Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Somewhere over the rainbow

Strike while the iron is hot! Two blogs in two weeks; I’m running away with myself….

So as we are on the subject of our shiny new Colourbond corrugated steel roof, I thought I would expand a little bit on this very common material, and acknowledge its humble yet dignified place in the history of Australian buildings – notably as roof to the iconic Queenslander, but also as roof to churches, rotundas, terraces, as a building material for factory warehouses, shearing sheds, other farm sheds, water tanks, not to mention the great Australian Dunny.


No this is NOT our loo thankfully

The word corrugate originates from the latin corrugare, meaning ‘wrinkle’. It was patented in UK in April 1829 by Henry Robinson Palmer, “architect and engineer’” to the London Dock Company. From what I understand, the enormous strength of corrugated metal was discovered through a happy accident. A pliable sheet of iron was unintentionally crumpled in an early industrial revolution production line and Palmer acknowledged the increased resultant strength from the wrinkles. Ultimately, the corrugations enabled significantly larger spans to be achieved, (without the sheets sagging or collapsing).

corrugated iron curving machine

corrugated iron curving machine (Powerhouse Museum)

In the mid 1800’s Queen Elizabeth’s husband, the visionary Prince Albert, ordered a corrugated iron ballroom for the Balmoral Estate in Scotland. It still stands, (now used as a joiner’s workshop) and is possibly the oldest metal sheet building in existence.


Good enough for a king and queen – the corrugated iron ballroom, built for Victoria and Albert at Balmoral Estate

Great Britain exported corrugated steel to its colonial outposts (specifically Australia) from the 1850’s through to the first quarter of the twentieth century. It’s pretty extraordinary and ironic that we became Britain’s largest customer from the 1880, with huge quantities shipped from UK across the high seas to our shores…(Specifically as now we are the largest exporter of iron ore, digging it up and shipping it off to China and beyond). The sheets were popular as they were easily transportable and were used to make prefabricated structures in our expanding settlements.159107_large

Steel rusts. And so some clever alchemy was patented in the late 1830’s called galvanising. The steel was dipped in molten zinc, which was resistant to rust. Corrugated steel sheeting today can survive for 20+ years if the steel if protected by a layer of paint.

So in regard to our new roof, I went to Metroll – the factory in South Lismore that manufactured it and watched our very own sheets slide through the cold-rolling process to become corrugated. Is that an odd thing to do? Probably. But was kind of interesting to view as well.

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Our roof sheets entering the cold roller

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Our sheets transforming into Colourbond corrugated roof material

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Hat’s Off….

So the issue with writing a blog about a house restoration/renovation is that the house is so all-consuming and distracting the blog doesn’t get written! Hmmm, better work on that! A three-month time lag has ensued and we’re some way further along, so I need to backtrack a little to fill in some gaps.


ravishing red head

Our old girl had a rusty dilapidated roof that leaks like a sieve in the wet. When it rains there are upwards of eight buckets in the house catching the deluge. Sometimes, when it goes on for days relentlessly, it can play on your nerves to be honest.

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The funky beat of random rain drops

The house has two ridge-lines at the southern aspect and these two rooflines meet in a valley, where years of rain and neglect in this poorly sealed area has created a nasty vulnerability and much leaking. The most significant house damage to some studwork is the result of this problem. Plus the front bull nose has more holes that roof.

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Sadly the ‘attic’ was not full of treasure…just decades of bad attempts at DIY leaking roof vessels, including a baby bath

We four are living and working in the house as we’re renovating. The kids are picked up most mornings by the school bus at the end of the drive, (when we’re organised and up to catch it at 8.20am). The plot of land is so beautiful and tranquil and abundant with beautiful trees, but with big downpours the ground turns sodden and the red, red volcanic earth becomes mud that gets tramped through the house. When frogs take up residence in your camp kitchen (no kidding) you really know you’re living the dream.

