Our Berta’s Corner

As Rocky Point Road continues on to the bridge over the Georges River, a side road leads off to the left, following the shoreline of the bay, into the suburb of Sans Souci. Red-brick apartment buildings give way to vacant lots with sandy soil showing through underneath the grass. Then a row of houses begins in the contemporary mansion/fortress style, monoliths painted grey or beige.

A few blocks along, on a corner, there’s a different kind of house, one that stands out in a blaze of colour. The roof of the fibro cottage here has the tiles painted yellow, blue and green, so it looks like a patchwork or a crochet blanket. It’s bright as a toy among the serious houses that surround it.

This house has long been a San Souci landmark. Local news reports have told the story of its colourful roof, painted by John Hall as a tribute to his wife Berta, who died in 1997. The tiles, he said, could “be seen from heaven so Berta can look down and see how much I love her”.

Over the last few weeks, the house and this story have been in the news again, for now John has passed away and the house is for sale. A placard for the auction is pegged into the ground out the front, beside the letterbox and the sign with the hand-painted legend, “Our Berta’s Corner”, at the corner of the fence. The house is vacant, empty, its curtains pulled back from the windows. An open eye, it watches over the flat waters of the bay.

The notice for the auction stops people in their tracks. Walkers on the path pause to read it. Drivers slow their cars as they pass by. The impending sale has made the house an available place for people to sow their dreams. I look past the real estate sign to the geraniums and agapanthus planted in the garden, to the lucky horseshoe nailed to the carport, and the wooden weathervane on top of the backyard granny-flat, in the shape of a duck, the house number, 22, painted on its tail. Even without knowing the story of John and Berta Hall, its details are of a house that has been lived in with love.

I turn my attention back to the real estate sign, which has as its image an aerial photograph of the corner, with a red rectangle drawn around the lot, to show potential purchasers the size of the land. The effect is surely unintended, but it also shows what John Hall had for decades imagined, his Berta looking down from above, seeing the patchwork roof, and knowing that she was loved and remembered.


Thanks to Andrew C. for sending the link to the newspaper story.

12 Comments on “Our Berta’s Corner”

  1. Phillip Leeds says:

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone bought it, did it up and kept the painted roof. Can’t see it happening, sad to say.

  2. Suzy King Artist says:

    That’s a sad story. If so were a writer it would be great inspiration for s novel. That house once filled with people and life and love. Thanks so much for sharing Vanessa. I should get down there, maybe some paintings? I had relatives in Bankstown as a kid, it was almost farmland there then. Fibro cottages side by side ainted in pastels. Now it’s unrecognisable. Cheers Suzy

    From Suzy by iPhone 0414 55 2077 http://www.suzyking.com @suzykingartist studio@suzyking.com


    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Suzy – yes Sans Souci would have some interesting places to paint, it’s an architectural mix, a lot of new mansions, but also this 1950s/60s era cottages are still around, and there are some art deco buildings too – the old Sans Souci baths on the western side of the bridge…

  3. Robyn says:

    I remember that place as a child. A bit further on is the Site of the old Mick Moylans Pub. The Pub disappeared around 30 years ago. The site is now a walled community of town houses.

    I remember sunday drives there as a child pressing my nose against the glass of the function area to watch the lady singing. She was wearing a red sequinned fish tail dress. I thought she was the epitomy of style.

  4. Colin Bisset says:

    Such a sweet story, and excellent to document it.

  5. jim says:

    Wow ..another great post Vanessa, wouldn*t have have had any knowledge of the events otherwise. I opened the links to the local papers , a very touching story . Must admit I got a bit emotional , a dedication and expression of great love. Thankyou again for documenting .

  6. Rose says:

    So sweet it made me cry. It must be worth a fortune. I hope it is going to their descendants.

  7. sallykj says:

    Thanks Vanessa for this insight into a great love. There are a a few bright-tiled brick (veneer?) homes near us at Russell Lea, but I think coloured tiles were manufactured for a while, so I suspect these are not painted. (correct me if I’m wrong).
    It would be wonderful if the local council could at least officially name the corner after Berta ( or both of them) even if the house goes.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      That’s a good idea Sally!
      I think that’s right about the tiles, there was a style that used contrasting colours – I don’t know about them, but do recall seeing them around – but not handpainted like these.

  8. Graeme says:

    At least once a week I leave the car in the parking bay directly opposite this house and cycle to Kyeemagh or in warmer weather to one of the bay pools for a swim. I was always going to ask the owner about the tiles, but never saw anyone there. Good to know the story.

    I don’t think I ever swam at the old Sans Souci baths, but do remember being taken to the chlorinated pool just after it opened in ’65. Don’t recall being on the Taren Point ferry prior to the bridge opening in ’62. My father probably avoided it when we went to Cronulla. I have better memories later of Mick Moylans as it was the ‘in’ place to go on a Sunday afternoon for 18 to 20 year olds.

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