A Love Affair with Chimneys

It seems that my day trip to Cooma on Tuesday last week offered up several opportunities for nostalgia.

On the way back, after I’d left Fee and Alice with Mum and Dad and made my way home alone, I did something I’ve never done before but have always thought I should.

I pulled over on the highway to photograph a chimney. It felt sort of brave and impulsive.

To set the scene, the Monaro Highway is a long, bleak stretch of road between Canberra and Cooma. There’s some farming land, a lot of sheep, and not much else. Just an endless vision of dry, brown land with some boulders dotting the otherwise barren landscape. Personally, I love a bleak vista. I love that my eyes can stretch for miles and that you can see where the sky and land meet. I adore that uninterrupted view. And I love that on such a landscape items such as a chimney ruin form an intense point of interest.

And so that’s how, on Tuesday, I found myself finally stopping on a stretch of road I’ve been driving on for years and at last having a look at the chimney I’ve driven past, with longing, many times. I almost didn’t stop. It seemed kind of risky, but there was a small patch of shoulder and I swerved to park. As huge road trains roared past me, I felt stupidly afraid as I dug for my camera and shivered in the breeze.  But I got what I wanted. I was close to a chimney for first time in my life and it was thrilling in a way I hadn’t imagined!

Chimney Ruin

One of my earliest childhood memories is of noticing a chimney ruin on the side of the road on a family drive. In Tasmania, there was a chimney on the road somewhere between our home town, Rosebery, and the town where we had a second home, Burnie. We drove there regularly and over the years, that chimney came to be more than just a marker on the journey for me. It was a point of intense fascination.

I can almost taste now that sensation of seeing something ruined, something abandoned, something that seemed chillingly haunted. To this day, an abandoned chimney really gets my historical and literary juices flowing.

Chimney Ruin

An abandoned chimney, more than any other kind of ruin, seems so incredibly lonely and evocative. It’s literally the last man standing when all around it has crumbled to dust or been pilfered. It’s a symbol of a family home like nothing else. A crumbled wall doesn’t say as much to me as a chimney, the point in the home where women stood and stirred pots, dried clothes and warmed their families for generations. We can only imagine what really went on there. I’m not seeing it solely as a symbol of domesticity, although surely that’s part of it. I’m seeing it as a remnant of a whole realm of life. It’s the last remaining sign that there were people there, the final link between us and what went before on that land.

Black and white Chimney

That the chimneys still stand is both incredible and prosaic. Of course they still stand. When the wood that built houses has vanished, it’s naturally the stone and brick that remains. It was built to endure, and endure it does.

What I hadn’t expected, getting as close as I did, was that the chimney would be fenced off. See in the top photo how there’s a small, flimsy wire fence around it? I’m not sure it achieves anything. If I’d been able to cross over the boggy, overgrown grass to get right up close, I’m sure that fence wouldn’t have done anything to prevent me getting close. Sometime, when I get close enough, I want to look inside, to see what secrets the chimney holds. I think realistically I know that there’ll be nothing more than grass, but it’s the hope of secrets revealed that keeps that spark of interest alive.



22 thoughts on “A Love Affair with Chimneys

  1. Pingback: Local History: Majors Creek | Bellsknits

  2. Pingback: Crinigan’s Stone Cottage « Bellsknits

  3. What a post! I remember seeing that chimney along that stretch of road, and I also want to stop and photograph it, but I feel foolish for thinking that. It’s the same why I hate taking the camera to public places, always scared someone might tell me off for taking photos because I am not a “real” photographer. weird.

    When I see that chimney, I think about the family that would have sat around it to keep warm during the bitter winters, the stories they would have shared. The kettle they may have placed nearby to brew a cup of tea, or fill the iron. I think if there were any letters, or documents that were thrown into the fire in fits of rage, jealousy, anger or sadness.

    I wonder if any small children got tiny burns from the sitting too close to the fire, or picking up a burning ember, did the scars remain?

    And why did the place burn, were people living there? Was it a rush to get all their belongings and flee. Was it done on purpose? By whom? Why?

    A simple foundation of stones can raise so many wonderings, so many possibilities. I love the photos!

  4. Lovely. It’s amazing where you see them just poking up out of a paddock or on the side of the road. It’s weird to think that at some point in time, people lived right there, built fires, made dinner, went about their business. And all that’s left is a chimney.

  5. Whoa. I’ve never seen one here before, either. You speak of them as if they are fairly common there, though. It’s funny how different places can be, isn’t it? Thanks for another great post showing us your country!

  6. That’s fantastic! I love old abandoned buildings and ruins. Just a whisper of the past! And maybe one day you will explore the chimney – who knows, some little creature might have adapted it for a home?

  7. i notice the ruins of old farmhouses when we’re driving by too – but I’ve never pulled over either.

    what wonderful photos – such a lot of atmosphere there.

    awesome post.

  8. A beautifully and sensitively written post – thanks for sharing.

    As for the chimney, it speaks of many things; it is unique and full of character. Again, thanks for sharing.

  9. I notice the chimneys too. This was very evocative so I say also, historical fiction – yes please!

    When my sisters and I were young, Mum and Dad made up a spotting game for long car trips – and I’m pretty sure a chimney without a house attached was worth more lollies than anything else (can’t remember what else now, but I’m sure a kangaroo was one of them)

  10. i love that piece of road, there are some great old ruins along there, and youve captured this one beautifully, in image and words. i agree with the idea of historical fiction with knitting in it! knitting by the fireplace on a cold snowy mountains night….perfect!

  11. Fascinating! And I’m so proud of you for stopping. I’ve heard it said that we never regret as much what we do as what we don’t. Good job! And it’s evident you must write about this or around the idea of it sometime. I want one of the first looks! 🙂

  12. When I was growing up there were a couple of old men – brothers – with some sort of accent that I was too young to identify. One of them was a master at laying drystone walls (made without mortar. Just a giant jigsaw puzzle the fits together so well that horses and cattle can’t knock it over.) and the other brother was a master at building chimneys. The construction of the flue makes all the difference between a chimney that fills the room with smoke, and one that draws well and gives a hot fire. It’s an art.

    In the US you see chimneys standing in the aftermath of brush and forest-fires. I’m wondering if the one between Canberra and Coomb was the victim of a fire.

  13. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an intact chimney like that, either. Often, we’ll see just the barest remains of a house but nothing as evocative as that. In my head, I start to picture the family that sat around in the light of the fire after dinner. What a great image.

  14. I’ve never seen a chimney like that in America. You do occasionally see an old stone foundation from a barn, and I’ve always like them.

    The chimney is absolutely haunting!

  15. Spot on! I am with you on the slightly disconnected, eerie feeling of crumbling chimneys, and of bleak landscapes. All very evocative

  16. I love the landscape the chimney stands in. It welcomes me. The chimney is unusual too in that it’s made of local available materials. Stones from the property probably and and bits of slate possibly from a riverbed. The Shoalhaven around Nerriga has slate at its edge. Whoever built it has done what they could with what what was at hand and look, it’s still standing.

    A hard life at the time possibly, for those who settled there, well worth a story.

  17. i love the way you’ve written about approaching the chimney. you really need to write some historical fiction based on this, preferably with knitting in it!

  18. I love seeing lonely chimneys beside the road too, and also often think about stopping to take a photo or two (but never actually do). Glad you did!

  19. Oooo – fills me with nostalgia too Bells, I grew up on the Monaro. I love the bleak countryside, and being able to see clear to the horizon.

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