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The Spooky House

Posted Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I’ve always loved houses that look like they could be just a little bit haunted. I love old Victorian mansions with tiny windows and turrets, and nearly wept bitter jealous tears over the one in Practical Magic. I like dilapidated Federation houses surrounded by tangled gardens that make you think a crazy person could live there.

I even like new houses that look old and creepy. There’s a great house near my parents’ place that you just KNOW the owners had fun building – it looks like a castle with towers, the garden is filled with topiary in big pink pots and the wrought iron gates look like spider webs with big spiders in them. Okay, so that one just sounds funny, but I swear at night-time it gets its spook on! I’ve always loved the idea of living in a house that sends just a little bit of a shiver up your spine.

So when I first saw photos of 1886-built Trevorick House in Penguin, Tasmania, I was entranced. I was definitely not the first. Owners Janet and Brad Mears have loved the house since they were children growing up in this small seaside village, and finally made the house their own 12 years ago.

Built high on a knoll in 1886 for a local carrier, the two-storey Gothic revival style house has become a landmark in Penguin, a quaint seaside town named for the penguins that nest on its beaches.

Tourists stop to photograph the house, children tell ghost stories. In the introduction to her book Trevorick House, author Ann Keesing writes, “As my part in writing this book was to research and compile factual information, I did not include the ghost of the lady in grey, the hanging from the external stairwell, blood on the stairs or any other tales associated with the “Spooky House!”

TREVORICK HOUSE TODAY: “The house has quickly accumulated memories for us and become a true family home,” says Brad. “There is always room for friends and family to come and stay.”

BEFORE: The house in the 80s, when it was rented out for periods before being purchased by a family in 1992, who made it their much-loved family home.

ABOVE: Trevorick House when it was built and the area used for farming - Penguin the town was started in 1875. The house is the third from the right.

WAY BACK WHEN: Why are black and white photos so enchanting? A town cricket match with a team of Victorian ladies in Penguin, 1907. Trevorick House is on the right.

ABOVE: The house is just moments from the beach's edge.

ABOVE: Trevorick House is 250m from the shore. “I think what I miss the most about Penguin is lying in bed with the sea breeze blowing across the room and the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks," says Janet of the house. "It was home.”

KITCHEN: “We painted the kitchen and replaced the rotting chipboard benchtop with recycled blackwood floorboards and new sink,” says Janet. “The gas stove was in such bad condition that it was dangerous, I think it had been on fire as all the knobs were melted. We replaced it with a 90cm wide stainless steel gas/electric range and hood. A new double sink and stainless steel dishwasher were also installed.”

KITCHEN WINDOW: The house has lovely views across the ocean. “I liked waking up to the view of the sun coming up over the water,” says Janet.

THE TOWN OF PENGUIN: At first I thought Penguin sounded like a made-up town name, but the quirky Tasmanian seaside town is definitely a real place! Named for the adorable penguins that nest on the beach, the town celebrated its centenary in 1975 with this giant 10-foot tall penguin statue. The town celebrates all thing penguini – penguin rubbish bins are one of the town’s many themed features.

THE MEARS FAMILY: “We have a lot of fond memories of living in Trevorick House, but the house comes alive when it is filled with the laughter of children,” says Janet.

Like many kids who grew up in Penguin, Brad and his friends thought the house looked haunted and over the years it earned a bit of a neighbourhood nickname as ‘the spooky house’. Janet says until 1990 the local primary school was situated diagonally across the road, with the house high on a knoll overlooking the boys’ playground area. “I am guessing that it was the boys with their vivid imaginations who nicknamed the house!” she laughs. “When I told my eldest son that we were going to buy the house he said, “Not the spooky house?”

But for the Mears family, "the spooky house" became their comfortable, warm, inviting and well-loved family home. “When we first moved into Trevorick House a few people told us that it was haunted, but we always felt safe there, I never once felt it was spooky,” laughs Janet. “I have always loved old houses and there are not many in Penguin that really catch the eye like this one. I had a childhood fascination with just about every old house that I came across and always dreamed of owning an old weatherboard house with a veranda of my own one day. Never thought it would happen though!”

Janet says they weren’t looking for a house at the time, but they saw a For Sale sign out the front in 2000 and went to just look. “As soon as we looked through we just knew that it was our new home,” says Janet. 

But the house needed a lot of work. “The house was in quite poor condition and a lot of problems had been covered up,” says Janet. 

GREEN GABLES: The house in 2000, when the Mears bought it. In the 80s the house earned the nickname Green Gables by a couple called the O’Briens and the name stuck for a while. The Mears reinstated its original name with this sign below. Trevorick House’s previous owners included a man called John Owens, who bought the house in 1972 for less than $3,000. Now the house is on the market for $349,000 – and that’s below its market value! Mr Owens sold the house to his daughter Linda and his son-in-law Philip two years later. They lived upstairs while they renovated the lower floor, with one of their discoveries a Christmas tree stuffed up the chimney in the rear sitting room. Linda, and visitors who stayed, believed the house was haunted – by a little fluffy dog!

TREVORICK HOUSE IN THE 1920s: As Ms Keesing outlined in her book, there were only three lamp lights in the main street, with the gas supplied by the Methodist church, until the electricity in Penguin was switched on in 1925.

