Site 5 — Merric Boyd’s Open Country
8 Wahroongaa Crescent, Murrumbeena
The little cottage, Open Country, stood at 8 Wahroongaa Crescent as Merric Boyd’s home for over 50 years, from 1913 until 1964. Open Country was a simple weatherboard home which included two small bedrooms, a kitchen, pantry, bathroom and laundry. It also had a large central room, later known as the brown room. The brown room was used by Merric as a studio before becoming a family room. Open Country’s floor plan was square. The house stood in the middle of the block, just behind the front of the flats that are there today. It had a double-door way at the front with windows on either side. The ridge of the roof ran parallel with the Crescent with a gable at each end. Over time, the house was built on to. An annexe was added in the 1920s to accommodate Granny Gough in her later years and Arthur built on a little sleep-out at the rear of the house in the 1930s.
The garden ran wild. The grass was never cut. Mulberry trees grew in the front yard and were used by the Boyds and local children for their leaves to feed pet silkworms. Also in the front yard were wattles, a pine tree, a peppercorn tree, a large pear tree and a flowering gum, all behind an old wire fence. At the rear of the property were the ruins of Merric’s old pottery, which had burnt to the ground in 1926 when his gas kiln exploded. This event had a major impact on the Boyd’s finances and on Merric’s health. Before the fire, he had experienced much success with his pottery. He frequently appeared in newspapers, with articles promoting his pottery demonstrations at Open Country and in Melbourne, and describing him in one as being ‘the king of the Melbourne potters’. The fire, along with the oncoming Depression, caused the Boyd family a good deal of financial hardship in the late 1920s and beyond. Merric’s new pottery built in 1927 by local builders the Gilberts and smaller than the one he lost, stood between the rear of the house and the back fence, and allowed him to once again create pottery and generate an income.
Throughout the 1930s Merric continued to make and sell pottery. Through economic necessity, both he and Doris briefly worked at a porcelain factory in Yarraville. It was here that Merric produced what became known as cruffelware pottery — pottery made from porcelain — which gave it a smoother and more refined appearance. As the Boyd children got older, they all found work to generate an income for the family. Lucy worked as a nanny at Seymour for two years, while the boys were all employed by the Gilberts. Arthur also worked at a paint factory, Guy at a jewellers, and David at a nut and bolt factory. David held other jobs, including with a florist, a solicitor, a piano repairer and a photographer. During this time, they were experimenting with art and developing their skills. Their parents had always encouraged them to be creative. As children they played with clay, drew on the walls and even carved a dragon into the plaster of a bedroom, something that their parents approved of and encouraged them to do.
When the Second World War came, all three boys entered the Australian armed forces, while Lucy and Mary remained at Open Country. Lucy married potter Hatton Beck in 1939 and lived at Open Country, and in 1944 Mary married John Perceval. In the years that followed, almost to the end of Merric’s life, all of the Boyd children and their families lived at different times at Open Country, either in the old house or in other buildings constructed in their large back garden. Open Country was their family home and a place where they could settle, and which they could use as a platform to move forward in life whilst still supporting their parents.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s Merric’s health slowly declined and he pottered less while drawing more. He walked the streets of Murrumbeena and beyond to draw. Merric made thousands and thousands of drawings in his Spirax sketchbooks. He drew houses, people, shops, gum trees — anything that caught his eye — as well as memories from his early years.
By the end of the 1950s, Open Country was a run-down cottage with an overgrown garden, surrounded by the neat and proper houses of suburban Murrumbeena. A house in the country no longer, it was a remnant of a previous time. Its vigorous life had gone, replaced by stillness and quietness. Merric died there on 9 September 1959. Doris remained at Open Country and died there on 13June 1960. Lucy and Hatton, who had been living in Brisbane since 1947, returned to Open Country. They established a pottery school and successfully taught there and held exhibitions. In 1963, they left Open Country, and in early 1964, the house was sold to a development company. The house was then demolished and 16 units were built. This is what remains today at 8 Wahroongaa Crescent, Murrumbeena.
The Boyd Walk is proudly presented by Glen Eira City Council, produced by Matt Blackwood and written and narrated by Colin Smith.
For a downloadable map of all eight Boyd Walk sites, click on the link below:
Boyd Walk Murrumbeena Map(PDF, 1009KB)
Image: Open Country, Murrumbeena, c.1943, by Albert Tucker. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria.