Sunday, 29 December 2013

O'Reilly's Bonded Stores: is it worth saving if it's old?

There is a derelict early 20th century building which is set to be demolished on Margaret Street in the Brisbane CBD. It is O'Reilly's Bonded Stores (old warehouse space) which was built around 100 years ago.

The building is not heritage listed and when viewed with an objective eye, isn't terribly attractive either, particularly in its present state. However an off-leash dog park will be its temporary replacement until the developers obtain the green light for what will likely become modern commercial/residential high rise.

The O'Reilly family was quite prominent in Brisbane during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. The O'Reillys had a bonds store and forwarding agency business begun by Captain Henry O'Reilly in the 1860s  - the stores originally operated from Mary Street until the new stores, the ones proposed for demolition, were built in 1912/1913.

Captain O'Reilly also owned the spectacular mansion called Toonarbin in Dornoch Terrace in Highgate Hill and you can read about the restoration of that home here. The suburb of Bowen Hills was originally called O'Reilly's Hill after the family. Clearly, the O'Reilly family were the movers and shakers of Brisbane during its infancy as a city.

You can read more about the proposed demolition and development of the stores here.

image from here
I was having a conversation with Jason about whether this building should be saved...Is it really worth saving if it's old? Would we be having the same discussion if Westfield Indooroopilly shopping centre was proposed for demolition in 2070 (100 years after it first opened)? (I'll be dead, no doubt!)

The Bonded Stores survived 100 years, does that give it the right to exist for a further 100 or so years? Would Brisbane be better served with a modern building in its stead or should we try to retain as much of our past as we can given the paucity of historical buildings remaining in this city? Is there a creative way for the developer to do both?

To keep or not to keep? is the question. And sadly, 'not to keep' is often the resounding answer.

Over the past couple of months, Brisbane has lost two well-known heritage listed buildings due to fire - the old Belevedere in West End and the Albion Flour Mill. Both properties were either up for development or holding up development, so these 'accidental' fires are not terribly surprising. The historical properties are now bull-dozed and are just a hazy memory to be remembered through photographs and newspaper clippings.

image from here

Anyway, it seems a lot of people are sick of old buildings being neglected and then demolished without some thought or say in the matter. There is a community campaign underway to help save the O'Reilly's Bonded Stores building. If you are keen, you can get on board here. There is a petition and information about how to put in a submission against the demolition application. 

Perhaps if enough people were to raise an objection, then the developers may rethink their plans and incorporate the new with the old can only hope in 2014.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas 2013

I'm just stealing a couple of moments today to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

I hope it is a day full of love, laughter and calm. 

Once again we'll be enjoying the serenity of the Sow's Ear. Roast turkey and rum soaked Tiramisu are on the menu later today, so I better get a wriggle on to make sure that eventuates...

Have a good one! xx

Monday, 23 December 2013

Hula hooping through Christmas

We've downed tools for the past couple of weeks - we're planning our next lot of projects for the Sow's Ear in 2014 and we hope to let you know what we have planned in the New Year. It's been rather nice not to feel pressure to do anything on the Sow's Ear and we've just been enjoying an easy and fun life...

What fun! At the tender age of 40, I am in possession of my first ever hula hoop. Talk about making amends for a deprived 'hula hoop-less' childhood.

And I am hula hooping like there is no tomorrow...mostly as I am not terribly good and I am determined to be able to keep that damn hoop up for more than a few measly rotations!

We were at a friend's house for Christmas drinks when I got my hula hoop.
Yes, I was drink hula hooping...
Next year I am planning on doing a hula hoop class with some friends, just for fun and fitness (apparently hula hooping is good for your core strength and abdominal muscles). In the meantime I am practising for about 10 minutes every day...and fortunately it is paying some dividends as there have been some improvements. The hoop is staying up longer but it's hardly anything to crow about. My waist is also bruised from all the practising...ouch!

The very sad thing is Son #1 who has never 'hula hooped' is a complete natural and can whip my arse in a 'hula-off'. We've been having hula duels since I received my new hoop and he's won every one! I have to say, it sucks being beaten by a kid...

