ACT News


Dalgety removal was better by half

Trevor and Cheryl Leisk of O'Connor have moved a 1950s weatherboard house from its street in cosy Yarralumla to a remote and wind-rattled Monaro spot. That location, Dalgety, is reputably reported to be so cold that an attempt to raise polar bears there failed when the breeding pair froze to death!

But the Leisks, who have no plans to breed polar bears, chortle at this anti-Dalgety allegation. They dismiss it even though, given that it was made by a member of Federal Parliament (in 1908), it must be true. They know Dalgety well, already spend weekends there in their transplanted home and in their far-in-the-distance retirement imagine living in the transplanted cottage now ensconced in the village beside the Snowy River.

But Dalgety, of all places!

''People say to us 'Why would you go to live there?' '' Cheryl told Gang-Gang.

Most readers will have never been to Dalgety and may not know were it is but there was a time (between 1906 and late 1908) when Dalgety and Canberra were spoken of in the same breath. And that same breath often belonged to members of Federal Parliament making speeches in Melbourne.

The two contrasting places were the arch rivals in the race to become the site for the federal capital city. Pollies made passionate speeches for and against the two sites and it was during one of these that pro-Canberra William Johnson, MP, told his anti-Dalgety story about how Dalgety's cold was lethal for polar bears let alone for any pollies forced to serve in a parliament there.


Your history-conscious columnist goes to Dalgety quite often (we were there last weekend and have never seen the golden-grassed Monaro looking so magnificent) and so stumbled across the Yarralumla house there.

The Leisks are Canberra business people. We spoke to them in their businesslike office in unlovely Mitchell while, beside us, a clever computer gave us a slide show of photographs of the rigmarole of cutting the old Yarralumla house neatly in half (so that the halves would fit on the truck to take them away) and of lugging those halves to Dalgety. One photograph has Trevor at Yarralumla amusingly juxtaposed with the two halves.

In some of the photos one of the halves and its truck are a speck in the grassy immensity of the Monaro on a dirt stretch of the road from Nimmitabel approaching Dalgety. The snow-upholstered Snowy Mountains (was it the little house's first glimpse of snow?) are in the background.

''We can say our living room's been down that road! Not many people can say that,'' Trevor chortled.

It all began in about 2008 when they were visiting Dalgety at Christmas. Cheryl was born and raised in the region and the Monaro is sprinkled with her relatives. A scruffy little paddock adjoining the pub was for sale. Cheryl remembers as a girl walking across it to go to the long-since-abandoned shop for a 20¢ bag of lollies.

They bought the block and the helpful Snowy Shire insisted on any home built there being in keeping with the historical nature of the little town. It had to be of a single storey, of weatherboard and with an iron roof.

It turned out when they did their sums, to be a vastly cheaper proposition to move an old Canberra house (doomed by gentrification) to Dalgety than to build a new home at Dalgety. They looked for small, doomed homes and found one at 18 Gunn Street in Yarralumla.

Trevor remembers that ''He [the chap who'd bought the site] didn't want the house at all. So basically, the house was free but the removal down to Dalgety and then putting the house back together again cost about $25,000.''

Moving the house in 2010, one half at a time, was a terrific, rules-and-regulations governed rigmarole. But now the house is installed (firmly tethered to its site by its special foundations because of Dalgety's famously powerful winds) both Leisks are enormously relieved and proud.

There's still lots to do to the house and to its enormous and manicured (by Dalgety's rustic standards) garden. And it also, this columnist teased them, at this early stage looks improbably clean and glossy and Canberran. It badly needs, I advised, to make it more authentically Dalgetyesque, one of the old 1950s car bodies that so effectively decorate so many Dalgety yards. But the Leisks laughed away this suggestion (imagining I was joking) and said, yes, they looked forward to the day when the house had become a bit ''weathered'' and blended in a little better.

Trevor, from Essex in England, sincerely rejoices in Dalgety but Cheryl in particular has a sense of a kind of destiny in what's happened. A little eerily the Yarralumla house fitted, like a hand-made glove on a hand, the level part of the block on which it has been plonked.

''That was quite astounding,'' she thinks.

''It was meant to be. It really was. And I guess for me I'm gravitating back home. I have such strong family connections there going back to the 1800s. It's where I was born and grew up and where my ancestors settled. Their original stone house is still out there at [nearby] Numbla Vale.''

She is a Mugridge and the cemetery out of Dalgety on the Jindabyne road has many a Mugridge sleeping there. She is relieved, like every Dalgety and Dalgety-connected person I've ever vox popped on the subject, that the federal capital city was never allowed to clutter up so strange and ancient a landscape. That landscape horrified our William Johnson, MP, (he of the polar bear legend) but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the Leisks think it is a kind of dramatic paradise.

Fun as it was to talk to Trevor and Cheryl, how one would have loved to have been able to interview the house itself. Houses surely have feelings and it is the house that has had the terrific wrench. The Leisks plan to call it Yarralumla House to preserve, at allegedly polar-bear-lethal Dalgety, the home's Canberra connection.


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