First published: Summer 2000
In a quiet residential section of Ballarat in the southern state of Victoria, Australia, the Old Curiosity Shop, originally Warwick's Curiosity House, is the legacy of James Warwick's passionate and creative vision, over 142 years ago.
The nineteenth-century house and garden walls are encrusted with a beautiful patina of shells, mirrors, glass, colourful china, tiles, figurines, tea pots and jar lids, inspired perhaps, by the whitewashed Cornwall cottages of Warwick's childhood, decorated in shells and pebbles.
Warwick emigrated to Australia, and became a chimney maker and bricklayer. Well-versed in building and building materials, he used a traditional mortar of lime and sand to decorate his small cottage with shells. But shells were difficult to collect so far inland, so by necessity he began to decorate the cottage with pieces of broken china and other items sold to him for thruppence or sixpence by children living in the nearby goldfields. His project took forty years to complete.