So, this Christmas I'm going all out to perfect the art of hula hooping in between mouthfuls of turkey and plum pudding and planning the next lot of renovations to the Sow's Ear.

Can you hula hoop?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Last minute Christmas gifts

I really ought to be whipping around the shops buying all those last minute Christmas gifts...but I'm not. We've just been lolling around home chilling, making shortbread, eating shortbread and more chilling. It will be Christmas Eve soon and someone will have to go without...unless I start gift wrapping my op-shop finds! Ha!

Anyway, if you're like me and have made a half-arsed effort with your Christmas preparations, here are my suggestions to get yourself out of a bind without venturing into a busy mall.

Bowl of limes and lemons
If someone came bearing a bowl full of limes and lemons, I would seriously worship them. You always need citrus at this time of year for drinks whether it is for a cold Corona or a G&T or even serving with Christmas prawns. They are an out-of-season produce in Australia at Christmas time; you'd be really doing someone a favour by offering such bounty. A tray of mangoes or a box of cherries would be my other suggestion given they are in-season.

image from here

I can never keep indoor plants alive, so a plant is basically the equivalent of cut flowers except they will last a few months rather than a week. Fiddle Leaf Fig trees are the IT plant of the moment. I'd be thrilled to be on the receiving end of such a plant...acutally any live plant or herb for that matter. Team it with a nice ceramic pot and you're set.

Homemade bread, cake or biscuits
It's too bloody hot to be baking in Brisbane, so if you go the the trouble of baking something yummy for friends and family this Christmas then you've made the ultimate sacrifice of heating up your home for them in the middle of summer. Homemade is always better than store bought. I also find we have unexpected visitors arriving on our doorstep, and extra baking (baked by someone else) never gets wasted and you can lie and say you baked it yourself.

Wine, Champagne and spirits
Unless you're giving to a teetotaller or someone with frugal taste, this is just one of the easiest and best gifts to give. A bottle of Frangelico, Limoncello or a spiced rum are perfect because they can also be used in cooking and desserts. But hey, a cheap bottle of plonk or sparkling is never discriminated against at the Sow's Ear either.
Image from here

Experience gift
Movie tickets, theatre tickets, art gallery tickets, opera tickets, museum tickets...We've found experience gifts are always greatly appreciated. A day or evening out is quite a luxury, particularly for those with small children. Free tickets are a great excuse to get out and about and experience more of what is out there. It has the added benefit of not overloading friends and family with too much 'stuff'.

I have never met a chocolate I wouldn't eat, particularly if it is dark and Swiss. Good quality chocolate is pure indulgence and it is cool to try different types of chocolate from other countries.

Love sampling exotic dark chocolate. This one is from Madagascar.
Those are my suggestion for last minute gifts so you're not caught empty-handed when the in-laws or cousins come to visit. What do you do for last minute gifts?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Kitchen pendant lights

As some of you may already know, we are on the hunt for some new kitchen lights to replace some rather impractical ones we installed when we first renovated the kitchen. Read about it here.

The brief for the lights is: it must not harbour any possible creepy crawly...the lights must allow the bugs to free-fall on to our kitchen bench instead. The fun of living in sub-tropical Queensland without fly screens!

I saw a couple of lights at the Woolloongabba Antique Centre on the weekend, which would fit the brief well. Both are vintage and very attractive.

Anodised tubular lights from 1960s?

Scandinavian style brass lights which I completely may not actually suit our more traditional style kitchen in the Sow's's still a contender though because they're just so damn attractive to me.
 I have also been browsing online to see what is available.

Artek hand grenade light
The Alvar Aalto designed A110 hand grenade light is modelled on the German grenades which were used during WWII and military-mad Jason has a very soft spot for them. He might want to throw them at me, I suspect, in his moments of frustration...Ha!

copper Utzon lamp
image from here

I have previously featured the Jorn Utzon light on the blog. They now come in copper...which is very on trend. I do prefer the more plain, less glitzy style.