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Mind your head! Flying debris

So putting a new roof on the existing house was really a priority! First step, strip off the old corrugated sheeting.

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Adios old back porch roof (this will be replaced with new family room, bathroom, laundry)

Despite its rich, red rusty patina on the exterior surface, the old sheets were rust free on the inside. Mick and I joked that we ought to just turn them inside out and jobs done!


The dusty, shitty (literally) old roof. It looks as good as new on the inside!

But alas, sanity prevailed and we have opted for a new glorious colourbond metal roof in the mesmerising colour of shale grey; Kind of a cloud-white tone.

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Hmmmm. Pale and mysterious

Tex Lauder our St Agnes pal and builder-extraordinaire came down from his beautiful hand-made Sunshine coast home to lend a hand (and reside in our shabby-chic camper trailer garden suite).

Once the old sheets were removed and the bones of the roof were exposed to the sky for the first time in a very long time, we noted that virtually all of the 120-year-old local hardwood roof trusses and rafters were in incredible shape – (almost like new once the dust and cobwebs were cleared off them).

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The infamous “valley”. cause of most of the internal damage to a few joists.

Mick heroically donned a facemask and took to sweeping the decades-old cocktail of dust, bat, snake and vermin poo out of the three roof cavities. Nice job. Our resident python was none to happy to be disturbed. Mick caught sight of him a few times relocating to get out of the way of the commotion.

Through this period the weather grew hot and up on the roof the temperature sizzled some days…

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Its getting hot in here

And then the heavens opened once again. Obviously soon after the sheets had been removed, Mick had swept it all clean and before the new roof was delivered. We bought two massive tarps to protect the roof and keep us dry, as best as possible. The winds picked up during a few foul storms and Mick ingeniously managed to keep them from blowing off by tying our old Tesco shopping bags filled with bricks to the corners. Every little helps.

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Check out our new valley and the abundance of tarp. Stay away rainclouds.

You know you’re living the dream when you feel the rain on your feet. When you’re in bed. As the rain comes through the old, ornate, pressed-metal air-vents in the centre of the bedroom ceiling. Mikey got up and chivalrously covered both our feet with some towels and we drifted back off to sleep again.

Every rain cloud has a silver lining (in the form of a water tank or two)

Our new home is in a rural location and we don’t have town water. The old existing tank was more hole than tank, so high up the list of priorities was a new replacement water tank.


We have always lived with town water and never owned a water tank before, so it took a bit of research to decide what the best option for us was. Things to consider included what capacity? aboveground or underground? what material? We looked at lots of options… Concrete, plastic and fibreglass. The cost of excavating a hole for big underground tanks was prohibitive. Our plot is ¾ acre and so having an aboveground tank was problematic too, as we didn’t want one to dominate the site. As the property is deemed ‘rural’ we also had to calculate how much water needed to be set aside incase the rural fire brigade need to access water to fight fire. For the size of our property we were advised to set aside 10,000 litres and add a storz fitting which a fire hose can be attached to in the event of a fire.

In the end, we opted for 2 x 30,000litre stainless steel tanks (total capacity of 60,000 litres). These tall silver beauties are made from food-grade stainless steel and the rainwater we store will be untainted by UV. They will also probably outlive us, so they’re cost effective. And they’re pretty.


Stainless steel water tanks being manufactured to order at Select Water Tanks, Logan Village, Queensland.

With delivery of the new tanks imminent and the weather forecast grim, the time schedule for preparing the base for tanks was pressing. During this period, we had driving rain that lasted days and days. We are now living (well camping) in the house and the surrounding ground was sodden. The old roof leaked like a sieve with buckets everywhere inside the house. We have a makeshift kitchen in what will be the lounge room and a frog took refuge there. In these conditions some cubic metres of metal dust was delivered, which will be used as a sturdy, compacted base for the water tanks to sit on.


After massive rainfall, we inadvertently created a lake in what will be the kitchen.

