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Monday, August 8, 2016

Paper Trails

After we left Callington Mill precincts, we travelled up the main street of Oatlands to "Alan's Verandah" the next venue for the historic skill of wood graining and a discussion of other faux finishes and decorating styles of the Victorian era.
What happened next was nothing short of "historical porn" and an unexpected meeting with a genuine wallpaper guru, Alan Townsend.

We did legitimately dabble and ooh and aah with some paint finishes like flame cedar and birdseye maple but then what followed was a history lesson that sent me to 7th heaven.

We were invited to tour the mid 1800s timber constructed cottage and peer at it's most intimate layers, and I DO mean LAYERS!

Layers upon layers, decade upon decade.....
Tragically beautiful and exquisite in it's decay.

So the very basic construction of this cottage, and in fact other similar timber cottages of it's era, is timber weatherboard exterior with some stone foundation and the interior walls are a patchwork of split shingle-like timber rather than commonly known lathe and plaster. These interior walls were never meant to stand alone but to be thoroughly swathed in decorative papers.

Upon these crazy patchwork timber bases were laid the first layers - newspaper. A very effective and indisputable dateline for the cottage's construction. Next came the fabric layer. Whatever was cheap and recyclable. In this one front room is found hessian, the very coarsest and cheapest material and also some recycled mattress ticking. Then upon that is the decorative paper. Drafts are excluded, the room "insulated" and then decorated. 

Alan is a professional researcher and historian and sensitively handles and documents the life of the building on it's preservation/restoration journey. Large segments of "art" paper is collected and saved, the floral 1970s wallpaper treated as deferentially as the faux stone paper borders of the late 1800s.

And not just the wallpapers, but also the layers of floor coverings from many decades that chart the years of various property owners and fashion stages.

I wish I could have reproduced the colours faithfully for they were truly beautiful.

Can you imagine the plethora of documents and interesting ephemera tucked into these layers? I couldn't and I was totally flabbergasted at the range of invoices and documents.

Marriage certificates, lengthy shopping invoices, doctors bills and fashion pages.

So much history is revealed about the community and the way of life of the town and attitudes of the eras. It speaks also of a time when paper and fabric (things in general really) had a real value and nothing was taken for granted or casually wasted. He said he has also found the practice sheets of copperplate handwriting of young students copying over and over religious verses simultaneously learning their moral code and handwriting in one lesson.

Alan is currently working on techniques to renovate the space of each room but also keep it's history intact and enfold it's precious layers. As you would imagine, several decades of wallpapers tends to distort the planes and corners are lost to rounded swells and even the very foundations shift and twist over time too. Any other person would have stripped with gusto and brought in the plaster sheeting. He is a far braver man than I and most skilled.

Only a creative eclectic like Alan could live within this chaos as he learns and works with the house. His crazy mix of superb antiques and art juxtaposed with the slow and complex decay, but slowly and sensitively he transforms the space back to a home.

It is quite an extreme form of "shabby chic" don't you think?
We were truly privileged to meet Alan and bask in his enthusiasm and freely shared knowledge and experience.
My favourite quote of the day from this historian was "By all means, people should enjoy their homes and express their style, change the paint scheme and improve their comforts but resist stripping and removing. Above all, avoid removing anything, leave it for the telling"

to experience more of the world of historic recreation and wonder of Alan Townsend.


  1. Well, this really is special, Tanya. I'm totally gobsmacked at such precious history. I love seeing those scraps of wallpapers, designs and colours. Amazing to see the documents found in the walls...especially the marriage certificate, lol.
    I was a nipper in the 1950s and I well remember the saving and reusing of everything. I still do it today.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. :)

  2. This is so fascinating! I've not seen anything like it before or to this extent. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour.


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