National, state and municipal heritage significance all have different criteria and levels of protection. This is not what interests me. I have pondered for years, what makes a house historic and not just old?
Putting criteria and regulations aside, for me it comes down to two factors
- The house must embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, carrying materials of the time without major modifications
- The house has stories to tell
When we purchased No1 in 1987 we knew it was old but little of its history. A significant part of it’s appeal for us was the extent of its original structure. We were yet to learn of the stories it has and the magnet it has become in connecting descendants of the Boyer family and also more recently the Gibb family.
The cottage has had three significant owners over the last 165 years. Ben and Maryanne built the cottage in the early 1850’s and their family lived here for 3 generations. 1856 – 1921 65yrs
The Gibb family (no relation) purchased the cottage towards the end of WW II and moved in with 8 of their 13 children. 1944 – 1967 23yrs
We were passing through Port Fairy in 1987, came to the auction of the cottage out of curiosity and fell in love with it. We had an understanding of cottage accommodation and have been welcoming guests ever since. 1986 – present 35 yrs … so far
I believe these long relationships with the cottage have both contributed to it retaining its integrity and the passing on of its stories. Many Bowyer descendants have stayed here. Some have connected with previously unknown relatives through the cottage and others have reconnected with distant cousins they had lost contact with.
Through 2014 while doing some major maintenance I tracked down the youngest Gibb son (who happened to be living just up the street) realizing this was an opportunity I may not have for long. By chance, at the same time we came across several Gibb cousins who had fond memories of staying in the cottage as children. Again we were able to reconnect some who had lost touch.
Along the way we have collected stories and histories.
The cottage is the glue that holds all of this together.
Maintenance work often requires things to be pulled apart before they are put back together, and this has given us more insight into the original construction and also the way the cottage was lived in. It is wonderful to also have the stories that connect with that living and explain some of the questions we’ve had about the cottages structure.
Over the years we have seen photos of No 1 in numerous publications as an example of early Victorian/Australian houses but this is not, to me, what makes it historic.