Our House: Living in the ’70s

Our house is a very, very, very fine house

With two cats in the yard

Life used to be so hard

Now everything is easy ‘cause of you

Graham Nash  (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) 1970

1973-1974 – House and land prices were rising at a phenomenal rate. Leo and Joanne would look at blocks of land, decide they liked one, only to find it was sold and the one next door had almost doubled in a matter of weeks. They had to move fast. Leo was keen on Mt Warrigal where the land had views over Lake Illawarra and the beaches to the east.

They were able to borrow enough money to become the proud owners of a steep block of land in Cuthbert Drive.  Sitting in the long grass where their house was to be they imagined the view from their balcony.  To the east they could see waves crashing on the white sand. To the north  the sun was shining on the placid waters of Lake Illawarra, and to the west was the escarpment, looming over the Illawarra with its rugged outline silhouetted against the sky.

All that remained was to choose a house plan.  Every weekend was spent visiting show homes in north-western Sydney.  They finally narrowed it down to a split-level house designed by Pettit and Sevitt.  Suitable for a sloping block, it was designed on three levels.  On the ground floor was a lounge room, a study and double garage.  Up a few stairs and the kitchen, dining room and family room faced the back yard.  Up some more stairs and the three bedrooms with two bathrooms faced the front.  Joanne imagined waking up each morning and looking out at that view.

Dream home by Pettit and Sevitt

One slight problem was the matter of finance.  On their first visit to a bank they were dismissed almost immediately as having insufficient funds to service a loan.  Joanne’s income wasn’t even counted as she would be having babies and giving up work.

Leo was most put out and declared he would be banking elsewhere in future and moving all his money out this very day.  The bank manager was probably not concerned with the loss of an account that dwindled to nearly zero once a fortnight.

The National Bank was more accommodating.  They would loan them the full amount, with a variable interest rate of 10.38%.  

They were all set to go.  What could go wrong? Everything, it seemed.  Pettit and Sevitt had severed all ties with the Illawarra because of problems with building contractors. Not to be daunted the couple redesigned the house, moving the living area upstairs and the bedrooms below.  They then found a draftsman to draw up the plans and presented them to a builder for a quote.

The quote came in at twice the cost of the Pettit and Sevitt home.  They found most builders wouldn’t even bother giving them a quote.  They just shook their heads and said it would cost too much.

It was time for a rethink. Leo had started a University degree which involved attending lectures several afternoons a week after school.  Maybe they could sell their land and buy a block near the University? Then they could build a house (not their dream home, but a cheaper, locally built project home) which would get them started.

That is precisely what they did. In May of 1975 they turned the key of their brand new home, exactly three years after their wedding.

Building a house

It was designed by a local building company called Radnor, but Leo and Joanne introduced many of the ideas they had picked up from the Sydney show homes.  They replaced the windows in the living area and front bedrooms with floor to ceiling glass doors, they squeezed an ensuite beside the master bedroom, they chose colourful benchtops, lime green in the kitchen and orange in the bathroom, cork tiles for the kitchen floor and a luxurious synthetic shag pile through the rest of the house.  Marimekko curtains in red, black and white added a vivid burst of colour while the various shades of green in the dining room curtain matched the kitchen benchtops. A Tessa dralon velvet lounge, glass coffee table and the silky oak round table and chairs completed the furnishings.

Of course this didn’t happen all at once.  Sheets were pinned up on the windows until Joanne got around to sewing the curtains and making fabric blinds.  A borrowed cast-off lounge sufficed until the new one could be purchased.  A new cat arrived.  Selina was a Siamese with magnificent blue eyes, dark coloured points and creamy coloured fur.  Despite her beauty she had a quirky nature like her predecessor.

It may not have been the house of their dreams but it was a place where dreams were made.

15 thoughts on “Our House: Living in the ’70s

  1. This definitely takes me back in time. I was a great fan of Marimekko. A pity about the Pettit and Sevitt house and the views. Relatively speaking Joanne and Leo got themselves sorted reasonably quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had a good chuckle about the colours…so familiar from the 70s. Joanne and Leo did very well to get a home in three years. Good plug for the NAB…my experience was the same, they recognised the woman’s salary too. And in those days the bank wouldn’t give you a clue in advance of what your borrowing capacity. Some things have changed for the better. And Marimekko seems to be around again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story, Linda. I’ve really been enjoying your series, and had been keeping up. However, I got distracted into a gripping book by Australian author and firm director and scriptwriter, Mark Lamprell. It’s called “The Secret Wife” and it’s the story of two female friends through the 60’s. Here’s a link to my review: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/04/23/midnight-with-the-secret-wife/
    I found a couple of great articles about women and work in the 60’s too, which I’d meant to post by now, but life got in the way. So stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve reserved The Secret Wife on BorrowBox so it will be available on 21st May which is the day before my sons 40th birthday. We will be in Canberra, where he lives, in our caravan but the wonderful thing about modern times is it will appear on my iPad. I look forward to reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s great, Linda. I look forward to discussing it with you. I’ve been reading quite a few stories about women and work in the 1960’s and will be posting them. Just fascinating.

        Liked by 1 person

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