Image from here

And I have always wanted a Nelson Bubble lamp. I may be able to get away with the small cigar lamps (first designed in 1952) suspended over our kitchen island.

I'm going to bite the bullet this week and finally settle on new kitchen lights. Have you got any other suggestions?

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Five ways of keeping cool at home this summer

This post was in collaboration with The Water People 

Summer. It’s getting to that time of year where things are really start to heat up around here.

We’re pretty lucky the Sow’s Ear is a reasonably cool house but on those really hot 30+ Celsius days there’s no escaping the terrible heat. Here are a couple of tricks we use to stay chilled over the summer period.

1. Fans and air conditioning
We have a number of pedestal fans which we keep running 24/7 on those very hot days. It is a low-cost method of cooling the Sow’s Ear. We also have an air conditioner in the master bedroom which we use mostly at night to get a comfortable night’s sleep.

The split system air conditioner is quite old and is actually on its last legs…it was already here when we bought the Sow’s Ear 4 1/2 years ago but it’s just started to condense and drip water.   We’ve now put a new air conditioner on our wish list for the New Year. I’ll be looking at a Queensland-based provider similar to Vic Air (which operates in Victoria) because it might be the easier option than DIY.

2. Cotton and loose fit clothing
Only natural fibres can touch our bodies during the summer months. Even looking at clothing that is slightly synthetic makes me feel hot…and I’m known for my love of the flammable frock! During summer, fashion is a mix of cotton and linen with my uniform being sarongs and singlet tops.

3. Cold food and drinks
We have a complete menu revamp over the summer period…think lots of salads (with iceberg lettuce for the placebo effect), cold meats, ice desserts and plenty of cold beverages.  I dislike turning the oven on when it so hot, as it just heats up the house unnecessarily.  Light and easy meals always seems like the best way to go.

Also ice cold water is the best way to keep cool and hydrated – I wish I had a water filter system or ice making fridge to keep the water flowing. I’ve visited The Water People to see what types of chilled water systems they have for domestic kitchens – it’s given me food for thought…

4. Sprinkler
Since we’ve been working around the garden the last few weeks, the sprinkler is getting a fair bit of a workout. The kids often come out when I am watering the yard and cool off that way. It’s the poor man’s swimming pool! It also kills two birds with one stone – keeping the kids cool and occupied while giving the garden a good drink.

5. Finding a cool shady spot
We change how we use our house depending on the time of day. In the morning, the kitchen and deck are the coolest spots in the house. In the evenings, the front of the house is cooler and gets the afternoon breezes. We are in the fortunate position to have an area under the house which is relatively cool. It is always a few degrees cooler under there. Some days we just set up down there and tinker about during the heat of the day.

So, what do you do to stay cool over summer? 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Classic bentwood chair

There is a saying which gets bandied about in design circles: “when in doubt choosing a chair, choose a bentwood.” And I wholeheartedly agree; you can’t go wrong with an elegant bentwood chair. They are a timeless classic which can suit the most modern of decors or the more traditional style of decorating.

Saarinen tulip table with bentwood chairs. Image from here

Although I have a mid-mod aesthetic, a bentwood chair would sit comfortably in a mid-century home alongside modernist furniture or even a Queenslander with predominantly mid-century furniture –  19th century design can look so good with mid-20th century design.

Originally made in the 1850s by a German-Austrian cabinet maker, Michael Thonet (pronounced ton-et), the bentwood chairs were seen as highly innovative for the times. Solid rods of beech were treated with steam to allow for the rods to be bent into shape and were then left to cure. The chairs were lightweight, yet durable and were seen as a chic alternative to the heavy carved furniture that was prevalent in that period. 

white (albeit very dirty) bentwood chair needing repair
Last week coming home from a night out with a friend, we drove past a hard rubbish collection pile on the footpath.

Poking out from the detritus were two curvy bentwood chairs. My friend and I looked at each other and with a knowing nod we immediately did a u-turn to salvage those chairs.

Fortunately, it was late and it was dark. We got those two chairs stashed into the boot of the car and drove home pronto, exhilarated by our find. My friend took one chair, while I took the other.

Some dodgy bracing on one leg...
Like we needed another chair around here...

The plan is to dismantle it to make it a little less rickety, put a new plywood seat on it and then repaint it. Cross fingers it will be salvageable. It will be a nice handy chair to have around the place... You can't have too many chairs, right?

this chair originally had a rattan seat and was replaced at some point with plywood 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Homemade mango ice cream

Nothing says summer more than a tray of ripe mangoes on the kitchen bench. We've been feasting on the sweet juicy orange flesh for the past week while the boys are on school holidays.

With the excess mangoes in the Sow's Ear we decided to make mango ice cream. There is nothing better than ice cream with a sweet mango tang. It is so delicious and we've been enjoying this homemade treat for the past two days.

A scoop of homemade mango ice cream

I have a confession: we have an ice cream maker which we don't use as often as we should...but it does get more of a work out in the summer months, particularly to make frozen yoghurts.

I stumbled upon a mango ice cream recipe while Googling with wild abandon - I wanted something fairly quick and easy which I could make with the kids. I had to bastardise the recipe somewhat as I didn't have everything on the recipe list and it worked out very well indeed.

This is a very simple recipe, as you don't need to cook a custard or wait for it to cool. It's just a blend and churn recipe. The key I think is to have something 'citrussy' to cut the sweetness of the mango (lemon and limes do the trick, while orange would add a different dimension). I also used cold mangoes straight from the fridge. You can be mean with the amount of sugar required - mangoes are sweet enough without adding any excess sugar.

This is a recipe which I tweaked and can confidently say works; it makes approximately 1.5 litres of ice cream.

Homemade mango ice cream

3 ripe medium sized mangoes
juice of one large lime
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2/3 cups sugar (scant cups)
2/3 cup of low fat milk
2/3 cup of thickened cream (generous cups)

Cut the flesh from the mango and put it in a blender. Add all the other ingredients except the cream and blend until completely smooth. It should almost be the consistency of a thick smoothie. Afterwards gently fold in the thickened cream.

I used our Kitchenaid ice cream attachment to churn the mango ice cream. Everything needs to be super-chilled to get to that ice cream-like consistency. It took about 20 minutes of churning on low speed to make the ice cream.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and churn until it becomes thick and an ice-cream consistency. Pour into a container (I used a retro Tupperware container) and freeze until set. Et voila! Mango ice cream.

Retro Tupperware comes in handy!
We've almost finished the ice cream...we're on one scoop rations to make it last.
But it is so easy to make; I'll probably make more tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Rangehood light replaced

We were a bit nervous that we wouldn't be able to fix the busted light on our rangehood. You can read about what happened here.

the old light fitting - the metal strip was inadvertently bent and the light would no longer lock in place.

There was a bit of a search and a very long wait for the new light fitting to be sent to us. And when it arrived, Jason exhaled with relief. There's nothing worse than a fubar lingering around the place, is there? He was able to easily replace the light - it just plugs in.

Good to have you back rangehood light!

I was able to source the light online - it is a place that just deals with appliance spare parts which I found via Google. It was very easy to order and there was no running around on our part. The link is here if anyone is interested.

The light fitting was a little bit on the expensive side (about $90 with postage) but it was better than the alternative which was just to leave the old light dangling! Ha! We weren't going to have that.

Anyway, it's fixed and all is right with the world again.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Walter Taylor Bridge tour

We've certainly become tourists in Brisbane over this past year. There are so many great spots and fun things to do in our home town. The Brisbane City Council has recently started free walking tours to view inside the pylons of the Walter Taylor Bridge at Indooroopilly. We were able to get a rare glimpse of an interesting part of Brisbane's history.

The bridge was renamed the Walter Taylor Bridge in 1956 after the bridge designer and constructor Walter Taylor

Yesterday we met up with our tour leader Alan from Brisbane Greeters at the Indooroopilly end of the bridge. He led us on a short walk across the Jack Pesch Bridge and through to the Walter Taylor Bridge Reserve. Alan was full of interesting tidbits...and corrected a lot of the misinformation I was taught at who really discovered the Brisbane River?

