Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mummified house

I found this photo on the Internet. It's an old house not far from my birthplace: Grafton in Australia. I don't know the photographer's name, but he appears to be, like me, a native of Grafton. And he's also an excellent photographer.

I don't understand what it is about old houses in Australia that causes many of them to become mummified, like this specimen. That's to say, the structure is clearly abandoned and decaying, but it still retains its original form... in a state of fragile equilibrium. As we used to say about decrepit old-timers: the house is dead, but it won't lie down. Clearly, for a house to survive for long in this mummified state, there can't be too much wind, snow or rain in the vicinity. And the people who pass by don't have the bad habit of dropping smouldering cigarette butts on the ground. It's likely, too, that the timber used in this construction was particularly hard and rugged, in spite of the visible signs of rot in the photo. The inside walls appear to be in quite good condition.

Is it thinkable that the flock of ducks might play some kind of mysterious role in keeping the house upright?

Maybe, for a reasonable financial investment, the house could be restored, and made to look like new. There would be no problem about domestic water, because I see a galvanized iron tank on the verandah. The new resident could use the plow to create a vegetable garden. And there would be no problem as far as transport is concerned, because I can see a fine bicycle leaning up against the wall.

Potential French investors might contact me. For a small commission, I'll attempt to identify and get in touch with the current owner, and we'll see if we can reach some kind of a deal.


  1. William, with greatest respect, there are times when it is better to leave sleeping dogs lie.

  2. I fear that the dog's not sleeping; I think it's dead!

  3. I would gladly restore this home - it's all I want in life - an old Australian timber house with verandahs!

  4. In France, certain decrepit buildings bear prestigious names, since they used to be so-called hôtels particuliers housing noble families. When such an archaic building is restored, the question often arises of whether the restored building can still be referred to by its ancient name. Obviously, if the old building were removed and then rebuilt in a similar style, the owner would not be entitled to use the ancient name, because the authorities in charge of ancient French monuments would consider, quite rightly, that the original building had simply ceased to exist. An old law stipulates that an ancient structure can only be thought of as enduring, during restoration operations, if the greater part of its visible façade remains constantly intact. Insofar as the persistence of the ancient name can have a huge positive effect upon the value of a restored edifice, owners are prepared to invest heavily in complicated systems of metallic and wooden supports and props designed to make sure that the original façade remains in place during the restoration work. When I first arrived in Paris, in 1962, I was intrigued by the existence of numerous old propped-up buildings whose supports often reached out onto the roadway. When the newly-rebuilt structure (attached to, and hidden behind, the propped-up façade) was completed, the architects could set to work tidying up the façade… and this often involved the replacement of numerous stones. But, at no point could it be said that the original façade had ceased to exist… and so the resgtored building had the right to bear its ancient name.

    This approach might be adopted in the case of the restoration of the mummified house, so that it retained constantly its ancient appearance. But I have the impression that it would take a vast and ingenious system of props to hold the house up while it was being beautified. The brick foundations and the flooring appear to be in a pitiful state, beyond repair. On the other hand, the architecture of the old structure could inspire the design of an attractive new house. But would Australian suppliers still be in a position to offer elements for the delightful curved roofing and the old-fashioned slide-up windows?