Mick had the unenviable job of compacting the metal dust base with a hired wacker-packer during the downpour. The metal dust was a couple of inches under water as he courageously worked in Somme-like conditions (thankfully without the shellfire).


In driving rain, Brave Mikey creates the compacted base in preparation for the tanks to be delivered.

With base prepared, the clouds cleared and out came the sun. Our beautiful stainless steel tanks finally arrived on a big trailer.


Our shiny new tanks arrive on a bright shiny day

They looked so enormous laying on their side. I was terrified I’d miscalculated the measurements for the base. (Each tank measures 3 metres height and 3.5 metres diameter). We had to cut a couple of mango tree branches off to enable the tanks to be reversed in as close as possible to the site.


Tanks being rolled off the trailer over lots of foam mattresses (to protect the stainless steel from denting).

The tanks were then rolled off the trailer over dozens of foam mattresses and with skilled instruction from the excellent Select Water Tank guys, we (plus four glorious neighbours) helped to roll and lift them into place.


Swivelling and manipulating the tanks into place (ensuring inlets, outlets and rural fire service storz fitting are all at correct position)

The two new tanks are discreetly snuggled in beside the mango tree and south-east side of the house, (which won’t really be significantly overlooked). Sadly we can’t catch any rainwater until the old existing roof is replaced. The quantity of pleasure I’m getting out of having water tanks is slightly concerning. No doubt the novelty will wear off, but we’re pretty happy that the tanks are in their new home.

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Hello silver lining

Digger Man, First Excavation & Hello Tool Shed

First things first in a sizeable renovation project is building a shed to store all the tools in! Mikey found just the shed on Gumtree (an online classified site). It was located on the Gold Coast and so he drove up, disassembled the panels on site and delivered the shiny silver house-of-tools to its new permanent home.

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Our new-old shed arrives in pieces

Our almost-new shed is small but perfectly formed…3 metres x 3 metres. Before we could erect it, a suitable site was chosen and digger man came to level the site.


Making room for the shed. Bye bye big Bird of Paradise.

Fast and efficient was Digger Man! We kept him busy for a few hours, pulling out a massive clump of Bird of Paradise, which was just too huge and unmanageable to save. (Although I kept a little bulb of it to replant in the front garden).


The original clump was so enormous it took about two weeks to burn down. We inherited an old packing case of Mills & Boone and it has made excellent fire starter material.

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Nothing like a fire starter…

We made and fed a fire most days with the mountain of Bird of Paradise bulbs and dried stems. The ash was fed back into the new veggie patch (which is the disused old water tank cut down and filled to the brim with delicious red volcanic soil).

Such a gun was Digger Man that he even managed to delicately poke his scooping bucket into the very fragile kitchen area and excavate a lot of the ground dirt.


Was seemingly effortless precision operating!

The original wooden floor beams and joists in this area were rotten, as they had been literally sitting on the dank earth. Mick had already removed the rotten wood and the ground level required lowering, so new stumps for the replacement floor can be sunk. The new floor will have space enough below for air to ventilate and keep the house happy.



Digger Man also excavated the 8 metres x 4 metres site on the south east corner of the house, in preparation for delivery of the new water tanks.

As proud renovators we have invested in a new cement mixer (be still my beating heart). After assembling, its first outing was as concrete slab maker for our new-old shed. Mick had the kids rallying as sand, gravel and water carriers. Awsome effort.

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The boys working hard

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Check out the new slab

The little mixer churned out about twenty five loads of concrete, which was poured in to a 3.5 metre x 3.5 metre slab.

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The Colonel

Just as Mick was screeding the beautiful final surface “The Colonal” our neighbour’s very friendly, over zealous super sausage dog launched himself in to the middle of the slab and ran a few circuits.

We have engraved our names and the date in to the wet shed concrete. The first ‘build’ is complete and so it begins….

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Have shed, will renovate

When one door opens…

Who doesn’t love old doors?

