Hambledon Cottage, Parramatta

Tucked away on the remnants of the once extensive Elizabeth Farm property is Hambledon Cottage. Elizabeth Farm is the oldest remaining European building in Sydney and was one of the major estates in the Parramatta/Rose Hill district. It was built for John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793 and is managed by Sydney Living Museums.

Hambledon Cottage was built in 1824 to provide accommodation for extra guests staying at Elizabeth Farm, and initially offered sleeping quarters only; the kitchen, laundry and coach house followed later. One of the most well-known residents of Hambledon Cottage was the Macarthur’s governess, Penelope Lucas.

Withdrawing Room

Withdrawing Room

Lucas arrived in the colony in 1805 with Elizabeth Macarthur, eldest daughter of John and Elizabeth. Elizabeth had travelled to England with her father and brothers but it was decided that it would be best to send her home and have her educated in the colony. A governess was sought and Lucas was the successful applicant.

With limited social circles in the small colony, it was inevitable that Elizabeth Macarthur and Penelope Lucas would be spending considerable time together, and not just in the education of the Macarthur daughters. Penelope was financially independent, or at least had her own financial means of support. In 1827, Penelope moved to the cottage upon her retirement and it was her home until her death in 1836. A small annuity and the use of the cottage had been left to Penelope in John Macarthur’s will.

Kitchen

Colonial Kitchen

Lucas had named the cottage ‘Hambledon’ after her former house in Hampshire. The cottage continued to be used by the Macarthur family before being sold off in the late 1800s and having various owners until it was acquired by Parramatta City Council in 1953. It has been leased to the Parramatta and District Historical Society since 1965 and is furnished with pieces from 1820-1890 to cover the Macarthur period of ownership.

The cottage itself consists of a couple of bedrooms located around the withdrawing room and dining room. The main bedroom is dominated by heavy furniture, including an Australian red cedar four poster bed. The bed had its origins in Parramatta, and after a varied life made its way to the cottage, which is beautifully maintained by the Parramatta Historical Society.

Hambledon Cottage garden

Hambledon Cottage garden

There is a study which includes several items of furniture originating from the household of Reverend Samuel Marsden. Marsden was a formidable presence in the early colony, and his reputation, like John Macarthur’s, tended to divide people into supporters or detractors. Marsden’s missionary work extended to New Zealand and in the Parramatta and Harris Park areas, there are streets named for New Zealand locations in honour of Marsden’s work and land holdings which once extended through this part of the colony.

In the study, there is also a drawing of a horse-drawn ferry, an early attempt to speed up the journey by boat from Sydney Cove to Rose Hill. It wasn’t a great success, as the horses weren’t keen on the endless looping in a circle to power the ferry.

The house is decorated with a mixture of furniture and fittings complimentary to the period in which it was built. There are many stories contained within, and the displays change throughout the year. Part of the cottage is also used as a display gallery, featuring an exhibition called HERSTORY, tracing the lives of convict women who passed through the Parramatta Female Factory.

There’s something about the word pictures created by some of the volunteer guides who provide tours around the cottage. On the most recent trip, the guide shared a vision of the retired governess and Elizabeth Macarthur walking from Elizabeth Farm to Hambledon Cottage of an evening after supper, two older ladies talking softly or sharing a companionable silence. A nice image to ponder on.

There is a lovely memorial to Penelope Lucas in St John’s Cathedral at Parramatta which you can see here.

[Photo of Hambledon Cottage from Gregory Place (side view)]

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Gladesville Bridge, Sydney

By chance, I was near the banks of the Parramatta River at Henley, near Gladesville. The road curves down to the ferry wharf and near the ferry terminal there was a small pocket of grass, surrounded on three sides by sandstone blocks. In the middle was a plaque outlining the original location of the first Gladesville Bridge. Across the river at Chiswick/Abbotsford, it is possible to see the abutment where the bridge joined the land.

