A Handmade Home of History by Paul Jackson
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in an area, there are always surprising discoveries to be made about the people, places and events that make up the story of our community. Ken and Harriet Aitken were one such discovery for me last month. Through an organic set of connections and circumstances, I was invited to a neighbour’s place for a cup of tea last month and found myself in another world.
As I drove down the sandy driveway of the bush block and made my way toward the start of a gully, a handmade structure blending in with the surrounding tree-scape began to appear. I pulled up and was greeted by the friendly smile of Ken Aitken who welcomed me up to his home for a chat. Over the next three hours, amongst the broad scope of our conversation, Ken would occasionally point out a piece of his home and tell me a story about where it had come from and how he had been in the right place at the right time to salvage a piece of Queensland history and incorporate it into his home’s story.
The 14m long beams (300x400mm) running through the house were found at a demolition yard in Salisbury in 1979. They were from the Rex Theatre in Fortitude Valley. “These beams had been broadaxed by hand in the late 1800’s. The Rex Theatre had been a warehouse before the turn of the century.” Ken said.
The vertical posts holding the house up were picked up in 1981 as part payment for some landscaping work he did for a client. The 10m long posts (600x300mm) were from the Seafoam Flour Mill in Southbank. The pit-sawn posts were from the late 1800s and the mill was still in operation in the 1940s.
Ken’s landscape design business operated out of an office at the Park Ridge Shopping Centre in the late 1970s and in 1979 he received word that the Supreme Courthouse on George St, Brisbane, was being pulled down. The stone building was made from stones that had been cut from the Kangaroo Point Cliffs in 1877. He organised transport and collected two truck loads of the stones which now make up the rear walls of the living area and frame the outdoor amphitheatre.
One day in 1981, Ken was driving past a worksite on the corner of Albert and Margaret Streets near the Botanical Gardens and saw a drott moving piles of square cut stones. He bought a load and upon enquiry discovered that they were from the Brisbane Cob & Co Headquarters. “The Headquarters of Cobb and Co. were at 71 Albert St., the city. The Company had moved headquarters in 1866 from Melbourne. Cobb & Co went into liquidation in 1924 but the building survived until the 80s.” Ken reported.
The beautiful stones are now his bedroom wall and one large stone was used as a coffee table in the living area.
The Boggo Road Gaol was built in 1883 and closed in the late 1970s. As seems to happen with Ken, he happened upon ten large foundation stones being removed from the gaol site and had them brought to his haven to create the large steps leading up past the amphitheatre to his home. Two of them are also set in his bedroom wall.
“I was at the late 1800’s Wool Scour Sheds at Stafford in 1981, the year of building our house. I was scrounging some timber floor joists (400×300 mm) as wall boarding for our house. I also bought a truckload of old recycled bricks for $0.10 each. In 1920 they were originally in the boiler house of the Mt. Crosby Pumping Station then in 1940 they had been recycled into the Wool Scour Shed’s furnace house. Then forty years on in 1981 I recycled them again into the brick paving of our house.”
In 1984, Ken was doing some landscaping on a 1940s Queenslander home being renovated in Clayfield. The verandah floorboards were being replaced so Ken, with permission, repurposed the floorboards as ceiling boards in his hallway and office.
“I hand built this staircase myself from timber slabs from a slab hut at Boonah, from the 1800’s. In 1984 I saw an advertisement in a local paper that a farmer down at Boonah was selling big split timber slabs from an old hut on his land. To obtain these slabs is a very rare thing.” Ken said.
I’m so glad to be living in a community of amazing people who do what they love and express their passion for life in what they do.
What stories of people, places or events in Logan West have surprised and inspired you?
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