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Artist’s notebook reveals what Sydney’s real estate market was like a century ago

 A small notebook unearthed at Mittagong rubbish tip, in the NSW Southern Highlands, and detailing a Sydney couple’s real estate adventures is charming readers more than a century on.Outwardly grubby and missing its cover, the notebook was donated to the State Library of NSW in 1984.It sat among the bulging manuscript stacks in the library for decades until curator Margot Riley and a colleague stumbled across the rare gem while preparing for an event.

“I typed into the catalogue ‘house construction’ and up popped this record about a notebook,” Ms Riley, who wrote a blog post about the notebook earlier this week, said.”We had never looked at it or seen it. The library has hundreds of thousands of pages of manuscripts and negatives.”We ran downstairs to stack and there was this small blue box. We opened it up and inside – wrapped carefully in tissue – was this little book.”It’s very unusual, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it before.”

The notebook belonged to Carl Moore, an artist, and features colourful sketches of the home he and his wife Gertrude were planning to build.It was 1913 – long before the days of Domain and the government’s $25,000 new HomeBuilder grant – but the couple still knew how to snare a bargain.The couple purchased a subdivided piece of land in Hurstville for just under £100 on the corner of Belmore Road and Stanley Street (now King Georges Road and Australia Street).

In what would have been unusual for the time, Mrs Moore contributed £40 to the cost of the land.In the notebook, Mr Moore meticulously sets out all the details of the transaction, even down to his trip to the bank and the serial numbers of the banknotes used to seal the deal.In an entry on January 25, Mr Moore includes a sketch of the couple’s planned home, alongside the possible inclusions and how much they would cost.For £180 pounds the couple could have their home without a verandah and also minus any internal doors and lining; for £260 they could have the lot.

But Ms Riley said it was the personal nature of the journal that made it so relatable.”It talks about them going for wildlflower walks. They take their thermoses and deck chairs and they sit there and imagine what the house will be like when it is finished.”They get to know the area and their neighbours and start to plant a garden and all of those things that people can relate to.”The couple’s one-storey brick home is still standing today, with some adjustments, Ms Riley said.”You can see on Google Streetview it’s still there and still the same house. The only thing is they have bricked in the front verandah,” she said.

With additional research and the help of the library’s followers on social media, Ms Riley said some facts about the couple’s future life had been pieced together.The couple went on to have what appeared to be their only child, a daughter named Marie Gertrude, in 1918.Mr Moore is thought to have died in Carlton in 1951, while his wife passed away 13 years later at the age of 80.Ms Riley said the library was yet to hear from any descendants of the Moore family who might be able to shed some light on how the notebook came to be left at Mittagong tip.


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