An Historical Building With A ‘Steamy’ Past
You may think Heritage House is just a beautifully atmospheric building where locals ‘in the know’ go for a lovely light lunch or morning tea, or to view the current exhibition, whether that’s on wedding dresses, commemorating Anzac heroes, the railway station, or farm life in early Bangalow. But this building has a past, and a somewhat steamy one at that…
In 1920 a wooden house was built in Park Lane, Brunswick Heads, for a widow, Gladys James, and her son Ernest. (In later years, apparently Ernest James became Mayor of Mullumbimby.) Typical of the location and the times, the house was a traditional ‘Queenslander’, raised high off the ground to be able to catch the cooling sea breezes.
After Gladys and Ernest’s occupation, in the following decades the building was used in a variety of innovative ways: as a doctor’s surgery, a typical family home, a boarding house, and finally, a brothel. Touching evidence of this past use still remains. On the wall just inside what’s now the front entrance to Heritage House, is a peg-board with hooks for the room keys of the brothel’s workers, with such old-fashioned names as ‘Cuddles’, Shiela (yes, mis-spelled), Rosy and Zoey, so it’s easily seen whether or not the employee was ‘In’ or ‘Out’.
Eventually, business must have slumped. The house and land fell into receivership, and were offered for auction in 1993.
Meanwhile, onto the scene comes Betty Dengate, a determined – and elegant – woman who could clearly visualise a new life for the old building. After the Bangalow Bicentennial in 1988, she had become the custodian of a collection of scanned historical photographs, which had, over the years, become “covered in cockroach poo and cobwebs” as they were shunted from garages and car boots to church halls, looking for a permanent home.
In “about 1991”, the initial team of four members of what evolved into the Bangalow Historical Society – Betty, Jane Ions, Denise Prentice and Don Osborne – had spent some years meeting in the scout hall or each other’s homes, all the while lobbying Byron Council for a building to accommodate the society and its exhibits. But, says Betty, the catalyst for finding a permanent home for the society was that collection of photos.
Finally, sitting next to the then Byron Shire General Manager, Max Eastcott, at a protest meeting at the Bangalow A&I Hall, with Betty in persuasive form no doubt, a deal was struck. Council bought the Brunswick Heads house and land at 5 Park Lane that year. (Or was it resumed for unpaid rates? There are differing accounts.)
Council also owned land near the Bangalow Creek Pool and its surrounding park, and it seemed an excellent idea to use that land as a site for the old house and the Bangalow museum. In 1994, the house was moved by road to its new site. Using money from Council’s capital works budget, augmented by community donations, a band of dedicated volunteers worked hundreds of hours next to local tradespeople installing new foundations, electricity, bathrooms, staircases and landscaping. Alex Herrmann donated $12,500 to pay for the new verandah; a new roof was built and of course a new paint job completed to suit the new future use of the building.
Today, the wrap-around verandah accommodates visitors who take the time for tea and scones or lunch. Inside, the central rooms house the museum’s diverse displays, constantly changing thanks to the imaginative outlook of the tireless team of volunteers running the tearooms and the museum.
The museum – and its delightful tearooms – are open from 10am to 3pm, Wednesday to Friday.
Story : Christobel Munson