A white picket fence is often seen as the ultimate symbol of domesticity and suburban comfort; one that’s hard for some to give up.
But this was almost certainly not the case for homeowners in Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s, at least not in the rural pastures and riverside farms that would one day become the national capital.
That’s why the white picket fence was recently removed from the historic Blundells Cottage, as part of a new landscaping project designed to bring the homestead closer to its original form as one of Canberra’s oldest original homesteads.
The cottage was built in the late 1850s, and occupied by three different families - the Ginns, the Blundells and the Oldfields - for the next 100 years.
The fence was most likely added in the 1960s or 70s by the Canberra District Historical Society, which ran the cottage as a museum from 1964 until 1999, when the National Capital Authority took over its management.
This didn’t stop David Flannery, currently the chair of the ACT Heritage Council, from expressing sorrow at the fence’s removal, and at several of the additions to the cottage gardens.
In comments posted on his Facebook page in late December, Mr Flannery pointed out the new paving - installed as part of the landscaping project - was “so out of context with the character of the cottage”.
“I am totally unaware how this all happened at Blundell's Cottage, but I was saddened to see this on a ... walk earlier this evening,” he wrote.
However, the National Capital Authority, which oversaw the landscaping project, pointed out that the ACT Heritage Council was one of several stakeholders that took part in the “extensive consultation undertaken as part of the project”.
Other stakeholders included the then Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water Population and Communities, ACT Historic Places and the National Trust of Australia.
A spokeswoman for the authority said the cottage’s heritage management plan included extensive historical research into the key periods of the cottage, beginning with its construction as part of the Duntroon Estate in 1858, and original occupation by the Ginn family.
“Since the preparation of the Heritage Management Plan, the NCA has implemented the conservation recommendations including stonework conservation and re-pointing, taking paint samples to reinstate historical timber colour schemes, limewashing the interiors and preparing a Landscape Masterplan to interpret the curtilage and farm history of the cottage,” she said.
“The masterplan follows the recommendations from the plan and interprets some of the key landscape elements of the cottage as a farm as part of a landscape setting.”
She said the new setting was an interpretation of Blundells Cottage as a farmhouse “in an agricultural setting” which interprets past activities and includes a vegetable patch to reflect Alice Oldfield’s kitchen garden that existed from 1933.
It also includes new timber fence posts along the northern boundary to show the location of the original fence line and stone paving outlining the footprint of the former kitchen and fireplace, since demolished, that the Blundells built for their growing family in 1888.
The spokeswoman said late 20th century elements that were not part of the cottage’s domestic history, like the picket fence, were removed, while a new and very modern metal handrail was added to ensure the landscape works complied with “required building standards”.
Former secretary of defence Allan Hawke is a descendent of the Blundell family, and remembers being told stories of life in the cottage by his great aunt.
He has been involved with work on the cottage over the years and said the house in its newly refurbished state looked much closer to the type of homestead described by his great-aunt Violet.
Violet, who was his grandmother’s sister, lived for a time at the cottage.
“She slept in the shed out the back [built for the Blundell children], and would walk across the road to school at St Johns in Reid,” he says.
His great-grandmother Rosanna was the sister of George Blundell, for whom the cottage is named.
Mr Hawke has recently finished writing a book about the Blundell patriarch, Joseph, a convict who had 11 children with Susan Osborne.
In the soon-to-be-published book, Mr Hawke describes how the pair were never actually married, and that Susan Osborne was likely a pseudonym.
George Blundell was the third of the 11 children, while Rosanna was the 10th.
Mr Flannery declined to comment further.