The rise of the Phoenix.
Once upon a time a long, long time ago in a village far, far away on the fringe of the big desert in the North West corner of Victoria the Cust family came to a new town to build their dream palace. A large stone building they called Yurunga (meaning, a good view) Mr Cust opened a business in the new town of Rainbow that was settled in 1901 the year of federation and quickly became an integral part of the community serving on many committees, earning him much respect. All went well for a while and then they sold their dream home to a local farm family the Liesfields. The property became more than their home as the villagers would gather at the back of the house for a game of tennis or a round of croquet. They were good years, the going was tough but the new community made its own entertainment and social gatherings were common at Yurunga.
Now all this was fine but the town, like other remote villages started to shrink. Machinery replaced labourers on the farms and the development of the motor vehicle made it easier for people to travel to larger centres to spend their money. The once grand house fell into disrepair and was almost demolished. There was concern in the community so a small group of Rainbow residents got together with a view to saving the property. They appealed to the council for help and volunteered to work on the restoration. The property was purchased by the council and the work began to restore this grand old stone house to its former glory. They have done well and now open their fully furnished historic homestead to travellers for a small fee which goes toward the upkeep of the property.
It is a lovely home set amongst gardens and lawns maintained by aging volunteers that lovingly care for it the best they can. But there was a need for help in the town of Rainbow, all of the work was not complete and they are yet to find the pot of gold that mythology says is at the end of the rainbow. As a result they find it difficult to do any major works due to the age of the workers and budget constraints.
One day a traveller and his wife Sue came by to visit the town the traveller’s mother called home. He had a look through the homestead and on exiting the building noticed the state of the old shade house at the back. “When are you going to have something done with the old shade house?” He asked as it more resembled a pile of sticks and twisted wire held up with props to prevent it from falling completely. We have been trying to get it done for ten years was the reply that came from Dawn Petschel the tour guide, but nobody is prepared to take it on, and the cost would be too great to pay for a builder to do the work.
Now this building once held a place of pride in the town as it was used to shade from the sun and to serve refreshments for the players that used the tennis court on the north side and the croquet lawn on the south during the early years of the 20th century. What a shame was the reply from the traveller. It is a big part of the history of this town and would be a travesty if it was lost, it was once a place of much happiness for the town and should be preserved as an example of how these people that lived on the fringe of the desert farming under much hardship with little water and constantly fighting back the moving sand dunes, still took time out to enjoy each other’s company. What stories must have been told under the melaleuca brush roof while sipping tea and cool drinks and relaxing. A piece of outback history like this deserves better than to rot away and disappear.
I’ll tell you what; If you can find the money for the materials, I will come and rebuild it for you, for free. The committee was very excited by the offer but now they had a new dilemma, the property belonged to the shire and was managed by a committee of management so they would have to take the offer to the council. Simple enough you would think, but when they tell the council they have found someone to rebuild the shade house, the obvious question was, what will he charge? Nothing was the reply, who works for nothing was the council response. Is he crazy? And what sort of a job will we get for no pay? Good questions! So the committee askes the traveller (who is now back home in Melbourne) for some details of what he will do. A trip is made back to Rainbow to measure up the old building so a set of plans can be produced to the exact dimensions of the old building, or at least as close as he could get seeing as the old building was not in the best of condition to measure accurately. The plans were drawn up and sent off to the committee who then presented them to the council for their approval and hopefully for some funding as the materials will still need to be purchased and even though the sum required was small it still had to be found.
Nine months pass, a lot of mail has bounced back and forth but finally the budget is approved. The traveller and his wife arrive back in Rainbow and set up their caravan behind the house, and on Monday July 16th 2012 “his birthday” work begins. He is joined by one of the committee members, retired farmer Ewan Christian who arrives early in the morning as he will do every day to help out, along with the guides’ son Trevor Petschel who was up from Geelong for the weekend and decided to pop in and see what we were up to before going home. It all appeared to get the better of him so he stays and helps with the construction, he only intended to help for one day but he was having so much fun he didn’t return home until the next weekend.
A local builder Brad Weir calls in with his dingo and kindly digs the holes for the posts. Saving many hours and much energy digging the 16 holes by hand and by the end of the week the frame of the 40 foot by 16 foot structure was up. Now for the cladding, the builder askes the committee, have you decided on the cladding? Are we getting brush fencing for the walls and roof? No is the reply, we want it thatched the same way it was originally so we have ordered melaleuca brush from a local cutter for you to use. Back to the drawing board, this requires some study to understand how they did it. The information is found, the travellers brother Kevin arrives to help out with the roofing and with a little practice the thatching of the melaleuca brush begins, all two ton of it. Strapping is placed on the roof, covered with mesh and then the brush is laid over it and strapped down with five strands of fencing wire each side of the gable the wire is then tied through to the mesh below at two foot spaces. Five strands of fencing wire are spaced on each wall with the brush held between them and a further five strands with 1800 handmade wire clips through the brush attached to the inside and outside wires. The job was completed in two months with a short break in the middle. (The lawns at home needed mowing)
The impact on the community was incredible; the shade house work was the talk of the town and definitely was much appreciated by everyone. The smile it brought to their faces was sufficient compensation for the labour. The project featured several times in the local paper, twice on the front page and once with the heading “Back Yard Blitz at Yurunga” it got the attention of regional ABC radio, the Mayor Cliff Unger popped in along with the CEO Dean Miller, local councillor Ron Lowe, and several council employees all travelled up from Nhill to see the new shade house. Visits were made by the Federal Member John Forest and State Member Hugh Delahunty who both took time out of their busy schedules to have a look. You can’t imagine the surprise and pride this project brought to the builders as the community came out to see this phoenix rise from the ashes and return to its former glory.
The Yurunga Shade House was finally officially opened on Sunday November 11th by the new Mayor Councillor Rob Gersch with Councillor Ron Lowe and over 70 people present and enjoying the shade provided by the new building as they shared the Devonshire tea provided.
The new structure should serve the community for many years. Tour buses have already started to use it for their passengers to sit in the shade and eat their lunch after looking through the homestead. There is now much thought and activity about Yurunga with other functions being planned for their new shade house. It looks like another century of stories will be told by those enjoying the shade and sipping on tea and cool drinks during the hot summer days. The tennis court is gone but the croquet lawn may soon return.
The committee entered the new shade house in the Tidy Towns Historic restoration section and made it to the final where they were invited to the presentation dinner. They didn’t win but they were very happy with their finalist plaque.
Towns like Rainbow don’t ask for much. Their people are hardworking but sometimes they just need a little help along the way.
And folks, just like in the recording of the deck of cards. This story is true, I know, I am that traveller.
But the story doesn’t stop yet.
There is one more major project left at Yurunga. At the back of the property is an old stone coach house and stable complex consisting of two stables, feed room, tack room and coach house. It also boasts a coachman’s quarters all with pressed metal ceilings typical of the more affluent properties of the late 1800’s and of course a two seat toilet. This building is a very rare example of this type of complex, in most cases they have all been demolished in the name of progress to make way for a garage, but this one still stands or at least most of it does. The committee is working toward its restoration but it will come at a cost. This would see the entire property restored back to its former glory for travellers from around the country to enjoy as they visualise the lives of those pioneers that have gone before and triumphed over adversity and the elements to open up this great country. There are many stone ruins to be seen around Australia, but few like Yurunga that can be seen in all the glory of a time past.
Fund raising is progressing well and the work will start soon. I will be project managing the work once Heritage gives the go ahead and hopefully some funding. The stone mason is lined up ready to begin work and the project plan is well under way for the full project.