I had met up with a friend to have a wander through the small town of Portland. It was one of those grey winter days, the clouds lying heavy and low on the horizon. We’d had a walk around the freshly painted silos, marvelling at the photographic detail of some of the workers from the cement factory. I was fascinated by the industrial ruins, wandering off to take photos of machinery that had long ceased to be useful in the huge old buildings.
We had a pub lunch, sitting near a roaring fire. It was simple comfort food, and just what we needed after our walk along cold, windy streets, spotting the beautifully recreated advertising signs. It was the town’s claim to fame, now that heavy industry was no longer its defining characteristic. I have a soft spot for small country towns and find them fascinating. Portland had been a company town in many respects, and I was curious as to the history of the place and the people who called it home.
There were a variety of shops along the old streetscape. Atop one building was a plaster bull’s head; the front was covered in tiles and the wide window once would have displayed local meat. On a corner was an old shop that was now a gallery for local artists. My friend likes to paint and draw, so we went in for a look.
The inside of the shop was quite small and there were a couple of different rooms to explore. One room was set aside for local art classes, and some of the works were pinned to the walls. But it was in another room, off to the side, that I saw the painting.
It was tucked into a corner and my eyes slid past it before snapping back for a closer look. There was an old weatherboard house with an unkempt garden, a pot of mint sitting beneath a rusty water tank. The rear of the house was the only part of the house that had been included in the painting. But in a moment it took me back to a place I’d nearly forgotten about. My great-grandmother’s house on a dry, dust-blown farm block in a place called Eumungerie.
You never walked in through the front door. It was a tentative trip through the back gate, past the chained cattle dog which was always called Jock, and along a rough path to the back door. There was a basin at the back door with tank water for washing your hands before you entered the house. The house was always cool and dark, regardless of the bright heat of the day. A short hallway led to the kitchen where there was a fire in the stove. Nana would already have the kettle on, and a motley collection of cups and saucers would be on the table, ready for morning tea.
I have a print of the painting on my study wall, and it takes me back to Dellaville every time I look at it.
With thanks to local artist Linda Hine for her inspirational artwork.
[Photo: snippet of old house by Linda Hine]