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When life in Buderim wasn’t easy

The Burnett’s Buderim cottage painted by Fred Mead as he remembered it in 1910.


When life in Buderim wasn’t easy

Now more than 140 years old, Pioneer Cottage is a museum and attraction. BILL LAVARACK looks back to when the Burnett family built their home.

In 1870, Charles Ballinger selected portion 64 on recently-surveyed Buderim.  His son Thomas John had portion 57 which stretched from what we now know as Ballinger Rd to Crosby Hill Rd, and built a house named Clifton Cottage near the site of the present tavern.

John Kerle Burnett, J.K., arrived in 1876 and was soon joined by his wife Ann and four children (the family later grew to eight children).  He began work at the Dixon and Fielding sugar mill on Mill Rd and they rented a house built by Tom Ridley near the corner of Box St.

In November 1878, Burnett and Ann purchased 8ha of land for £15. He planted sugar cane like everyone else, and in 1882, with the help of local builder Harry Board, built a house on his block.  But that simple statement does not tell the story.

Most of the block would have been tall forest probably with only a few acres cleared. There were fewer than 20 houses on Buderim, with only three or four in what is now the town  centre.

Roads were rough at best and the only way to travel, or receive goods such as furniture or bulk supplies, was through the port of Mooloolah Heads, now Moooloolaba.  The road to Brisbane was virtually impassable to wheeled vehicles.  There was no railway until 1891, and no shops so the community was largely self-sufficient.

Fortunately, a provisional school had recently opened.

Firstly, J.K. could not just go to the sawmill and buy pre-cut timber. Most of it was still growing tall on the block or nearby.  The walls, ceiling and floor were constructed from white beech, felled and pit-sawn into planks on the block.

Red cedar was relatively abundant on Buderim and was used for doors and joinery such as window frames.  Hardwoods such as tallowwood and flooded gum were used for bearers and the shingles for the roof were also tallowwood.

The house was built to a simple design popular at the time.

Pioneer Cottage, as we see it today, looks much as it did in 1882.  It was set on low stumps less than a metre from the ground.  There was a central corridor with two rooms on either side and it was surrounded by a wide, open veranda on all four sides.

At a later date, part of the veranda was enclosed and, as the family grew, two attic bedrooms were added with a steep staircase leading up from the central corridor. They must have been very hot in summer.

One family legend is that once they were as tall as the veranda railing, the children were permitted to avoid the summer heat by sleeping on the veranda.

Originally the four main rooms were a parlour and main bedroom off the corridor at the front, and a dining room and bedroom divided into two parts at the rear.

A large brick oven used for baking bread was placed a short distance from the house and a detached kitchen added. Having the kitchen with its wood-fuelled stove separate to the house was an important safeguard against fire.

It was more than just a kitchen, as it included a family room where most meals were taken, a large pantry and a maid’s room.  The dining room was used for dinner on Sundays and special occasions.

Local clay was used to make bricks for the fireplace in the dining room, detached kitchen and front steps.

There was no bathroom. Family members took their weekly bath in a tin tub in the kitchen.  Father was first – imagine being at the end of the pecking order!  Water was fetched from a well at the rear of the house and warmed on the wood stove.

Other bathroom facilities consisted of a jug and basin in the bedroom.  The toilet was a small sentry box down the yard over the top of a deep hole, complete with spiders and supplemented by a potty under the bed.

Nearby were stables, a large barn, buggy shed and blacksmith shed.  These were to the west of the house and are now long gone. In the early 1900s, the shingle roof was replaced by corrugated iron.

The two rear corners of the veranda were enclosed, and later part of the veranda between the corners.

One corner today is the kitchen, the other the bathroom.  It seems likely these corners were originally enclosed to make bedrooms as the family grew, possibly in the 1890s, and put to their present use after the detached kitchen building was demolished in the 1930s.

In 1890, Buderim had a population of less than 250. One report gives the numbers for 1889 as 25 families and 50 school children. There was no power, reticulated water or sewerage.

There were no automobiles before about 1916 and no store until J.K. Burnett opened his general store in 1887.

Today, sitting in our comfortable living rooms in front of the TV with the bathroom nearby, it is hard to comprehend the lives of the pioneers such as John and Ann Burnett.

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