Gnarled and full of character. Split; peeling; sometimes with forlorn handles or hinges, but always so solid and well made.

Beautiful handles, textured glass, sometimes coloured.

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One of my favourites. The lounge room door. Needs a good clean up though!

Molly’s Grass came with her own fair share of beautiful doors.

Most will be treasured ….

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This old beauty will be relocated somewhere else in the house as this ‘door’ will become ‘wall’

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French doors in what will be the main bedroom

…But some are cute but not salvageable, like the old shed doors.

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Dear old door, now demolished and currently being used as a ramp into the house!

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Alas, you too were an unsalvageable old door. Bye Bye

And the extra fun bit is looking for new old doors. Mick and I are finely honing our respective radars, tuning in to any potential door opportunities.

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An array door temptation at local reclamation dealer A.J Magnays in Lismore

Two handsome old doors were negotiated from Margie and Dan – a lovely couple who sold up close to where we now live, just as we were moving in. We were sorry to see them go. (I think we must be lowering the tone of the neighbourhood and people have started to leave…) Two more doors were found at a local rural garage sale. We found one old pair of French doors in our own shed! I am designated door rejuvenator. I believe I will be taking all the metal ‘hardware’ off the doors and dipping these independently to remove all the decades of paint, making them shiny ‘new’. The doors themselves will be sanded, filled, sanded, undercoated and all will be painted white gloss. Some windows will require new (preferably old) glass panes. I’ll also have to learn to re-putty to ensure all the glass panes are secure.


The growing collection of doors at Molly’s Grass Road.

The most exciting find so far is a lead-light pair of French doors we found at Lismore Tender Centre (my new favourite place). Hoping they might find a new home as the new kitchen front (side) doors.

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So happy! We won these beautiful lead-light doors last week at the Lismore Tender Centre

I’ve calculated thirteen additional doors are needed for our project. The collection is growing…!

Every Girl Likes New Shoes

Our little house had very old, very dilapidated shoes (approximately forty stumps). Despite the house itself being (predominantly) structurally sound, a crucial necessity was to ensure that the old stumps be replaced as a priority. Every girl likes new shoes.

The originals were large old wooden stumps (a bit like chunky telegraph poles in circumference and about 70cm tall). Some of the stumps sat on sturdy concrete bases measuring approx. 60cm square and about 20cm deep. Others just sat directly on/in the very red volcanic hinterland soil. Some of the stumps had galvanised iron ant caps. These were used originally to provide an effective deterrent to termites and ensured dry conditions within the house during flooding and tropical downpours. Not a full proof strategy however as there is some evidence of termite activity in our old girl (thankfully not current). Thank god she is made from very old hardwood, which is so dense and doesn’t make very appealing eating for termites, (which prefer to devour softer woods).

An example of a large Queenslander-style weatherboard house  in Wynnum, C. 1920. It shows its stumps, with wrap-around verandahs, a bay window and a verandah entrance surrounded by a decorative pediment. Ideal for a hot humid climate. Image thanks to State Library of Queensland

An example of a large Queenslander-style weatherboard house in Wynnum, C. 1920. It shows its stumps, with wrap-around verandahs, a bay window and a verandah entrance surrounded by a decorative pediment. Ideal for a hot humid climate. Image thanks to State Library of Queensland

Building houses on stumps was very common historically in Australia. To my mind it makes a lot of sense for a house to be raised above the ground in our hot/humid climate. Air can circulate under the house, ventilating it and producing cooler conditions. Often in flood-prone areas the stumps are very tall (at least one story high), so that floods can rise and recede without putting the house and its inhabitants at risk. In fast flowing floods some houses could be washed off their stumps.

