972 at the NSW State Art Gallery. Each year this gallery runs a competition for the best portrait, the best Australian landscape, and the Sulman for the best genre or subject painting. It is a yearly well published artistic event followed keenly by the public almost as enthusiastically as the Melbourne Cup, which is a world famous yearly race-horse event where many women turn up wearing funny hats and many men with ties get drunk. Well, not all men, but some do, and then some of those inebriated men end up grabbing women inappropriately (who are wearing the funny hats), and end up in court charged with indecent assault or even worse.

But the real miracle about the painting is that it is still in my possession. I am not sure when I painted it because it is not dated. The year after we moved to The Netherlands so I must have taken it with me and then some years later back again. It now rests in my garage at Bowral. Amazing. Another oddity is that not only was this painting accepted for hanging but the very walls on which the paintings were hung were also painted by me. I had won the contract for the painting of the new addition to the gallery of NSW. I am sure that this combination of painting walls and the art object hanging, from the same person, was unusual. I have now been asked to provide a photograph of Billabong in order for the Gallery to update their electronic data. The photograph was taken yesterday by my American friend who has the right very large and heavy cameras.

After the taking of the photo we decided to go around our old haunts where we lived in Balmain so many years ago. The little cottage where I painted Billabong is still standing upright . Here it is. Helvi and I lived there between 1969/73 and from 1972 with three lovely children.

IMG_0384 18 St Mary's Str

We bought the house for $12.500.-in 1969. It was built in 1869 on a very small block of just 135 Sq. m. It has extensive harbour views including Sydney’s harbour bridge, the city itself with lots of water including the coming and going of boats, both large and small, luxury yachts, ferries, pleasure boats, anything that can float and move about on water. Large freighters when being pulled ashore by tug boats and reversing their engines used to make the landmass shake including our old weatherboard cottage. It was probably the nicest place to bring up children and paint pictures. It was a life of excitement. The house was stimulating to live in. In fact all of our places we lived in have been stimulating or at the minimum they were made to be inviting and stimulating.

Here an old photo from the inside;


Our daughter on the phone

Notice the modest b/w TV now-a-days  overtaken by many people showing giant screens to such an extend they have to have ‘home theatres’. Some TVs are now so large they are being sublet to small families. The house was completely open and all walls downstairs had been taken out by the previous owners, an architect, leaving a large living space that included the kitchen and bathroom. Right in the middle was a slow combustion old cast iron heater that heated the whole house. With the exposed wooden floor and a mat here and there we made it into a lovely and glorious home. Oh, the nicest memories I have of that period now.


Our little daughter in front of the cast iron solid fuel heater.

Here a photo showing the living room. Behind the pine wall is the bathroom and laundry which we partitioned off. Previous the bath was fully exposed to the living area which our friends thought as rather progressive.


Christmas party. Helvi looking at the camera.

Notice the modest sitting arrangement on paint drums and wooden planks! We felt like Lords. A real pine Christmas tree on the left.

Those were the times!

( the present value of that timber house is estimated at 2.7 to 3.5 million dollars)

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25 Responses to “The first house and Billabong”

  1. Dora Jahnes Says:

    God Gerard…they were good times.
    Still remember sitting out the back of the house on the paint drums on that same Christmas day. There’s a photo somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. catterel Says:

    Happy times. happy painting! Well, I always thought a billabong was a kind of tree, but I finally looked it up and discover it’s a sort of oxbow lake! Live and learn. Glad you still have the painting and the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Billabong is indigenous language and probably goes back in their dreamtime and the never never of their country, Australia.
      They are the stories of sacred places of water after long dry spells and the running of water stopped.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. DisandDat Says:

    Yes that was a charming house with a Rolls Royce location. Remember us brothers used to outdo each other with size of woofer speakers and listen to Simon & Garfunkel

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, brother. We were forever shopping around for bigger and better speakers and build our own amplifiers. Now, life has become very silent with the passing of years and Helvi. The memories sustain us now.


  4. Says:

    A lovely post, I remember well that time with and b/w tvs. The house looks very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Your painting is an example of a very interesting abstract. I have looked at it for several minutes as I turned my computer in various directions and all but upside down. I have tried to determine what meaning it has but thus far, I have been unsuccessful. So I reckon that is the overall intent of an abstract painting. The artist is trying to drive the observer crazy. But, I am joking with you, Gerard.

    Just curious but did any of your children inherit your writing or painting talent?

    I love the exterior of the cottage. Very pretty. It is too bad you did not hold onto the house because real estate housing has literally hit the roof. And if that is a pun- it was unintended.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The meaning of the painting was my intention to try and paint the mystery that in the indigenous culture is imbued in all things of nature. Of course, I am intruding in something which is not mine but of those ,the original people and owners of Australia who have lived here for tens of thousands of years.

      They would be much better in explaining the history of Billabong.

      The little girl in the above photos became an artist and painted several works still in our possession. Her name is Susanna, she passed away some years ago. She would be almost 53 years now.

      Our other daughter has a good way with words which she inherited from her mother who was very good with words and in many languages.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Therese Trouserzoff Says:

    Riches beyond the Windsor’s pile, here Gez !

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you, Trouserzoff,

      I noticed the fascination with the English royals rearing its ugly head again. What on earth do people see in all that? Is it a gaping mental hole that needs filling?

      Yes, they were the good times then. Such a lovely house.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. leggypeggy Says:

    Great post. Especially nice seeing the painting and the house and getting some history about both.


  8. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    What lovely times and a lovely love-filled home! I get teary-eyed thinking about all of the precious memories the house holds for you!
    Your painting is so creative and wonderful! You are very talented, Gerard!
    Thank you for sharing your photos and memories with us!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. shoreacres Says:

    I only knew the word ‘billabong’ from “Waltzing Matilda,” so I looked it up, and learned that it refers to an oxbow. That’s interesting, because Moon Lake, Mississippi, where Uncle Henry’s Inn was situated, also is an oxbow. The Mississippi river has formed many in the course of the centuries; I think I remember reading that some of them contain species of fish that are otherwise lacking in the river. They essentiall got trapped in the oxbow, and simply live there now.

    It is a wonder that you still have the painting, and I have to agree that the circumstance of an artist painting his own gallery is unusual — but fun to contemplate. The house, of course, is wonderful. The openness is somewhat like my new place. While my bedroom and bath are somewhat separate, the kitchen, living, and dining areas have a sense of separation only because of the way I’ve arranged furniture. I like it very much.

    The exterior of the cottage looks much like those found in Louisiana, in Cajun country, or Acadiana. It looks inviting — a place made for a happy family.


  10. gerard oosterman Says:

    “Origin. The word “billabong” is believed to come from the Wiradjuri word ‘bilabang’ which means lake. The Wiradjuri are a group Australian Aborigines. Because billabongs stay wet for longer than rivers in the summer, it was important for these people to name them and know where they were.”
    Only now did I learn it is also refers to an oxbow.

    Yes that timber house was lovely. The street itself was carved through an enormous rock of which part of it was next to the backyard of our house. We leased the rock from the council. It was fun to sit on top of this huge rock almost twenty metres long and at least a few meters high.
    Our children soon learned to clamber on it but they never fell off.

    Glad that you too have a nice feeling of space combining kitchen, living and ding areas. I don’t think I will move, at least not for the time being. Every window now looks out on greenery. It is so wonderful how Helvi managed to achieve that.


  11. algernon1 Says:

    Nice. My youngest is submitting an entry this Sulmann prize. She’s a 2-3 B. Fine Arts student at NAS.


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