In the back of a shed in a New South Wales country town sits a concrete slab marked with a small child’s handprint left decades ago.
The owner of the shed, Margie Brown, came upon the little print during a recent clean-up and it stoked her curiosity.
“We were cleaning out the shed and I just happened to move a few things around and said, ‘Oh look, there’s a handprint’,” she said.
“It’s just so small and very cute.”
Ms Brown is an aerobics instructor with a lot more time on her hands since COVID-19 gym closures.
She said that having been inspired by the BBC series Restoration Home, which features the history of old properties, she decided the source of the handprint was worth investigating.
“I took a photo of the handprint and sent it to my friend, Janine, because she is a super sleuth,” Ms Brown said.
Ms Brown lives at Wingham, on the NSW Mid North Coast, and the friend she mentions is Janine Roberts, an educator and writer for a local heritage project MidCoast Stories.
Ms Roberts said the old handprint captured her imagination and she quietly began trying to solve the mystery.
“It’s really exciting, it’s fun,” she said.
“Your mind is always thinking about different possibilities and you also always find out new things along the way.”
Piecing together the puzzle
Ms Roberts said she turned to online resources in her quest.
“First, I looked up the Land Title records for properties,” she said.
“It’s a hit-and-miss process, but you can do it online and it gives you the names of people who owned a property at different times and from there you can start to expand the story.
“I was lucky to find the details for Margie’s house.”
Ms Roberts painstakingly searched through council rates archives and old newspaper editions.
“We have also transcribed old rates books for Wingham and Taree and the Manning Shire,” she said.
“In the rates and valuations [notices] you can research and work out when a house was built on a property.
“From there I used Trove [an online database hosted by the National Library of Australia] to look up old newspapers, and look up names and families who had owned this property.”
Ms Roberts said the block on which the shed was built was originally part of a bigger property, subdivided in 1948 by local man, Harold Healey.
A fibro cottage was built on the individual block in 1951 and was later sold to a couple, David and Claire Redman.
Ms Roberts said Mr Redman was a carpenter and that in 1954 — the year the little handprint was created — he built a large shed on the property at a cost of 200 pounds.
She believed it was likely that Mr Redman’s son left the impression in the concrete slab.
“They had a two-year-old son at the time and the handprint is small, like a child’s handprint,” Ms Roberts said.
“So on July 17, 1954, when the concrete was freshly poured, it is likely it was their two-year-old son, Ian David Redman, who pressed his little hand into the concrete and sealed the memory of this event for future owners.”
Ms Roberts said she was excited to have pieced together an answer.
“To actually be able to come up with a possible name of who left the handprint was really lovely,” she said.
“It’s always tricky trying to get enough evidence to support your idea, or your theory, and I think this one worked.”
Ms Roberts revealed her findings on Ms Brown’s birthday as a surprise.
“I had no idea the house was that old, it was really interesting and just made my day,” Ms Brown said.
Ms Roberts is now trying to find out more about the Redman family.
“The little boy died when he was 20, I don’t know why, and the parents have passed away as well, and they are all buried at the Wingham cemetery,” she said.
Now’s a good time for research projects
Ms Roberts said family and property research is a rewarding pastime.
“A lot of us have more time now than we’ve had in the past to take it easier, and take it slower, and maybe dig into family history or property history like we have here,” she said.
“So much is available online now, so you don’t have to go searching for this information, and once you start it opens a lot more stories along the way.”