Historic home under the hammer
THE house believed to have provided the inspiration for paintings by two of Australia’s so-called “escape artists” will go under the hammer this month.
The subject of paintings by Donald Friend and Margaret Olley, the Edmonton home on Byers St, has been in the hands of Cairns couple Sandy and Brad Astill for the past 19 years.
Coincidently, Friend’s painting of the cottage, the Canefarmer’s house, is on show at the Cairns Regional Gallery as part of the Donald Friend: Far
North Queensland exhibition, on display until September 20.
Friend and Olley were both part of “Escape artists of the North” – a term to describe a small groups of artists who sought inspiration by heading to the wilder parts of the northern of Australia.
Friend was a regular visitor to the Far North, making 10 trips between 1932 and 1955.
The first of these was as a teenager during which time he made enduring connections and friendships with the Torres Strait Islander community.
He again visited during the war years, and later returned with Olley, to complete a commission for The Courier
Mail newspaper. It was during this time that Friend painted the Canefarmer’s house, and it is believed Olley sat next to him painting the same scene.
An image of the Canefarmer’s house was used in posters by the gallery to advertise the exhibition, which brought it to the attention of the Astills.
“On Monday we were having a coffee at Petit Cafe; out the back is a beer garden, and the poster is on the wall near a table for two, that’s when Brad recognised it straight away,” Mrs Astill said.
“Brad said: ‘Hey love turn your head to the left’, and there was our house.”
Mrs Astill said she was aware of Friend’s painting, but had never seen it. She said she first became aware of the home’s artistic importance about 15 years ago while attending a Rotary talk.
“I was a member of Cairns Mulgrave Club at the time and we had a lady come in and talk about an upcoming exhibition at the regional gallery called the
“She had a book and was showing images of the paintings in the exhibition.
“There was a Margaret Olley painting of our house.”
Mrs Astill later learned Friend had also painted the same house, that the two artists had sat beside each other.
“It's two artists’ impressions of the same house.”
The home has been renovated since 1954, when it was captured by Friend and Olley.
Mrs Astill said the previous owners had built the front veranda, but under it are the original concrete steps, which are shown prominently in both paintings.
On Thursday the Astills headed into town to view the exhibition of Friend’s work.
Mrs Astill said she was sad to sell the home, but they were moving to Brisbane for family reasons.
“I am so sad to go, my children (three daughters) all grew up here,” Mrs Astill said.
“It has been a wonderful family home and has given us so many beautiful memories.
“We even have growth chart on the wall and when the house was repainted, I wouldn’t let Brad paint over it; it’s still there.”
Mrs Astill said as well as its artistic significance, the property has historical value.
“I hope whoever buys it appreciates the traditional values, historical significant and importance of keeping the building,” she said.
“There is some true local history here.”
She said that building was used by pioneers.
“It used to be the old Cobb and Co station, they used to change the horses here,” she said.
“The home was originally built in Charters Towers in late 1800s, it was dismantled and brought up here by horse and cart in early 1900s and reassembled.
“It was also the old barramundi farm in the 1970s, a lot of locals will probably remember it from that.
“It is a lovely old study home, it has a lot of character.”
The property at 5 Byers St, Edmonton will be auctioned by David Forrest, managing director of First National Real Estate – Cairns Central & Cairns Beaches, on-site on August 29, at 11am.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE: Brad and Sandy Astill in front of their Edmonton cottage, the subject of the painting Canefarmer’s house (left) by Donald Friend, which is on display at the Cairns Regional Gallery courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.