the springs on swan lake cottages

Just below Sydney on the south coast

Sometimes it happens in life that, without even looking, opportunities unfold right before our eyes.  And such was our path when we came across this little patch of property for sale one day in February 2011  - Holiday Accommodation just below Sydney on the south coast - 30 minutes from St Georges Basin and Jervis Bay.

The advertisement had read ‘Set on an attractive free-hold parcel of land covering almost ten acres, by the shores of Swan Lake, with six 1950’s cottages, a mudbrick studio and separate home’.   

It was February, warm with a clear blue sky when my husband Alan and I set off to attend the final open house.  We chose the scenic route drive and arrived at the lake as two black swans glided by.  Over a small culvert crossing we came upon an absolute idyllic setting...  Nestled in a little cluster, was not one but six charming cottages full of character and fresh out of the 1950's era as depicted in the photo beside.  Further on, past the cottages, we discovered a rustic mud-brick retreat and a separate modest manager's cottage with street frontage.  From the minute we arrived we were captivated by the tranquility. We knew we had found our special place - a 'Had to Have' which would mean another mortgage to purchase this little jewel but this wasnt the time to get bogged down with the harsh realities of life. And Swan Lake beside the cottages was equally a dream in itself - a short stroll from the cottages with sandy shores and glistening briny waters that invite you in.  This large brackish coastal lake is really a safe place to swim and we were excited to discover it had no sharks or scary creatures. For most of the time it remains closed to the sea by a sand bar and only breaks open and connects to the ocean intermittently before closing up again. What's more, if you look at an aerial view of Swan Lake, its actually in the shape of a heart!  

We immediately recognised that this was the setting for a unique holiday experience, where a group of people could come away together but also escape to their own cottage if they needed a little peace, quiet and sanctuary - close enough to drive from Sydney or Canberra.  

For me, this was the closest I had ever come to finding a little slice of New Zealand in Australia.  Drenched in nostalgia having left my home country at the age of 18, the day of the open house had me standing amongst the little cottages in their idyllic setting and being catapulted back to a time and place in my life where summer holidays were made in modest kiwi baches often scattered on long stretches of sandy beach or nestled on sections nearby. The simple pleasure of enjoying a relaxing bach holiday (pronounced 'batch') is part of the DNA of most Kiwis from my era.

Let me explain the quintessential Kiwi bach holiday tradition:-

Long hazy beachside days with the whirring buzzing sound of cicadas singing in the background. The smell of Coppertone Tanning Oil and vinegar permeating the air during the day and the sweet scent of flowering 'Queen of the Night' competing with delicious BBQ aromas in the warm balmy evenings. Long scorching days, flaking peeling noses, towels hanging on porch rails waving gently in the wind, waves lapping the sandy shores, shorts and sandy jandals, sleeping bodies on sun-lounges, magazines, papers and books spread across towels, hokey pokey icecreams and healthy sunburnt faces (well we thought they cancer hadn't really entered our realm!).  Nights were spent under a blanket of sparkling stars while we strolled past other baches with our soft torch light guiding the way as we listened to the lives inside. Laughter could often be heard as those inside played cards or indoor games and the low muted sound of a radio would sometimes play in the background. The creaking of the hinges of a flyscreen door opening and banging shut was another familiar summer sound but the constant was always the sound of the breaking of waves on the shore. Sometimes at night we sat and listened to the strumming of a single ukulele, harmonica or acoustic guitar and in the 1960s nearly everyone who could play guitar would know the song 'Ten Guitars' as people staying in baches or camping in tents gathered together for a sing-along. 

The summer bach experience was the hallmark of the annual Kiwi holiday where most people got away from their day to day for a week or two to enjoy a simple relaxing holiday by the sea. 

Back to the Here and Now and 'My Dream Home Away from Home' where Australia meets New Zealand.

It has been five years now and  over that time we embarked on what began as some small changes, mostly a great big spring clean, which worked its way into a major renovation.  At all times we focused on preserving the charm and innocence of the little cottages but we also knew that, in this day and age, holiday makers like a bit more comfort....but not enough to change, in essence what they are, – innocent, quaint and filled to the brim with charm and character.  

A whole new world has unfolded for me.  For one thing I've learned much about 1950s which reflected a period of great attention to both design and durability. Decor was cheery, fresh and fun with the emphasis on comfort and leisure which was completely suited to beachside holiday simplicity.  I soon became immersed in gay fabrics with rich bold fruits, flowers and abstract atomic designs and fun colourful prints. The furniture ranged from functional and stylish to comfortable uphostered traditional types. Light- coloured Scandinavian timbers with their clean lines were very popular in the 1950s. I was inspired by space age, atomic, organic and rounded geometric shapes, chrome, vinyl, formica, linoleum and don’t let me get started on colours – the 50’s paint colours were available in any possible hue. 

This journey of The Springs on Swan Lake has drawn me to every possible corner of the world that displays the words – vintage, retro, mid century, 1950’s…. and along the way I've met some amazing people and heard their incredible stories. Charity shops have had their entrances paved by my frequent visits as have auction houses, boutique vintage shops and market places in a bid to source treasures from that era. A visit to New York a couple of years ago with my daughters provided a treasure trove of vibrant retro hangouts and specialty shops for home decorations where we were awash with creative ideas.  The thrashing of my wallet on ebay purchases should have had my credit cards suffering RSI but I can honestly say it has all been such a lot of fun.  There is nothing quite like finding that sought after item or finding something you weren't even looking for but knowing just the spot to put it.

For the most part though, I have weaved in and out of the lives of so many people and I place enormous value on these encounters. Its an incredible feeling to share a moment with a person destined, say, for a nursing home who hands you a treasure they have held for much of their lives - its a special honour.  Some of the stories I have heard will stay etched in my heart forever, some have had me lying in bed giggling aloud as I remember and, of course, some have welled my eyes with tears.  There are many storeis behind the treasures I have collected that, if I had the time, I could write a book.

Our latest feature in Frankie Magazine has prompted some good enquiry and someone suggested I update my blog so here I am with my first entry about our beautiful 1950s holiday cottages named The Springs on Swan Lake where happy holidays are made in a place untouched by time.