Sign about Gladesville bridge at Henley

Sign about Gladesville Bridge at Henley

The concrete span of the Gladesville Bridge is iconic and is recognised internationally as a significant engineering achievement. Depending on the angle, it seems to curve up and over the river, the high arch ready to accommodate the largest shipping vessels. A couple of years ago there were an estimated 81,000 cars crossing the bridge each day; a figure that will only increase. Ruth Park described the bridge as follows:

One is somewhat comforted by the lean elegance of the Gladesville Bridge. It gives the agreeable illusion that the road rushes up to the water’s edge and takes off in a 305 metre leap with Olympic ease, landing like a butterfly and whisking away in a harmonious curve over Huntleys Point. (Ruth Park’s Sydney, p. 190).

Photos of the original bridge, opened in 1881, provide a clear indication of the burgeoning growth of Sydney, and of road traffic in particular. The original bridge accommodated two lanes of traffic and a tram line, installed later. It had five spans with iron pylons and the centre span was a swing span, used to open up the bridge for the passing water traffic. This provided two channels for shipping to pass through, including ferries and the colliers travelling from Newcastle to the Mortlake Gas Works. The channels were relatively narrow and were often knocked about by ship masts and at times the swing bridge could not be closed or could be closed but the tram lines required realignment. There was no pedestrian access on the bridge: pedestrians were given free passage on buses and trams in order to cross the river.

The two Gladesville Bridges, old (middle) and new (left)

The two Gladesville bridges, old (middle) and new (left): sourced on Trove

By the early decades of the twentieth century, the bridge was not coping with the increased demands of traffic. A browse of letters to newspaper editors in Trove includes regular complaints about the inconvenience caused when the bridge was opened for ferry access (disproportionate when the number of ferry passengers was compared to the road traffic that had to wait whilst the bridge was opened and closed). There were also functional issues. When the weather was very hot, parts of the bridge would swell and the expanding metal needed to be sprayed by tugboats in order to contract. As Sydney traffic increased, access to the bridge was limited to the city-bound traffic of a morning for blocks of time. A new bridge was desperately needed.

In 1957 the tender for the bridge design from G Maunsell & Partners (Engineers, London) was accepted and work commenced in 1960. The location of the bridge was carefully considered based on the local topography. Another consideration was the bridge clearance height: heavy industrial shipping was expected and the bridge height in the centre was set at forty metres above mean high tide.

Gladesville Bridge from Putney

Gladesville Bridge from Putney

The bridge was originally planned to be part of a north-western expressway along with Tarban Creek Bridge and Fig Tree Bridge for the northern suburbs of Sydney. This project was abandoned in the 1970s due to protests about the projected freeway route through inner city suburbs including Annandale and Glebe. The construction of the Gladesville Bridge had a significant impact on the local area, including Hunters Hill which had approximately 100 houses and public buildings compulsory resumed and destroyed. There is an excellent article on the attempt to save one of the historic houses, St Malo, here.

The original arch span for the new bridge was extended slightly to 1,000 feet: there were aesthetic and prestigious reasons for doing this. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the longest single span concrete arch ever constructed. Its design was simple yet the scale of the arch was extraordinary at the time.

Taking inspiration from the Roman method of building arches using segmented units built over a temporary formwork, the engineers used hollow, precast concrete blocks which were moved into position via a railway on top of the formwork. (Source: Engineers Australia)

Under the Gladesville Bridge

Under the Gladesville Bridge

In 2015, the Gladesville Bridge was declared an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. At the time, it shared this honour with three other Australian landmarks: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Western Goldfields and the Snowy Mountain scheme. When the plaque was unveiled at NSW Parliament, the original engineer, Tony Gee was in attendance. Gee was 22 years old when he was given the task of designing this extraordinary bridge.