Alan with some of my brood.
Word of warning, if your child has nil attention span , don't do the tour with kids!
Son #3 needed a leash.

Walking under the bridge on the Chelmer side

Built in 1936, the Walter Taylor Bridge is a suspension bridge which allows motor vehicles and pedestrians to cross the Brisbane River between Indooroopilly and Chelmer - it is also the only habitable bridge in the Southern Hemisphere (according to Wikipedia).

And this is what fascinates me most about the bridge: people used to live in the pylons! The washing flapping in the breeze was the only visible sign that the pylons were occupied.  It used to be the home of the bridge engineer and the toll keeper and was occupied by their descendants up until 2010.

Another interesting fact about the bridge was that the cable used for the suspension were leftovers from the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you're interested, you can read more about the history here.

Out on the balcony of the Walter Taylor Bridge looking out to the Chelmer side.

We were able to visit the residence at the Indooroopilly side of the bridge which was home to the Green family who operated the old toll booth. They had six children in their time living in the bridge; when you view the residence you wonder where on earth did they put them all? There were only three bedrooms in the narrow three storey building - it was certainly compact living for the family of eight.

My photographs of inside the pylons are terrible. It was very hard to take good shots, as the unfurnished rooms were quite small. In the early 2000s, the residence was renovated so the original kitchen and cabinetry is long gone...the new kitchen was not terribly inspiring, I'm afraid! It would be terrific if the rooms were restored to how they used to be in the 1930s, to give the rooms more context...

The doorway into the third bedroom on the top floor of the residence
 There is also a YouTube clip of life inside the toll booth which is very quaint. 

old kitchen in the pylon residence

The tours will continue again in January and there is talk that the Chelmer side will open in the near future (apparently the uni students who used to rent it out were hard taskmasters for the old building - it will take more time and money to make it safe to open to the public).

To book a tour of the bridge, go to the Brisbane Greeters website here.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Winner of Australian Modern Design Book

Thanks so much to everyone who entered our competition for the new Australian Modern Design book. 

The winner is Pippa! Congratulations, I will contact you to arrange delivery.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Tudor Revival Brisbane

When one thinks of subtropical Brisbane architecture, the furtherest image from my mind is the Tudor revival style of architecture. It's odd to think at some point in time, in our notoriously hot and humid climate, these homes would've been even considered remotely comfortable...

image from here

Image from here
There are pockets in Brisbane where you can find this tribute to ye olde England. This form of domestic architecture, sometimes called Mock Tudor or English Revival,  was particularly popular during the interwar period, the 1920s and 1930s, and some great examples still exist in Coorparoo, New Farm, Hamilton and Chelmer.

A Tudor revival style home was considered a statement of wealth and prosperity and according to Brisbane between the Wars it was popular among the nouveaux riche and was often described as 'Stockbroker Tudor'.

Typically, Tudor revival style in Brisbane is constructed from masonry and features a terracotta tiled roof...although you do find the odd timber and tin variety as well.

Tudor revival home in Hamilton
image from here
There is a Tudor-style home currently for sale in Greenslopes (the facade faces Logan Road and so it is an instantly recognisable home for those hooning around the southside) and it was the inspiration for this post. This style of home doesn't comes up for sale very often and it is a lovely example. Apparently this home is circa 1922.

Image from here

Image from here

Call me bourgeois, I personally find these homes to be quaint and attractive...I guess it is because they appear to be well-built and they also give a snapshot of former time in Brisbane. In this day and age of air-conditioning, seeking comfort from Brisbane's searing summers would no longer an issue in a Tudor-style house...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Steam Train Sunday

We had the best time on the weekend, in between the blocked sewage drain fiasco at the Sow's Ear...We went for a family ride on a steam train.

The trip was mainly for the children's benefit but I have to say Jason and I enjoyed it just as much as they did. The steam train runs one Sunday a month, departing from Roma Street station for a 1 1//2  hour train journey to Pinkenba and back.

