Somewhere along the chocolate painted wooden fence is a gate – barely noticeable unless you’re looking for it. With a click of an old iron latch you’d find yourself inside. A short wooden gangway led to the back door and there you would sound the bell waiting to be let into the kitchen. There was a jangle of chimes to let the entire household know you’ve arrived. Everyone entered Mim’s house through the kitchen because in the 1960’s a pool was put in the front yard which required a large fence. However I like to think we all entered this way because anyone who visited 48 Dudley Street was treated like family.
Mystery and marvel
Though I refer to it as “Mim’s House”, it was 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 before Elias passed away in 1939. Less than a decade later, the remaining family relocated to Sydney moving into the home on Dudley Street in 1947, which Emily had purchased for a tidy sum of £5000. To any child that visited (and probably a few adults), the Australian Federation style home was a mansion-like manor of mystery and marvel.
Welcome to 48 Dudley St
As you would enter the kitchen, the first person you’d likely come across was Marie or “Mim” – the longest continuous inhabitant of the house and the youngest girl of the twelve Joseph siblings. She would have probably been up since some ungodly hour cooking for the priests. Foil trays stuffed with food waited on the kitchen counter for pick up and delivery by church volunteers. In later years, Mim went deaf in one ear, so she’d probably be yell her greetings at the top of her lungs as she embraced you in a warm hug.
Table for many
Beyond the tidy kitchen, was the dining room with its enormous dinner table, the centrepiece of many family gatherings. A fireplace that I never saw used, was 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 collected dust on the top shelf. For some this room was the centre of the universe. It had a gravity-like pull on the heartstrings that would have us 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 and friends, those who lived 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 had another decorative fireplace and stunning inbuilt shelving of reddish maple. A piano in the corner was covered in family photos – one of each treasured grandchild/niece/nephew. 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 too: 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 inside the home’s entry, led to a staircase that descended steeply 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 passageway 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 billards.
In the darkest corner were antique sewing machines that were used to sew many an outfit, including family wedding dresses including my mum’s. The Joseph women were talented seamstresses, but the machines lay caked in dust, abandoned after my great aunts retired and were no longer able to make their way down the stairs. Clusters of paper dress patterns hung from the walls by large, rusty bulldog clips. There was always a table covered in fabric remnants from the family’s former clothing factory that I loved to pick through. I was usually allowed to take home a selection of favourites to hoard in a growing collection of textiles.
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 when the home would no longer be in Joseph hands and I attempted to commit the place to memory.
In 2016 that 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 curated modern art pieces, mixing the 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 came to auction day and the home was bought for the land it stood on, prime Sydney real estate.
“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 then overjoyed to learn there were local residents who recognized the historical and architectural significance of the home. A group of Coogee neighbours were attempting to preserve the suburb’s history by applying to have the home heritage listed.
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,