BEFORE - A NEAR BUY: The house in the 70s – around the time Brad’s parents actually almost bought the house themselves in 1972. But they were deterred by the fact that it was very rundown – even back then it needed a lot of work. “Brad and some of his childhood friends thought it was spooky, they thought it looked like a haunted house you find in stories,” laughs Janet.

FRONT: The house today. The Mears had it completely repainted professionally. The interiors were repainted too. “Most rooms and the hallway were completely painted out in neutral shades to replace bright pinks and greens,” says Janet.

GARDENS: The Mears excavated a tree-lined bank at the back of the house to allow sunlight into the back rooms and to create a lawn area, water feature as well as a large garage and water tank.

GARDEN DISCOVERIES: Bottles Janet and her father Greyham uncovered from just one small trench while redoing the back garden.When I was a teenager I remember digging up old horseshoes at a family friend's garden while they were renovating. Each one felt like an exciting discovery to me. While renovating her gardens, Janet discovered the old rubbish hole for the school and school house and dug up a lot of old bottles and inkwells. “I have given some to Penguin Primary School and also some to the Penguin History Group,” she says. Others are displayed in the dollhouse her father Greyham made her. Brad likes to tease her about her love for old things. “One day Janet and her father turned the simple task of weeding a patch at the top of the drive into a major archaeological dig,” he said. “They managed to uncover a vast collection of ‘treasures’… I vividly remember my suggestion of needing a larger wheelie bin was not well-received!”

ABOVE LEFT: “One of the most interesting things I found while redoing the gardens was this medallion that commemorates the coronation of King Edward VII,” says Janet. ABOVE RIGHT: The dollhouse her father made for her holds old treasures found in the gardens of the house and had pride of place in the library.

FRONT YARD BEFORE: The front garden when the Mears moved in.

THE FRONT GARDEN AFTER: The original house was next door to the town’s old school house. “We discovered the foundation stones, front path and steps of the original school house, which once stood where the shed/cottage now stands, and we incorporated them into the front garden,” says Janet.

THE FRONT GARDEN: Janet's grandson Josh playing in the front yard.

Rotting studs and disintegrating joists and floorboards were a few issues the Mears fixed – they also added a laundry, a garage, a garden water feature, turned a former schoolhouse in the garden into a self-contained cottage, completely re-landscaped the gardens and upgraded the old kitchen, amongst other things, and lived there happily for years. Their son Jake grew up in the house, and the Mears frequently hosted Christmas, with family and friends coming to stay.

As a kid, Brad remembers going with his dad and granddad to look at buying Trevorick House in 1972, decades after the house had been purchased by the government and used as a maternity home.

“It was in quite poor condition,” says Brad. “I recall Pop telling my dad to take a second look at the other place.” He ended up buying ‘the other place’ - an even older house down the road called Watcombe House. “28 years later, I remember Janet being quite surprised when I agreed to buy ‘her’ house!” says Brad. “I guess it had something to do with my childhood at Watcombe… I’m not particularly interested in the history of a place, or who lived there – unlike some,” he adds, laughing, “but there is definitely some sort of connection, as if it was built for us to come along some 120 years later.”

THE MINI TREVORICK HOUSE: Janet’s father Greyham Targett, pictured here, made Janet and Brad this beautiful dollhouse, an exact replica of Trevorick House, and he and Janet’s mum Elaine helped with the home and garden renovations too. “Greyham is one of those blokes who can build or fix anything and make it look damn easy!” says Brad.

ABOVE: The home's original hallway after painting. The Mears tried to keep everything as traditional and original as possible.

ABOVE: Internally, the Mears installed new floorboards to parts of the home and replaced old VJ lining with 100-year-old Baltic pine dado in the lounge. They also created a library area here with built-in bookcases.

ABOVE: The house being repainted.


THE HOUSE ON THE KNOLL: The house sits opposite Penguin’s popular fortnightly markets and used to sit across from the old school grounds, where Janet guesses it first got its nickname as the spooky house.

While they had planned to live in Trevorick House for the rest of their lives, the family's circumstances changed and recently Brad and Janet moved to Queensland for Brad’s work. Now their beloved house is on the market, waiting for another family to move in and continue to make it a perfect home (you can see the listing here). “We feel very privileged to have been able to live for a short time in this beautiful old house,” says Brad.

Janet says Penguin is a lovely small town community and loves the house’s beachside location. “Brad and Jake enjoy surfing and I love beachcombing,” she said. “I think what I miss the most about Penguin is lying in bed with the sea breeze blowing across the room and the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. It was home!”

Brad says he looks forward to the day when another family will fall in love with Trevorick House and make it their home. “As a child, like many of my friends, I could not imagine living in the spooky house!” he laughs. “Now it feels more like home than any other place has. It is with huge regret and sadness that we have had to leave Trevorick House but it now stands ready and waiting for the next exciting chapter of its life.”


Trevorick House today.


Janet and Brad Mears


Trevorick House, a 126 year old Gothic revival style weatherboard house in the heart of the seaside village of Penguin


Penguin, Tasmania




Sea views, veranda, library, four bedrooms, study, old schoolhouse turned into a self-contained garden cottage, 3858sqm of landscaped gardens, orchard, period details, dado paneling, blackwood floorboards, wood shed
Trevorick House is on the market with Andrea Dyson of Elders, (03) 6425 2722 or 0422 191 489

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