Slab huts are so distinctive in Australia's vernacular architecture, and in the high country they are special indeed. Namadgi National Park is fortunate to have two intact timber slab huts. One is Orroral Homestead, and the other is Brayshaws Hut.
Brayshaws, in the ACT's deep south, is named after Davey Brayshaw. Davey was born in 1852, sixth of 14 children of ex-convict William Brayshaw and his wife Flora nee Crawford. William and Flora married in 1844 and from then until the 1950s, the family had a direct association with the Bobeyan (now unfortunately mostly spelt "Boboyan") valley. They were one of the most significant pioneer families of the ACT high country.
Slab huts are so distinctive in Australia's vernacular architecture, and in the high country they are special indeed.
As the sons grew up, some selected blocks nearby, and Davey's hut was erected in 1903. Brother Edward undoubtedly put his bush carpentry skills into the job.
Like his brother Richard, who remained at the family's Bobeyan Homestead, Davey never married. On Sundays, Davey would ride over from his hut to have lunch with Dick, and Dick would give Davey his mail. Dick also sometimes helped Davey with correspondence for Davey's literacy was limited. On August 30, 1931 Davey accidentally left his whip behind at Bobeyan, and returned next day to fetch it from Dick. About 4.15pm, 79-year-old Davey rode off with the whip toward home - and was not seen alive again.
Next evening, it was noticed that there was no light at Davey's hut, and no smoke rising from the chimney. A search was begun but was halted till daylight. Next morning at about 7.15am, as Dick rode from Bobeyan to help with the search for his brother, he proceeded along the valley and found Davey's body. Davey's horse was grazing peacefully a few metres away. The stirrup leathers were broken.
Cooma and Canberra police were contacted and Davey's body was moved to his hut, where an inquest was held by Police Magistrate J.W.T.Forrest of Canberra. Forrest found that Davey had died of shock and exposure following a fall from his horse.
He was buried in the Adaminaby Cemetery in snowy weather. In fact only through the efforts of neighbours was the undertaker able to get along the snow-covered road to Shannons Flat, en route to Adaminaby. Brayshaw's neighbours the Westermans placed a small cairn of quartz stones at the spot where he died. They can still be seen today, as can Davey's headstone in the cemetery (which unlike the old town mercifully survived inundation by Eucumbene Dam).
Davey's property was auctioned shortly after, and the new occupants were nephew Ted Brayshaw and his wife Roma, nee Oldfield. Roma recalled in the 1990s how she cooked in a camp oven, drew drinking water from a spring down the hill and did the washing at the spring, and how she and Ted hung their clothes on nails on the bedroom walls. Baby Tom slept in a cot in the corner. Slab huts were renowned for being draughty and Roma pasted newspaper on the insides of the walls to keep out those mountain winds (some of the paper survives today).
Ted and Roma moved to Orroral in 1935, where Ted became manager for Andy Cunningham. Brayshaws Hut now became home for Henry and Iris Curtis (Roma and Iris were sisters). The Curtises raised a family, and though Henry and Iris later moved north, Brayshaws remained in the family until resumed in the 1970s. One of son Colin's memories of life at the hut was when the 1949 snowfalls kept him and siblings Norman and Joan away from school for six weeks; the cold was so intense it killed numbers of kangaroos. Curtises had workers living with them and so they extended the hut in the late 1940s. A shearing shed erected nearby has now gone.
Resumed by the government in the years leading up to the gazettal of Namadgi's predecessor, Gudgenby Nature Reserve, Brayshaws Hut became a target for vandals. The fibro extensions built by the Curtises were soon shattered and by the late 1980s the place was a mess. Following a conservation plan written by Access Archaeology in 1990, volunteers of the Kosciuszko Huts Association, working with Namadgi staff, began the big job of saving the hut in 1991. Maurice Sexton led the volunteers and explained that the biggest problem was rotten structural timber, and the big stone fireplace leaning against the building, slowly pushing it over.
Parks backhoe operator Arthur Huxley dug a major trench to deal with the drainage problem. KHA members, in keeping with conservation practice, retained original materials where possible (like the shingles under the corrugated iron roof), and in a tradition built by the organisation, used traditional tools like broadaxes, adzes and augers to work timber used in the job. Materials were sourced by park staff.
Roma Brayshaw's memory proved excellent. When asked where the original verandah edge had been, she recalled it exactly, so that when volunteers began digging where she indicated they soon found the rotted bases of the original posts, and were able to construct the new verandah authentically.
After five years of work, the job was completed. Since then, Brayshaws Hut has received countless visitors and is now a key site on Namadgi's popular Settlers Track walk. People respect the heritage building; volunteers and park staff continue to work to maintain this valued link with our shared high-country story.
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