Monday, July 4, 2011

for the house to be preserved

I know that some of the people who might read this post already know about the renovations to one of Christina Stead's old childhood homes, but aside from pointing out the petition in the side bar I've been holding off on mentioning it until the deal was done, the jig up, the operatic lady singing her sing. This is the summary I'm going to put on Pykk's Christina Stead page. If anyone knows of any other significant newspaper articles, blog posts, etc, let me know and I'll include them.

In 2011 the latest owner of her other childhood home (the family moved here after Lydham Hall) decided to modify the property and in June the plans went to the council for approval. There was opposition, people said that the house should be preserved, quotes were obtained from authors. Opponents set up a petition and a twitter account but the council passed the plans nonetheless. The renovations were reported by Street Corner, Domain, the Wheeler Centre, the Independent, the Wentworth Courier, the New Zealand Herald, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, the Guardian, and the Telegraph. ANZLitLovers blogged about it, and so did A Better Woman, Clarissa's Blog, Whispering Gums, and A Pair of Ragged Claws. The house is named Boongarre, or Stead House, it is located at 14 Pacific Street in Watsons Bay, New South Wales (here are some photographs), the owner's name was Mark Schwarzer, and the Wheeler Centre sounds as if they found her biography on the side of a cereal packet.

David Stead moved his family to Boongarre in 1918, which was, he says, the same year he talked to a group of crayfishermen who believed they had seen a hundred-foot extinct prehistoric shark upsetting their crayfish pots.

He wrote:

In the year 1918 I recorded the sensation that had been caused among the "outside" crayfish men at Port Stephens, when, for several days, they refused to go to sea to their regular fishing grounds in the vicinity of Broughton Island. The men had been at work on the fishing grounds -- which lie in deep water -- when an immense shark of almost unbelievable proportions put in an appearance, lifting pot after pot containing many crayfishes, and taking, as the men said, "pots, mooring lines and all". These crayfish pots, it should be mentioned, were about 3 feet 6 inches [1.06 m] in diameter and frequently contained from two to three dozen good-sized crayfish each weighing several pounds. The men were all unanimous that this shark was something the like of which they had never dreamed of. In company with the local Fisheries Inspector I questioned many of the men very closely and they all agreed as to the gigantic stature of the beast. But the lengths they gave were, on the whole, absurd. I mention them, however, as an indication of the state of mind which this unusual giant had thrown them into. And bear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of sharks as well. One of the crew said the shark was "three hundred feet [90 m] long at least"! Others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood – about 115 feet [35 m]! They affirmed that the water "boiled" over a large space when the fish swam past. They were all familiar with whales, which they had often seen passing at sea, but this was a vast shark. They had seen its terrible head which was "at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson Bay." Impossible, of course! But these were prosaic and rather stolid men, not given to 'fish stories' nor even to talking about their catches. Further, they knew that the person they were talking to (myself) had heard all the fish stories years before! One of the things that impressed me was that they all agreed as to the ghostly whitish colour of the vast fish. The local Fisheries Inspector of the time, Mr Paton, agreed with me that it must have been something really gigantic to put these experienced men into such a state of fear and panic.

(from his Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas, published in 1963. I found it on the Unknown Explorers website)


  1. See, Boongarre is clearly worth saving. It could be promoted as the place where we could look for our very own Monster! Loch Ness, here we could have come!

  2. S'funny, I started off with the house, then I moved onto David Stead, and then I ended up looking at pages about this massive shark. At least Nessie is harmless, or at least that's what her fans seem to think (and she hasn't hurt anybody yet, so there's proof), but this shark "is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful predators in vertebrate history," "arguably the most formidable carnivore ever to have existed," and "Fossil remains indicate that this giant shark reached a total length of more than 16 metres." (

    Its teeth made the teeth of a Great White look like corn chips:

    And then (looking, looking) I wandered off onto the subject of Boongarre himself, otherwise known as Bungaree, a Kunrun-gai man, whose wife was nicknamed Cora Gooseberry. "Cora was often seen wrapped in a government issued blanket, her head covered with a scarf and a clay pipe in her mouth, sitting with her family and other Aborigines camped on the footpath outside the Cricketers’ Arms, a hotel on the corner of Pitt and Market Streets in Sydney." (

  3. Oh, is that who Boongarre is named for? I have come across images of Bungaree when I was researching indigenous history a couple of years ago. I should have made the connection (Ha...there's that word again).

  4. Apparently so. She carried it over into The Man Who Loved C by having her father-character name his house after a group of Native Americans. Do you know if Bungaree is still known in Sydney? That page says that he was a famous figure there in the 1800s, but it's been a while, and reputations fade when you're no longer around to remind people you're alive by waving a hat at them.