A step back in time

THE National Trust WA received funding last year to run its first writer in residence program.

The funding came from the Department of Culture and the Arts, which in 2019 produced a Writing Sector Review aimed at encouraging excellence in writing and foster professional development.

The trust chose four writers to kick off the program; Melinda Tognini and Ros Thomas who were based at Fremantle’s Samson House cottage and the Curtin family home in Cottesloe, and Sasha Wasley and Maddie Godfrey at Peninsula Farm in Maylands, while Sasha also spent some time at Woodbridge.

The Chook thought it might make a fascinating insight into the mind of a writer to see what piqued their interest in their historic home-away-from-home and how that might make its way into their writing, so we’ll be featuring one of the writers over the next few weeks.

In this week’s two-part instalment we tune into SASHA WASLEY, who is using her time to craft a historical novel set during World War I.

EARLIER in 2020, I was extremely fortunate to be one of four WA writers granted a writer’s residency through the National Trust of WA’s Inspire program. 

The residency’s goal was to provide a space for writers to explore ideas and produce WA works.

My work-in-progress is a historical novel set in the first World War. 

The protagonist is a young woman who grew up in Guildford. After losing her dear brother, she goes to teach at a school in York, where she is roped into a project that sees her visiting the family homes of people from all walks of life.

For the first two weeks of the residency, I was based at Peninsula Farm in Maylands, a 180-year-old farmhouse built on land granted to the colonial Hardey family. The Hardeys, along with a group of other Methodists from the Lincolnshire area, came over on the Tranby to build a new life and convert the locals. 

By all accounts, Joseph was a stern, clean-living bloke, who even ordered his daughters only to marry Wesleyan Ministers (only one of the poor young ladies managed to find one).

On my first day, my laptop never even made it out of the case! I became engrossed in the archival documents and books from the staff bookshelf at Peninsula Farm, studying letters, farm diaries, recounts and photos, making notes and having ideas. 

I was fortunate to meet with knowledgeable education staff and volunteers including Ginie (also a writer), who answered questions and shared stories about the family and house.

When left alone, I explored the homestead, examining some of the historical artefacts, which gave me a unique insight into settlement life. The Hardeys had a beautiful writing case brought over from the old country and a ‘whatnot’ full of porcelain objects known as ‘fairings’ (items won at fairs and collected for display).

I studied how they lit fires and stored food. In a colonial kitchen, you’d keep your fire lit with the bellows and pour water from a copper jug. You’d light the room with tallow candles. Cooking was backbreaking, hot, difficult work, and culinary delights of yesteryear included bandicoot stewed in milk. Sounds like a real treat!

Similarly, laundering in the 19th century was not for the fainthearted. It was muscle-building, skin-scorching work, and the women had the wiry arms and scarred hands to prove it. Peninsula Farm boasts a mangle, a copper, washboards, pintuck rods and ‘sad’ irons – equipment that was ingenious but labour-intensive.

I think one of my favourite discoveries was that you could buy a sewing machine on a payment plan in the 1870s. The Hardeys had a Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine and I could just imagine the thrill of owning one after years of hand-stitching hems and seams.

The few times I was alone there, I discovered it was a very creaky old house. I could have sworn someone was walking around in the attic! 

I never saw or heard anything conclusive, although at one point I was startled by the ring of a bell in the depths of the house. 

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