An historic photo of an old Northern Rivers stumped house at Uki, pictured after a 1954 flood. Debris in foreground, furniture in garden, bedding etc hanging from verandah. Photo thanks to Tweed Regional Museum

An historic photo of an old Northern Rivers stumped house at Uki, pictured after a 1954 flood. Debris in foreground, furniture in garden, bedding etc hanging from verandah. Photo thanks to Tweed Regional Museum

Thankfully our house is on the top of a hill (i.e: no flooding!) Our property has a very slight inclined slope. The stumps are only short in comparison… about 65-75cm tall in most places, but some measured only about 45cm from base to bearer.

Stumps were originally always made of wood. Later they were brick pillars. The current preferred material is galvanised steel. H-shaped posts, each sunk into its own concrete bed. They are strong, cost effective and about the most pest resistant option.

It took a while to find a good re-stumper. It’s a tough job definitely, but good restumpers are very sought after. Through trial, error and finally a valuable recommendation, we found Sam Nelson who came to our rescue to restump our old house. We were reassured that he didn’t run screaming in the opposite direction, when we met him on site. (The main issue being that the western side of the house sits very low … the kitchen was actually sitting on the ground with no stumps and just evil rotting joists). Yuck!

Local restumper Sam Nelson

Local restumper Sam Nelson

Sam (or SuperSamRestumperMan as we referred to him) was hired. The job took just a week. Sam brought with him one young guy who dug the new stump foundation holes around the parameter of the house. restumping 5

Some days he also brought his lovely girlfriend and the two of them spent most of the time under our house digging in hot, cobwebby conditions with hardly any room to turn.

Sam and his girlfriend digging in tight, dirty cobwebby conditions

Sam and his girlfriend digging in tight, dirty cobwebby conditions

Certainly not enviable working conditions! I would absolutely recommend Sam if anyone ever needs restumping in the Northern NSW region.A week of living under our house; digging new stump foundations

In the end our house was given fifty three new shoes. These are under the existing house. We will have to sink new stumps for the porch which was temporarily demolished and more for the extension). I estimate at least another 100  – but the structural engineer with advise us on that…

Some of our old girls shiny new galvanised steel stumps

Some of our old girls shiny new galvanised steel stumps

The old stumps sit like rejected old gnarled dinosaur teeth while I think of something interesting to do with them. Some lend themselves to garden sculpture me thinks! Any ideas welcome.

The old obsolete stumps - like gnarled old dinosaur teeth. Garden sculpture anyone?

The old obsolete stumps – like gnarled old dinosaur teeth. Garden sculpture anyone?

Nothing like a bit of child labour

A very belated update this time! And a happy new year everyone! Fingers crossed we will be hosting a proper housewarming at a beautiful, renovated Molly’s Grass Road midway through 2015. We are still at the very beginning of the project, but excited at what’s to come.

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Child labour and family exploitation! Thank you lovely people for all your efforts

Just to finish off the blog on the initial demolition phase…Chapter 3!

With the back porch floor and old bathroom floor removed, some manual excavation was required to get access to the old stumps under this section of the house.

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Monty, Jordan and Flora – Legendary Excavators

We had a fantastic weekend with some of our extended family all chipping in to lend a hand. Nothing like a bit of child labour to keep the kids on the straight and narrow! (There may also have been a bit of cash money payment involved too – and they well and truly earned it).

All hands on deck during the school holidays, with some healthy competition between Monty and his rugby teammate Jordan for strength-based dirt removal (in-between some fierce rugby tackling on the lawn!)

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heave ho!

Nephew Gus was a legend and really got stuck in. Flora was also brilliant.

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Well-earned smoko break with Nephew Gus and Mikey

Sisters Peita and Shayne were heroic at pulling nails out of old hardwood, which we will re-use at a later date.

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My heroic sisters doing nail removal. And they thought they were coming for a manicure.

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Sledgehammer therapy. Bye bye old bathroom

We are using the excavated dirt to fill a little ditch on the property, adjoining the road. The dirt was transported in the back of the trailer.

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Our labourers hitching a lift in the trailer

All the kids hitched a ride in the trailer; back and forth, back and forth, delivering the soil. Was good fun!

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Trailer surfing