Gladesville Bridge arch with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background

Gladesville Bridge arch with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background

There is a wonderful oral history available on the background and construction of the Gladesville Bridge. The history was compiled by the Roads & Traffic Authority Environment and Policy branch in December 2000 by Martha Ansara and Frank Heimans. It includes recollections from people involved in the bridge design and construction, as well as locals who watched the bridge come into existence. It recalls the excitement of the bridge opening on 2 October 1964 by Her Royal Highness Princess Marina. There are interviews with some of the characters who worked on the bridge, including insights into health and safety at the time. One interviewee estimated the lifespan of the bridge at 100-200 years.

When was the last time a chance encounter triggered a fresh look at something familiar for you?

[Photo: Gladesville Bridge viewed from Henley]

Portland: The Town That Built Sydney

The industrial history of Portland is intrinsically linked with cement. It was the site of the first cement works in Australia which opened in 1902 and operated until 1991. Cement from Portland was shipped around Australia, and it played an integral role in the construction of Sydney in particular throughout the twentieth century.

The first European in the area was a surveyor called James Blackman who surveyed roads in 1820 through this part of Wiradjuri country. A lime kiln was built on 61 hectares of land selected by Thomas Murray in 1863, and in 1883 the railway arrived. The village of Portland was gazetted in 1894 and the name Portland is attributed to the limestone-rich Isle of Portland or for the Portland cement making process, depending on the source.

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The Glen Museum, located in a recently restored building which had been an early hospital at the Portland Cement Works

In 1902 the Portland Cement Works opened in the village. The Commonwealth Portland Cement Company Ltd had been registered in 1900 by Dr August Wilhelm Karl Scheidel on behalf of the New Zealand Mines Trust. Dr Scheidel designed the cement works and supervised their construction. He was regarded as a pioneer in industrial relations: he insured his employees against accidents, introduced eight hour work days at the site, and provided an ambulance service and accident ward which was shared with the town. Support was also provided for the construction of a hospital, built in 1913.

Recruitment of overseas labour in the early years was necessary due to difficulty in securing local labour, and it gave the village a cosmopolitan air. By 1912 the works were producing about 40% of Australia’s Portland Cement. Maximum levels of production were reached in 1928.

The works were nearly self-sufficient including water, coal, electricity and railway resources. The cement factory was a significant employer, and some families provided generations of workers. During the Great Depression there were massive layoffs and up to 80% of the workforce lost their jobs.

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Rear view of some of the remaining buildings of the Portland Cement Works

The old works site is classified as a historic landscape of approximately six hectares. It was the site of one of Australia’s most successful lime quarrying and cement manufacture enterprises, generating a product that was integral to the construction of many important structures in the state. It provided raw material from its own quarries “and a place for the long-term, large-scale production of world quality cement, using a succession of both local and imported machinery and labour.” (Source: NSW Office of Environment & Heritage)

Throughout New South Wales, Portland is significant in that it is one of the rare long-term single industry one-company towns. This relationship can be seen in the layout of the town and its civic amenities, including workers cottages, concrete roads and swimming pools. The scale of the operations, including powerhouse, boiler stack and various workshops provide significant links with industrial heritage.

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These cement silos were recently painted by Guido Van Helen and have become a popular tourist spot in Portland

The Portland Cement Works site is being progressively cleared for redevelopment under The Foundations Portland NSW. The proposal includes ecotourism, shopping centre, activity areas and artist precincts. It will be interesting to watch the site continue to evolve into the next phase of its development. Recently this has included the painting of murals on old cement silos by Guido Van Helten.

It is encouraging to see signs of life in an old industrial town – what does the future hold once the industry has moved on, technological changes take place and the workforce moves?

[Photo: part of the administration block in the Portland Cement Works precinct]

Kandos Railway Station

The railway station was the nerve centre of a country town, both exit and entrance, export and import, off to adventure or homeward bound. People came to collect parcels or despatch goods, meet friends and relations or say goodbye, go on holiday or leave for school, enjoy the hubbub or look at the train. For trains, like brass bands, with their power and rhythm, touch a warm collective memory.

Colleen O’Sullivan, Discover Magazine, Nov 2017

I came across the above description of a country railway station in a small article in a local tourist magazine for the Blue Mountains and Central West of NSW. Like many small stations, Kandos has not been in use for passenger services for a long time, but there has been a spate of activity in the last year or so.

The station was opened as Candos Station in 1914; it was renamed Kandos the following year. Candos is believed to have been made using the initials of the first six directors of NSW Cement, Lime and Coal Company, which owned land near the railway line. There were a couple of other towns with similar names in New South Wales and South Australia, and so a name change was arranged.

Initially, the station was operated without a station master. In 1918, three swagmen took possession of the station on a Saturday morning, threatening anyone who approached the station until they were arrested by police from nearby Rylstone. The following year a station master was appointed.

There was a sense of pride taken in the presentation of stations, with staff establishing and maintaining gardens to brighten the platforms. In 1925 the station was specially commended by the area commissioner for tidiness and cleanliness. By 1927, the line was upgraded and Kandos was the fourth highest-earning station in the state, after Newcastle, Lithgow and Darling Harbour.

More recently, the Kandos Museum has taken over the lease on the old railway station and is in the process of relocating its collection. Late last year funding was granted to reopen the railway line between Kandos and Rylstone to establish the Kandos-Rylstone Rail Heritage Precinct. This will see the line repaired and upgraded and will provide opportunities for tourists and heritage lovers to visit the area and enjoy the history along with heritage train rides. In the future, this may connect up with the Lithgow State Mine railway.

Whilst the days of the railway station as the hub for small towns has largely passed, it is great to see community efforts for rejuvenation and repurposing of the old stations come to fruition.

[Photo: Capertee Railway Station, on the Gwabegar railway line towards Kandos and Mudgee]

Portland: Signs of Yesteryear

The above is dotted on signposts leading towards the town of Portland in central west NSW, and it is a case of accurate advertising. Portland, between Lithgow and Bathurst, has a population of 2,400 and a drive around its streets will result in many old-fashioned advertising signs being spotted along shopfronts, alleys and walkways throughout the town.

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Sunlight Soap is still around. The reward would have been a small fortune back in the day!

The signs advertise nostalgic brands. There are some products that are still around, and it is interesting to note that while some changes have inevitably taken place in the advertising world, some branding is still the same.

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Jaffas and Minties are still around too, even if ownership of the brands has changed.

Portland has an unusual history as it is one of a handful of company towns in Australia. Whilst people had been living in the area before the establishment of the cement works, it was the construction of the cement plant that resulted in the town’s development. There had been lime and quarry works in the area and in nearby towns prior to the commencement of the Commonwealth Portland Works, but the scale of the operation and its ongoing success was to dominate the identity and livelihood of the town for nearly a century.

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Uncle Tobys is still around. Interesting claim at the bottom!

In 1991 the cement works closed and the town began the slow adjustment to a life beyond the cement industry.

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A beautiful reproduction of a seed and bulb manual

A decade later, trade signwriter Ron Bidwell was joined by fellow signwriters known as ‘The Letterheads’. Together they recreated vintage signs from 1895 to 1945 and in doing so added significantly to the town’s aesthetic and tourist appeal.

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Some more wonderful signwriting work and in the bottom right hand corner, the artists have left their mark.

The signs are positioned throughout the town and encourage exploration on foot and an appreciation of the heritage shopfronts.

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One of the beautiful old shopfronts in Williwa Street, Portland

The signs featured here are a small sample of the many colourful reproductions of ‘signs of yesterday’. You can see more of them here.

 

The Evans Expedition

As you travel along the Great Western Highway from Bathurst towards Orange, there is a signpost for Evans Plains. Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, the outlook is often a vista of rolling green hills. That a man called Evans had travelled through this way is clear, but as many parts of Australia are named for people with loose associations with the area, it was only when I came across a statue commemorating George Evans at Bathurst that I realised that he was one of the early colonial explorers.

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Evans Memorial at Bathurst, commemorating his discovery of the Bathurst Plains

Recently there was an unveiling of an interpretative sign on the Hampton Road near Rydal in the hills beyond Lithgow. The sign has been created to compliment a memorial to George Evans and his exploratory party who crossed the Blue Mountains and the Great Dividing Range near Mount Cheetham, south of Rydal. The expedition was at the request of Governor Macquarie in 1813, and followed the track through the mountains left by the Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson crossing. This journey paved the way for the opening up of the western districts with Evans and his party travelling past the future town of Bathurst and out towards the village of Molong. The journey took 55 days and covered nearly 500 km. The party eventually turned back as supplies were running out.

Evans kept a journal, and he became increasingly effusive about the countryside which he was travelling through, identifying the potential of the grassed lands to satisfy sheep and cattle. With the colony in need of expansion, this was welcome news.

I cannot speak too much of the country. The increase of stock for some 100 years cannot overrun it, the grass is so good and intermixed with a variety of herbs.

The memorial near Hampton is close to the location of Evan’s camp on the night that the mountains were crossed on 30 November 1813. The sign is located beside an obelisk now located on Antonio Reserve, Hampton Road. The obelisk was erected in 1963 by the Lithgow Historical Society, and it commemorates Evans and his party. The interpretative sign was the work of the Lithgow branch of the National Trust, Lithgow City Council and Bill Hoolihan, a Hampton resident, along with three years of fundraising efforts.

The unveiling of the sign was attended by a large number of people from the local area and further afield, keen to keep the story of Evan’s journey alive. This included a welcome to country by a member of the Wiradjuri nation, and a short introduction by Lithgow Mayor, Stephen Lesslie, who said that without understanding our past, we struggle to find our future.

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Interpretative sign near Hampton

The common perception is that the Blue Mountains were crossed by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, and whilst they did blaze a trail – largely by following the well-worn paths across the mountains travelled by Aboriginals – it is Evans and his small team of travellers and convicts who really deserve this recognition.

An overview of this exploratory journey and Evan’s life was provided by Paul Brunton OAM, Emeritus Curator of the State Library. From Evans’ upbringing in Warwick as the son of an estate manager to his various roles in the colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania, Evans lived an eventful life. Brunton provided an overview, noting that despite his considerable achievements, there is relatively little remaining in the way of personal papers to provide insight into the man himself. Evans seemed to be conscious of his lack of a classical education, and this also had an impact on his career opportunities. When his journals were sent to London to share the expedition’s discoveries, feedback on Evans’ educational shortcomings – such as ‘Riverlett’ which is still honoured today – overshadowed his achievements.

Despite his successful expedition out across the western plains, and the payment of a reward and land grant in Tasmania, Evans’ career was somewhat inconsistent. He continued on as Assistant Surveyor-General for a spell, and was sent to Hobart to help with rectifying issues with questionable land surveying practices there. Macquarie called him back and forth to help with further expeditions through New South Wales, and he accompanied John Oxley on various explorations.

Evans lived a long life, marrying again after the death of his first wife and having at least a dozen children. What personal records there are show him to be a brave, thoughtful man who treated the men including convicts who accompanied him with compassion. He displayed empathy towards the indigenous people and the changes that would follow for them with colonisation. He expressed admiration for the country he was helping to explore and chart. His occupations are listed as art teacher, bookseller, explorer, farmer, landscape artist, public servant, shop owner, stationer, surveyor and surveyor-general. Quite a resume!

It is apt that Evans’ role in charting the plains beyond the Blue Mountains is being recorded and expanded upon for more people to appreciate.

[Photo: Paul Brunton at the sign dedication to George W Evans]

Glen Davis Shale Oil Works

Recently I had the opportunity to take an old train from Lithgow to Capertee. Capertee is a small village on the road from Lithgow to Mudgee, past Wallerawang and Portland. It is home to the widest canyon in the world: the Grand Canyon is a little deeper.

About 35 kilometres from Capertee is the remnants of the Glen Davis Shale Oil Works. The road to Glen Davis passes through part of the Gardens of Stone National Park, and it is hard not to be distracted by the stunning vistas as you head down towards the base of the canyon, passing by patches of forest and farms.

At the base of the valley are the remnants of the village of Glen Davis. There are still people living in the village, and some of the accommodation built during the mine set-up and operation remains. The industrial ruins are striking. The group I was travelling with was given a tour which provided some insights into the relatively short-lived life of this endeavour.

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Retort remains in the valley

A number of factors led to the development of the mine. These included a 1934 report seeking work to reduce the number of unemployed miners in the region due to the Great Depression, and shale oil requirements for national defence. The project was funded by national and state governments, along with the National Oil Proprietary Ltd, a company created by G F Davis of Davis Gelatine. Construction began in 1938 and it was producing shale oil by January 1940. The company was later taken over by the government under the National Security Act. The mine was in operation from 1940 to 1952. The extracted petrol was sent to Newnes for storage and processing via a pipeline. The pipeline had to be guarded as some locals tried to tap in and extract fuel along the way.

The project was plagued by constant problems: water supply, flooding, housing, labour, electricity issues and a shortage of mined shale. Living conditions were particularly poor with inadequate housing and endemic diseases prior to the construction of barracks, staff cottages and permanent housing. The town swelled to 1,600 with a school, general stores, hall, post office, bank, butcher and chemist as well as a cinema.

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Mine ruins in Glen Davis

By the early 1950s, the mine was unsustainable as the cost of the extracted and processed fuel was significantly more expensive than the fuel imported from overseas. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald summed up the situation: “The simple truth is that it was costing too much money to produce an insignificant quantity of petrol, and there were no reasonable prospects upon which to base the hope that the economics of the project would improve.” At its peak operation, it was producing two-fifths of its capacity.

There were attempts to keep the mine open, influenced by the expected job losses and the roll on effect this would have on people indirectly providing services to the town and mine. This included a miners strike, with a group of 52 miners remaining underground for nearly a month, supported by family and friends. Eventually, the union confirmed that the strike was a lost cause, and they conceded defeat. A group of women had raised funds and lobbied to keep the mine open as well, without success. When the men returned above ground, there was a crowd of about 200 people waiting, including wives and children. “Many of the women, who for three weeks, had operated a soup kitchen at the pithead without showing any signs of breaking down, cried as they welcomed their menfolk.” There is a photo of some of the miners emerging in an article titled ”Stay-downers” Come Up.

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Looking up into the retort remains

Who was to blame for the unproductive mine? Management blamed the workers and the workers blamed poor management. There had been attempts to modernise some of the processes with improved machinery, but that would result in job losses. Some of the mining methodologies had been passed down generationally from miner to miner, and there was a fear that the proposed changes would have an adverse impact. For example, small twigs were placed in certain spots and were monitored in case of mine subsistence and movement. The introduction of machinery in some instances would obviate some of these methods.

What remains in Glen Davis are remnants of the infrastructure that could not be sold off or hauled away. The largest seam of high-grade oil shale in the world is still there too. There is the Glen Davis Boutique Hotel which offers group accommodation, along with Glen Davis Works which incorporates four of the remaining cottages. There is a ruins tour available each Saturday at 2 pm. It is close to the Wollemi National Park and there is a campsite in the town.

For a great two-minute video postcard, check out this link. There is also an interesting overview post here.

The village of Glen Davis isn’t quite a ghost town but it is a remarkable place to visit.

