Peter and Margaret Duff weren’t planning on a semi-retirement lifestyle purchase for a couple of years but when they saw the lowset brick home at the back of a five hectare block at Jondaryan, they knew it was for them.
“Straight away it just had this feel to it,” Peter said. “It’s really homely. We love it.”
After sharefarming among the red dust and heat at Talwood for 15 years, the location off the Warrego Highway, where family members from Chinchilla and Jandowae can drop in on their regular trips past, had lots of appeal.
“We were only in the early stages of investigating where we'd like to live. We found this a couple of years earlier than we were programmed to do,” Margaret explained. “This has actually turned out perfectly.”
After bringing in their earthmoving and treeclearing machines to uncover the bones of the garden and reclaim parts of the house that had succumbed to overgrown plants, they made a new kitchen their number one priority.
Margaret explained that while they tried to keep as close as possible to the 1950s upmarket country feel to the home, the kitchen needed bringing into the 21st century.
“It was orange and green – it would have looked good in 1965,” she laughed. “There was a huge pantry with tongue and groove boards, like at a shearer's quarters. We took that out.”
Three doorways were also swept away in the revamp that features a big island bench using New Guinea rosewood and classic white styling.
The maid’s quarters tucked behind that have become a modern butler’s pantry, complete with a louvred window and a glimpse of the view to the east.
The timber accessories enhance newly polished cypress pine and crow’s ash flooring, uncovered when layers of “absolutely wicked” vinyl and corkboard were pulled up.
The latest project is the two open fireplaces that back onto each other in their feature positions in the formal dining and lounge rooms.
While Peter and Margaret are getting in a chimneysweep to clean them up, they’re going to convert one of them to gas.
“We did light a fire in it but we smoked ourselves out,” Margaret said. “Gas is just cleaner.”
Next is the hallway that gives access to three large bedrooms.
“We’re working our way through to that. I've got lots to do yet.”
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One area they’ll leave untouched is the front of the house, where former owners Del and Robin Hart enclosed an open front porch to create an airy sunroom.
Prior to that, it was where the property’s workers came up to the house to collect their pay.
While the small office has been incorporated into the kitchen, the exterior hook for the phone line into the house has been left undisturbed as a reminder of the past.
“The house has a few quirks that we like,” said Margaret.
Darrian became Yarran
Its beginnings may be entwined with the historic Jondaryan Woolshed but the colonial revival-style house nestled on the side of Bloodwood Hill being carefully restored by Margaret and Peter Duff owes its existence to Quilpie’s Rutledge family.
The original property, known as Darrian, was part of Jondaryan Station’s woolshed block until part of the property, once the largest freehold station in Queensland, was divided up for soldier settlement at the end of World War Two.
Lyn and Lawrie Rutledge bought the area just south of Jondaryan town in 1949 when they retired from Wambin at Quilpie, and Peter Duff speculates that they may have wanted a block on the inner Downs to finish cast for age sheep on.
Whatever their purpose, they threw themselves into creating their dream home. Documents kept by the Duffs show the correspondence between Lawrie Rutledge and their Toowoomba architect, MC Williamson.
They detail a wonderful exchange in which the architect’s nose is firmly out of joint when instructed to cease construction and change the home’s layout.
“The contractor, Mr Maag, has informed me that the cost of the work so far completed is 850 pounds plus cost of demolition,” one letter reads. “It is understood you are quite agreeable to bear this cost in addition to whatever the cost may now be of the work to start all over again.”
The letter goes on to say that “with all due respect” for the Rutledge’s instructions, the architect was reluctant to see them carried out because so much of the sun would be kept out of the house in winter.
“The front verandah will get very little sun in the afternoon and the bedrooms get practically no morning sun in winter,” he wrote.
Margaret and Peter, the current inhabitants, say they do notice some coolness in the rooms in winter, but that they’re very cool in summer.
Begun in May 1949 with over 31,000 bricks delivered from Drillham, the home wasn’t finished until the summer of 1951.
The Rutledges sold to Robyn and Del Hart in 1988. It was they who renamed the property Yarran, presumably after the hardy acacia tree of inland Australia.
In 2002 they in turn sold the house and five hectares to Jandowae’s Rob and Beth Atherton.
The Duffs bought the block in May 2015 and began painstakingly restoring the home room by room.
Edna Walling’s garden gift
The season may be hot and dry all around but for the inhabitants at Yarran, the sophisticated, layered structure of the garden offers peace, seclusion and a million dollar view.
It’s just what you would expect from a garden planned by Edna Walling, one of Australia’s most renowned landscape designers, described as a very good friend of owner Lyn Rutledge, and fellow Sydney colleague, Jocelyn Brown.
Together with Lyn, they used a wide range of plants and a symmetrical design within an asymmetrical layout to create careful colour compositions that saw the garden win Toowoomba’s country garden competition in 1971 and 1972.
While current owner Margaret is struggling with a lack of water, she aims to return it to its former glory, imagining the creepers draping their colour in various nooks at crannies around.
She and Peter have already returned it to prize-winning status, achieving second place in the acreage garden section of the 2017 Chronicle garden competition.