Recently I revealed my love of old chimneys and was really amazed to find that I’m not alone in being drawn to a ghostly old pile of stones. Lots of you said you shared the same curiosity.
Part of the reason I shared that story was because for some time I’ve been building an idea for a young adult novel in which an old chimney plays a central role. You might remember I talked recently too about a favourite childhood book, Playing Beatie Bow, which is a time travel novel? Both of those posts were the beginning of me starting to order my thoughts a little bit around an idea.
Today, being a Tuesday when I’m at home, I had some time to go on a little reconnaissance mission to research a local ruin which I’ve thought for some time might be a key in my story development. I took Fee and Alice along for the ride (actually, Fee was the ride, we went in her car) and here are the photos.
Not far from my suburb is the ruin of an old farmhouse called Crinigan’s Stone Cottage. I discovered this recently when I was looking up historical locations around Canberra. It turns out this simple little farmhouse ruin, dating back to the 1860s, is all that’s left of one of the earliest settlements in the area, on the banks of Ginninderra Creek. The Canberra Archeological Society have a brochure about it you can read here.
You can see that it’s been quite lovingly and carefully restored. Descendants of the Crinigan family, and the Archeological Society, have cleaned the area (lessening the risk of Brown Snakes, apparently) and it stands now on the edge of a new suburb called Amaroo. It’s in some open land backing onto a residential area and there’s a playground nearby. Alice didn’t notice the playground at first though. She thought the cottage was pretty cool. Don’t worry, camera shy Fee was standing just out of the frame for each photo, so don’t think Alice was wandering around sharp broken rocks on her own!
The cottage is a three roomed building, and two of the rooms have fireplaces. Apparently in these fireplaces they found all sorts of evidence of what the Crinigan family used to eat, including possum. There were forty houses along Ginninderra Creek, and the land was shared with the local Indigenous community, the Ngunnawal people, who left plenty of evidence of their lives there too.
There are still loose stones and rocks around. I think the restoration crew did a lovely job of not making it look entirely fixed. It still feels like a ruin, even though some parts of the stone work have been secured with modern concrete. Alice looks like an archeologist in the making here, don’t you think?
I think her nana will be pleased to see her developing an early love of history.
Here you can see that it really isn’t in the middle of nowhere. Children were playing in the nearby park and all around was just a very ordinary suburb. How wonderful that the descendants of the original family fought to save this simple but precious piece of local history. And how amazing is it that no one has tried to destroy it, at least as far as I could see. Fee and I marvelled at the lack of graffiti or vandalism.
Somehow I’ve got to be able to imagine this as someone’s home, as a place where early settlers in the region lived, worked and died in a small, infant community just ten minutes’ drive from where I live now.
It doesn’t have a chimney, as you will have noticed. And the idea I’ve got growing in my mind does involve a chimney, but that’s ok, that’s what imaginations are for. Clearly there were at least two chimneys here, as evidenced by the fireplaces that remain in the basic structure. Once upon a time, if you’ll forgive me a tiny bit of romantic indulgence, Emily Bronte saw (so the story goes) a ruined cottage on the moors and dreamed up Wuthering Heights. There’s no reason I can’t look at a ruined farmhouse nearby, with a creek alongside it, and dream up a story.
I’ve got a side project going for this, a quiet little blog where I’ll be growing ideas and musing on the writing process. If you’re interested, it’s here. It’s not updated terribly regularly yet, just when I feel the need. But if you’re interested in the creative process of writing fiction, you’re welcome to tag along.