Somewhere along the chocolate painted wooden fence is a gate, barely noticeable unless you’re looking for it. With a click of the old iron latch you find yourself inside. A short wooden walkway will lead you to the back door and there you sound the bell waiting to be let into the kitchen with the jangle of chimes that let the entire household know you’ve arrived. Everyone enters Mim’s house through the kitchen because in the 1960’s a pool was put in the front yard which required a large fence. Though I like to think it’s because everyone that visits 48 Dudley Street is treated like family.
Mystery and marvel
Though I refer to it as Mim’s house, it’s really the Joseph family home. My great grandparents, Emily and Elias Joseph, were Lebanese immigrants that made a life for themselves in Toowoomba, Queensland. They had 12 children there before Elias passed away in 1939. Less than a decade later the family relocated to Sydney moving into the home on Dudley Street in 1947 that Emily purchased for a tidy sum of £5000. To any child that visited and probably a few adults, the Australian Federation style home is a mansion-like manor of mystery and marvel.
Welcome to 48 Dudley St
As you enter the kitchen, the first person you’d likely come across is Marie or “Mim”, the longest continuous inhabitant of the house and the youngest girl of the Joseph siblings. She’s probably been up since some ungodly hour cooking for the priest. Foil trays stuffed with food sit on the kitchen counter ready for pick up and delivery by a church volunteer. In later years Mim went deaf in one ear, so she’d probably be yelling her greetings at the top of her lungs as she embraced you in a warm hug.
Table for many
Beyond the tidy kitchen, you would pass through the dining room with its enormous dinner table, the centrepiece of many family gatherings. A fireplace that I’ve never seen used, is framed by a large wooden mantle carved with beautiful details and laden with images of Jesus, Mary and an entourage of saints. An eclectic collection of long-retired gas lamps sits on the top shelf. For some this is the centre of the universe with a gravitational pull on the heartstrings that will have them return time and again, in good times and bad.
Siblings, sunlight and sugar
Entering into the main living room there’d be more hugs and kisses shared among family members, those who live in the home and usually a visitor or two. Maybe one of the other locally residing Joseph sisters – Yezme, Honey or my grandmother Dorothy. The living room has another decorative fireplace and stunning inbuilt shelving of reddish maple. A piano in the corner is covered in family photos – one of each grandchild and great-grandchild. Mim would sit in the bay window seat where the sunlight would stream through; the family-famous lolly jar used to ply small children with sugar, sitting within arm’s reach. House residents had their regular seats: Leo the oldest Joseph sibling in the armchair at the opposite end of the room, Phil and Nancy in the middle. Chances are there’d be a cooking show on the television.
The secret passage
In summer there’d be kids swimming in the pool and in winter you’d most likely find us playing billiards. A “secret” sliding door disguised in the wood paneling of the entry way walls, leads to a steep staircase that descends into the basement – which of course is a novelty in itself in Australian homes. As an avid reader of mystery novels, I loved this hidden passage only distinguishable by a round stained glass window. The flick of a light switch would reveal a pool table where cousins, uncles and aunts would play round after round of billiards. In the darkest corner were antique sewing machines that were used to sew many an outfit, including family wedding dresses. The Joseph women were talented seamstresses, but the machines lay caked in dust, abandoned after my great aunts were no longer able to make their way down the stairs. Clusters of paper dress patterns hung from the walls by large silver bulldog clips. There was generally a table covered in fabric remnants that I loved to pick through. I was always allowed to take home a selection of favourites to hoard in a growing collection of textiles that rarely got sewn into anything useful – a habit any crafter or sewer can relate to.
Turn, turn, turn
As I got older, many of my great uncles and aunts climbed the stairway to heaven and the pile of remnants slowly shrank. I began to appreciate the home in new ways. The door was always open to us when we visited Sydney, and we often stayed in the vacant bedrooms when visiting my grandparents around the corner. I would lie in bed and study the moulded ceilings – different in every room. I began to notice the details – the fireplaces, the lighting fixtures, the leadlight windows and the antique furniture. I knew that there would come a time that the home would no longer be in Joseph hands and I attempted to commit the place to memory.
In 2016 the time came. Mim passed on in late 2015 leaving great uncle Peter the only permanent resident of 48 Dudley Street. Peter with an artist’s eye, had restored some of the furniture left in the basement, to furnish his room. I loved to see how he incorporated modern art pieces mixing old with the new. I imagined the home as a B&B welcoming guests and travelling family or friends the way I had been welcomed over the years. Unfortunately, one doesn’t have the funds to compete with a developer when it finally came to auction day and the home was bought for the land it stood on, prime real estate in Coogee, Sydney.
“The house is only a thing, it’s the people and memories that count!”
This is the mantra I’ve repeated to myself any time I feel down about parting with 48 Dudley St. I was dismayed to hear that Mim’s house would soon be destroyed to make way for a new development and overjoyed to learn there were local residents who recognized the historical and architectural significance of the home. A group of Coogee neighbours are attempting to preserve the suburb’s history by applying to have the home heritage listed. You can help us preserve Mim’s house – 48 Dudley St – for future generations of Coogee residents by signing the petition below. Thank you to those who have already taken the time to sign!
My heartfelt thanks to all those who supported the petition and movement to save Mim’s home and this important piece of historic architecture. Unfortunately, we lost the battle and on August 4, 2017, the below was posted to the Save Coogee’s Heritage Facebook Page. The development proposed for the site was not approved and the land went up for sale in March 2018. A new development proposal was submitted in September, 2018 – no decision has been made at this stage. Coogee residents are moving to protect other heritage architecture in the area.
Thank you again to those who supported the saving of this heritage home, and to those who fight for the preservation of history around the world. You are the reason we have places like the South Beach Art Deco District.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,