Menkens special full of Novocastrian history

By Alex Morris

"It's got such an amazing depth of history to it," says Josh Markulin of the historic home he lives in with his wife Erina Finau and their son Lucas.

Since 2019 the young family have been renting one of the famous, heritage-listed Bolton houses in the heart of Newcastle, built by renowned architect Frederick B. Menkens.

The iconic north-facing terraces tucked away behind Church Street are four of 38 inner-city buildings Menkens built. Prior to their construction, the land was still occupied. The houses were built on top of what was once an extraction pit for Australia's first private coal mine, operated by the Australian Agricultural Company.

"My understanding is the rail cars used to do a loop down through where the library now is, come back through the hill from the south, get loaded by a crane engine sitting roughly where our house is now, and exit through the hill where the bus stop is now, next to Tower Cinemas, on the way to the harbour," Markulin says.

"That was actually Australia's first railway as well, interestingly enough, and the fish-bellied rail beam on display at the Newcastle Museum was pulled off the hill just in front of our place."

They absolutely love the interesting history of their location, and now as excavation work is happening up the road, Markulin will find, still, the occasional piece of coal.

The couple weren't specifically looking for a historic home, rather just to be in the zone for Newcastle East Public School. This house was just the icing on the cake. They had seen a few before they got this one, and when it came up, Markulin called Finau while she was in New Zealand. She trusted his instincts when he described it as magical.

We are old souls, and we're so fortunate it fits into the model of the house and the historical image.

Erina Finau

Hundreds of people applied for the home, but they got lucky.

"We have such wonderful landlords, which I'm sure is not common for many renters, but ours are this amazing couple," Finau says.

"They were so touched to hear about our family and our pursuits into law. They have history working in law themselves."

Finau and Markulin are currently studying law. They originally met in Canberra in 2013. Lucas was born the following year.

The family moved to Newcastle in 2017 to be closer to Finau's parents. Markulin works for Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club and she works in politics. Last year they got married.

Their terrace is subdivided into two residences, so tenants live separately upstairs as well. The current owners are only the fourth owners since the house was built, and they have owned for 35 years. They've always had long-term tenants.

The house itself is picturesque, with ornate high ceilings and detailed cornices and architraves. It has cream coloured walls with touches of blue and stained glass.

The two non-working fireplaces are unmissable, and the kitchen has interesting painted brickwork, tiled splashbacks and plenty of plants.

It's also where Markulin keeps his espresso machine; as an ex-barista, this is a very important piece of equipment.

Finau is responsible for the stylish touches, from plants to art to dried flower wall hangings and salt lamps.

She jokingly describes her style as "millennial chic".

"The mood is, we inherited a lot of stuff from grandparents who have passed away," she says.

"It's why it's as eclectic as it is. We are old souls, and we're so fortunate it fits into the model of the house and the historical image."

If she had to pick a favourite feature of the home, she said it'd definitely be the fireplace in the main bedroom.

"The colour is unique, the details in it; there's something magical hidden in there. It draws such a feminine energy into the house where everything is quite colonial styled," she says.

"It's almost a masculine space, but the detailing and florals of the fireplace mantel is something sweet."

The fireplace, the family, the history and the location on the hill overlooking the rest of the city. Very sweet indeed.


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