New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published October 2nd 2017
Walk in the door and be transported back over 150 years
Blundells Cottage is a historical home, located on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin. It is a fascinating building to explore, built at a time when early settlers were moving to the Canberra region to look for farming and pastoral land. The Campbell family of Duntroon became the largest property owners in the region and they built stone houses on their property for their workers and their families. Blundells Cottage was originally built in 1860 for ploughman William Ginn and his family, who lived in the cottage for the first 14 years - before the Blundells moved in afterwards and lived there for 60 years. Although these two stories alone are interesting to hear, more families moved in and out of this cottage in the decades to follow, making it come to life with colourful stories of their everyday lives.
To hear more about the people who lived in the cottage, Blundells Cottage is open each Saturday between 10am - 2pm, with free tours at 10:15am, 11:30am and 12:45pm. Bookings aren't essential, but it is recommended - see here for details.
Blundells Cottage from the front. Image: National Capital Authority Facebook
At the time of writing, Blundells Cottage was recently closed for nine months and re-opened in July 2017, as its original foundations needed to be stabilised. While it was closed, the interior was also changed from the previous museum layout to now reflect all the families who lived in the cottage, starting from the 1860's at the front of the cottage and finishing in the 1960's at the back. It is also now "hands-on", so visitors can walk through each room and touch items on display, which is particularly popular with kids.
After meeting the guide at the front door, a picture is painted about what it would have been like for the Ginn family who lived in the cottage first between 1860 and 1874. As we stood on the verandah, our guide pointed out the direction of their closest church and school at St Johns Baptist Church in Reid, which is still standing today. The Molonglo River which ran through the area (before it was dammed to create Lake Burley Griffin in the 1960's), was also just 400 metres away, so the cottage was a convenient location for water, schooling and overseeing the property.
View from the back of the cottage to Lake Burley Griffin today, which is less than 100 metres from the back door
When the Ginn family first moved into the cottage, they had just spent 3 months on the ship travelling out from England to this distant land. They arrived with large wooden boxes with all their belongings, with replica boxes on display in the front room to show what they looked like. The boxes themselves were designed so that each family could then dismantle them and turn them into tables or other pieces of furniture in their new homes. Each family who moved to this new country had a list of things they had to bring, which included transporting their own iron bed frames - which wouldn't have been an easy feat! The bed in the first bedroom, next to the front room, is the original one from that time.
The front room, representing the Ginn family when they first arrived in the 1860's
The next people to move into the cottage were George Blundell and his family. George was the bullock driver for the Duntroon property and they lived in the cottage for 60 years between 1874 and 1933. They had 8 children in the home and two rooms were added to the back of the cottage to create more space for their large family. George Blundell's wife, Flora, was also the local midwife and she would often collect pregnant women from around the region and bring them to stay in the cottage, if the river was about to flood.
This era is represented by a basic kitchen with a wood stove and a bedroom with a chamber pot under the bed and a stoneware "water bottle" at the end of the bed. Our guide pointed out the features of the building and shared stories that have been passed down over the years, by locals and relatives of people who remember sitting in this very kitchen.
The next inhabitants of the cottage were shepherd Harry Oldfield and his wife Alice, who lived in the cottage for over 20 years between 1933 and 1958. When Harry Oldfield died, Alice then took in boarders for income as there was a housing shortage in Canberra at the time, while the city was being built. She had single men staying on the enclosed verandah out the front and at one stage, she had also had two families staying in the house.
The Sainsbury family were the last family to live in the cottage and they stayed until 1961. This period of time is represented in the rooms at the back of the cottage, with a 1950's style kitchen - without any kind of plumbing. A bucket under the sink was positioned to catch the water, which was later thrown out onto the vegetable patch. Although other houses in Canberra had electricity and running water by this time, this cottage remained a century behind. The Sainsbury's had 3 children, who all shared the small bedroom off the kitchen.
Bedroom at the back of the cottage, with bunks and cot for three children
For our family, this walking tour of Blundells Cottage was the highlight of our day, as our friendly and interesting guide brought the human stories of the cottage to life. It is also a good way to show kids the way people used to live over 150 years ago, without TV's, iPads and the countless amount of toys they have today. According to our guide, the kids who lived in this stone cottage recall having wonderful childhoods - catching tadpoles, playing with friends, learning to sew, climbing trees and leading a life that was every kid's dream.
This tour may be free, but you leave with a priceless insight into Canberra's early past which you continue to think about after you leave - every time you easily flick on the light switch or turn on the tap...