HOUSES OF IPSWICH: ROCKTON
IT is one of the most iconic homes in Ipswich, and chances are you’ve driven past it hundreds of times.
Just a stone’s throw from the Fiveways intersection sits Rockton, a home that represents a part of Ipswich history that links it to several historic homes in the Newtown area, plus a family connection that this year represents 100 years of ownership by the one family.
Ipswich in 1855, as you can imagine, was vastly different to the city we know today. It was a small town, with not many places to live. William Craies was commuting between Ipswich and Brisbane, being the manager of the Bank of New South Wales for both towns. Finding the commute stressful (you only imagine how long it took by horse), he left the bank and decided to work full time in Ipswich as a partner with the merchant Walter Gray & Company.
Craies wanted to bring his young family to Ipswich from Brisbane, and after acquiring seven and a half acres of land, he set about building a three-roomed cottage which still stands today.
Within a year, the cottage was extended by builder William Hancock, and Craies sold the house in 1862 after seven years of ownership due to financial difficulties associated with the collapse of the business
After another sale, the house was taken over by the Bullmore family, who extended the house again. The family had five daughters who all later attended Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School and in 1892 the house was extended again.
The Bullmores were living at Rockton by 1877, when their eldest daughter Grace was born. It is unknown when they actually bought Rockton, but it is believed to be well before the date of 1882, which appeared on the title deed in Sydney, more than 100 miles away.
Tragically, the Bullmores had two older sons who drowned aged 12 and 10 in a boating accident in Scarborough. The family grew, with one surviving son and five daughters. One daughter, Gretel, married
Sir Frank Packer after whom his America’s Cup yacht was named.
Then in 1918, exactly a century ago, the property was purchased by Will and Laura Haenke. The house by this stage was in a bad state and the selloff of the land had meant the property had shrunk somewhat.
Fortunately, Will Haenke was an architect, resulting in the moving of the kitchen, changes to the verandas and in the 1930s adding new doorways and bay windows. The swimming pool was added in 1953, and over time the property continued to shrink as demand for the surrounding land so close to the CBD made the site an ideal location.
Today, the home sits on 1.75 acres (7082sq m) and is surrounded by many homes that also probably have a story to tell.
The house is occupied by Wybe and Angela Geertsma, and the couple relish the fact they live in a home with such history.
Angela’s grandparents, the Willis family, began living at Rockton in 1944-45 and her father inherited it after his parents’ deaths, and it is a home that Angela has grown up in. To her, it is more than a house. It represents her family.
“My father inherited it and began living here towards the end of World War II. During that time my aunt also moved in with her two children.
“I love the heritage buildings in Ipswich, the old stonework in and around Queens Park and Cunningham’s Knoll, along with the trees.
“When people started buying the old houses of Ipswich around the 1970s, they retained the style. Now these homes are being snapped up again.”
As you walk through Rockton, you can feel the history. You can see it has been expanded several times, with the old cottage clearly the showpiece.
As you climb the stairs to the roof, a trapdoor reveals something special, a so-called widow’s walk on the roof that allows you to see right across Ipswich and gives a perfect view of the Brisbane skyline.
A widow’s walk is generally a small, fenced area on the roof where a wife could watch out for the return of her husband’s ships. Sometimes the ships would come back and other times not at all, resulting in the ‘widows’ who would walk there in despair.
“My father was an industrial chemist and was seconded to the munitions factory in Melbourne and then to Adelaide during WWII,” Angela continued. “He wanted to join the army, but they wanted him for his skills as a chemist. He made one important invention there.”
The couple had two children and now have three young grandchildren, which means when they come to visit, it is something special.
“To see our grandchildren running around a garden like this, I love it,” Angela said.
“They come over and love to explore the garden, especially the strawberries. The branches of the trees are a favourite. In summer they love the pool, of course. When I was young we used to play all sorts of games in this garden, the neighbours too, plus some cousins … wonderful memories.
“I had family around me all the time growing up. My favourite memories are cooking lunch on Saturday, each with an open fire surrounded by big limestone rocks. Some seasons we would have lots of spiders in the trees and we’d get them out with bamboo sticks. Climbing the trees was fun too, all those things.”
Wybe said the house had taken up much of their time through the years, but that was part and parcel of living in an historic home.
“We’re used to working on the house,” he said. “Not only painting but the maintenance, and we think we are at a stage now where things are manageable. In many ways, Rockton is like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Once you’re finished, you then start again.”
Older homes in the colonial style are being snapped up in Ipswich, with one in Sadliers Crossing recently being sold within 24 hours of hitting the market.
Angela has some advice for anyone considering one of the older-style homes.
“To anyone thinking of buying an older home, I’d say do some courses in carpentry and woodwork and take an interest in old furniture and upholstery.
“At Rockton, we’ve always tried to retain the view of the house, as we inherited it together with many antiques and furniture. My parents and grandparents would go to auctions on their vacations in Sydney or Melbourne.
“You need to realise that the older furniture during the war years was cheaper and new furniture was just too dear. I’m still sorting through items to this day, including glassware, tables, books, chairs and collectables.”
One thing that everyone who owns an older home will tell you, is that they are amazingly cool in the warmer months, designed to catch the breeze no matter from which direction it comes.
“The house remains cool all year. I don’t like housework, who does? But I’m happy to do the gardening.”
The 100 years the family has had the house looks set to continue, with Angela and Wybe’s son William telling his parents that one day he too would like to live at Rockton.
Watch this space Ipswich, Rockton’s history is going to go on for quite a while yet.
TRANQUIL PAST: One of many peaceful spots at heritage home Rockton. The internal stairs that lead up to the widow’s walk.
Mementos of the past at Rockton, while (top) the original cottage still remains the heart of the home.