You have to admire the early settlers who helped to establish the farming districts of Yass and Gunning during the mid 1800s. They simply arrived with all their possessions by horse and cart and a determination to carve a future for themselves out of the bush. For these early pioneering families the first priority was to put a solid roof over their heads.
To build a house from scratch from the trees around the chosen house site, with only a small armoury of tools, was no small feat. It required ingenuity and lots of hard work. Around our district large yellow box trees were in abundance. They were felled and shaped into sleepers for the slab walls. Stringy bark poles formed the roof trusses which most likely supported a thatched bark roof. A beaten earth floor was the norm. Honest, simple and strong, these early slab buildings project a powerful image of an old rural Australia that is rarely seen today.
Just outside of Jerrawa is a unique pioneering wooden slab settlement, built around 1860, called Wattle Valley. The last occupant of this unusual homestead was Elsie Offley. Elsie was from a well known early settler family and lived almost her entire life at Wattle Valley. No one really knows who constructed the original slab house and kitchen, but it once belonged to the Offley family for more than 100 years.
Wattle Valley homestead is tiny and compact. In between the house and kitchen is a small weather board guest cottage built around 1910. The little slab house contains just one bedroom, a living room and a very small bathroom. This dark space has a beaten earth floor and a small circular tin bath tub. Standing in what was once Elsie's living room was an experience. It's never seen an electric light, a flickering television screen or heard the ring of a telephone. The interior slab walls are thickly lined with layers of newspapers and wallpaper. Once upon a time this house had a taut hessian ceiling that was sealed with plaster and painted a glorious blue. These days the ceilings are collapsing under the weight of possums.
It was in the nearby slab kitchen that Elsie did her entertaining. Compared to the house the little kitchen is bright and breezy and has changed little from when it was first built around 160 years ago. Its worn wooden floor reminds me of a well trodden shearing shed floor. The only furniture in the room is a homemade kitchen table.
Elsie never married and was the last of her family to live at Wattle Valley. When she died in 1989 the settlement was abandoned and has remained so ever since. Not only is this little homestead a beautiful and honest example of early pioneering architecture it also reflects the hardiness, self reliance and the no nonsense attitude of our early local settlers.