Steam train pulling in to the station

Sadly, Steam Train Sunday has finished its run for this year but you can visit the Queensland Workshop Railway Museum to find out if there are any other events planned over the school holidays. I'm already planning our activities...

Beautiful details in the carriage

The train is a restored Queensland Rail steam locomotive that pulls about 10 vintage rail carriages - the carriages are all completely different. You kind of feel like you're in one of those old country and western movies, as you can move to the different carriages while it is travelling...don't think I didn't pretend I was escaping from the baddies in a shoot out...! Ha!

And you can stand outside on the back or front of the carriage as the train is travelling from station to station. You can literally see the smiles on people's faces when they see the steam train approach.

Lino floors and gorgeous timber seats

We were allocated seats in what we thought was one of the prettiest carriages - it had pressed metal ceilings, timber panelling and lovely heritage wall lights. It's great that these carriages are beautifully restored and are now being put to good use. Steam Train Sundays are a really popular event and you need to book to secure a seat.

It was a fun morning out and about in Brisbane. 

Monday, 2 December 2013


I only wish it was a blocked nose...or being blocked from Facebook...alas it was a blocked toilet. On the weekend one of my dreaded fears became a reality: our sewerage pipe became blocked and we had a bit of an effluent episode...

Thankfully the overflow was all outside and contained in the one small area, near the drains under the Sow's Ear's deck.  It's  a pretty disgusting thing to see one's ablutions for an encore performance. Eww! Anyway, thank goodness for reliable plumbers.

We haven't had a regular plumber since we moved to the Sow's Ear. Our last plumber moved to the country and is living in semi-retirement mode, so we haven't had a plumber on whom to call in an emergency. And when you own an old house with a yard full of trees, a reliable plumber almost becomes part of the family.

Fortunately, we just stumbled upon a new plumber who  proved to be quite good in his maiden voyage on the Sow's ear.

Plumber's electric eel

With the help of a plumber's electric eel down the sewer pipes, our new plumber was able to remove the mass of tree roots which were the cause of the blockage. There must be a crack in the pipes underground, allowing the tree roots to invade the drain.

The electric eel is a cable/coil which spins as it is fed down the drain. The abrasive motion breaks up all the soft tree roots which are developing through any cracks.

The tree roots which were the cause of the blockage 
Eww again!

The blockage is now cleared and we can all relax and resume normal programming.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Shoe valet

Fashionisto Jason bought some new shoes the other day and expressed an interest in storage for his growing shoe care accoutrements... Did you know that storage for the tins of nugget and kiwi polish, shoe brushes and polishing cloths is called a shoe valet? Very laa dee daa.

(When we were kids we had a crappy old timber tool box which we stored in a cupboard near the back door - we'd polish our school shoes on the back steps.)

Anyway, we bought a couple of old 'shoe valets' from a friend who no longer needed them. One of the timber boxes was particularly beautiful and had a very ornate chip carved lid with floral and leaf motifs...but it was in a sad state and there are splits in the timber lid. It wasn't until I started cleaning it that I realised it was made out of cedar.

Chip carved cedar box before sanding it back

To restore the old cedar box, Jason hand-sanded it, inside and out, with a medium grit sand paper to remove all the bits of paint and years of grime - just to bring back the deep rich colour of the wood. For the carved top he used steel wool to bring it back to life.

applying a natural finish onto the box
After dusting it off, we applied a natural finish with a clean cotton cloth to restore and rejuvenate the wood. We let that dry for half an hour and then Jason applied a coat of liquid beeswax and buffed it off with a soft cloth.

the completed box ready for use as a shoe valet

It came up beautifully - it seems kind of wrong using if for storing shoe polish and other shoe accessories...but as someone said to me, why can't utilitarian things be beautiful? It is much nicer than the plastic utility tray we used to have for the shoe accessories.

Ta da! A lovely shoe valet worthy of fashionisto Jason and can be stored away in his wardrobe

Lucky Jason owning such lovely storage!

So what do you use for shoe polish/accessory storage? Or do people still polish their shoes?
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