If these walls could talk | Calthorpes’ House

Calthorpes’ House  in the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT) was built by the Calthorpe family in 1927. The family moved to Canberra from Queanbeyan seeing the potential of the new city which had just seen the transferal of the Federal Parliament. Harry Calthorpe was a partner in the stock, station and real estate agency of Woodger and Calthorpe, an agency which conducted the first sale of leases in Canberra in 1924. Having served in the First World War, injuries sustained at Gallipoli saw Calthorpe return home to work on recruitment campaigns. In 1917 he had married Della Ludvigsen and together they had two daughters, Del and Dawn.

Designed by the architects Oakley and Parkes, the same architects who designed the Prime Minister’s residence The Lodge, it was designed for the hot, dry Canberra summers. Built as a free standing cottage set among a large garden, it had a roughcast exterior finish painted in earthy colours, tiled roof with shingled gables, arched verandahs and shuttered windows.

The house layout was designed to be functional, with the public rooms at the front and the families private rooms at the back, separated by the hall and passage and the domestic work areas. The rooms remain much the same today as they did when the Calthorpe’s lived there, with the gramophone, pianola, records and bridge cards reflecting the family’s love of entertainment and music.

In the 1920s there was a new focus on the science of hygiene and this can be seen in the use of easy to clean surfaces in the kitchen such as tiles and linoleum. The Calthorpe’s welcomed exciting new technology such as a toaster, iron and fan, but continued to use an ice chest which required a daily supply of block ice.

The breakfast room served as a pivotal room for the family, with Mrs Calthorpe using it during the day and her husband using it as an office in the evening. The room is full of memories from both World Wars, including a photo of Harry in uniform and watercolours of Egypt. Even the paper blackout blinds, which were compulsory during the Second World War, still remain and are in tact.

In 1950 at the age of 59 Harry Calthorpe died and his wife continued to live in the house until shortly before her own death in 1979. Her family recognised the historical significance of the house and sold it to the Commonwealth Government in 1984. While not representative of how the average family lived in Canberra, Calthorpes’ House demonstrates domestic life in the 1920s.

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