[Photo: view of the valley from Glen Davis]

A Blue Mountain Christmas

Recently I came across an article about what Christmas was like in the Blue Mountains over a hundred years ago. The lure of a mountains Christmas has tempted many families and travellers over the decades with the promise of a break from Sydney, which is usually heaving with heat in the middle of summer.

Whilst the majority of holiday makers arrive by coach and car these days, the railways provided the main mode of transport at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Boarding houses, guest houses and hotels provided accommodation options for travellers, and some people let out rooms in their houses as well.

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Christmas decorations in the trees with Carrington Hotel in the background (Katoomba)

The article by Robyne Ridge shares a family Christmas spent in a Lawson boarding house in 1885. After a huge traditional dinner on a wet Christmas Day, the family took the train to Bowenfels (Lithgow) on Boxing Day to experience the Zigzag railway. The mountains were such a popular Christmas destination that on Christmas Eve in 1918, there were twenty trains sent from Central Station to the mountains, all packed with holiday makers. The article includes some great photos from the Blue Mountains Local Studies collection including a very serious looking Father Christmas at Blackheath in 1924.

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An example of the random acts of knitting and love – including ladybirds and buttons

These days there are signs of Christmas throughout the villages of the mountains. A particular delight is the dressing up of Katoomba Street, Katoomba in festive apparel. The combined efforts of students from the local primary schools, the Katoomba Garden Brigade (who do a wonderful job year round to keep the gardens along this busy tourist strip in fine form), the Chamber of Commerce and Random Acts of Knitting and Love have transformed the street.

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One of the many stars along Katoomba Street

Stars adorn the trees, decorated by the children with Christmas messages. They also pop up from garden beds, carefully prepared with bright flowers. And the light and street poles have also had a makeover, covered in swathes of fabric and specially knitted creations. The idea is to encourage people to engage with their environment by seeing the everyday with a different lens. It’s quirky and fun.

Along the highway there are signs for community lunches on Christmas Day so people can gather to share a meal on what can otherwise be a lonely time. Hamper parties are held by local churches and groups to share donated goods with those less fortunate in a casual social environment. These gestures embody much of the spirit of goodwill which seems more evident at this time of year.

How is Christmas celebrated in your town?

To wish you a Christmas contented and glad, and the brightest New Year ever you’ve had – from this old postcard featuring Echo Point.

[Photo: Santa heading down a chimney at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba]

Monument to the Brig “Amy” at Thirroul

As you approach the beach at Thirroul, on the south coast between Sydney and Wollongong, there is a grassed area with picnic tables leading up to the bathing pavilion. The car park has a monument and I thought it might be worth a closer look. It reads: This monument was erected by residents of the district to the memory of Captain McKee, officers and crew of the Brig Amy which was totally wrecked on Thirroul Beach Sunday 13th February 1898.

The brig had left Wollongong at 9 am on that day, loaded most likely with coal. A cyclone of monsoon origin moved from Brisbane down along the southern coast and the boat was driven ashore near Thirroul.

When it was clear that the ship was in distress, a large crowd gathered on the beach, forming a human chain and managing to reach within a few yards of the captain and crew, but all were lost to the waves. A newspaper report described the scene as follows:

The sea was so severe that no boat could live in it. One of the rescue party, named Tom Birch, an old soldier, upon arriving at the scene, dropped dead from heart disease. (The Week [Brisbane], 18 Feb 1898)

Initial reports mentioned seeing a woman and child on board – thought to be the captain’s wife and child – but there were no subsequent mentions in reports or at the inquest. Most, but not all, of the bodies were eventually washed up along the shore in the days following the wreckage.

During the inquest into the loss of the ship and crew, initial reports indicated that the ship was in poor condition with masts and timber rotten,”too much paint and putty” holding the ship together. Some witnesses said that even if life-saving equipment had been available, it wouldn’t have helped as the wreckage was too profuse, and that it was the wreckage that had killed the men, not drowning.

By the end of the inquest, though, the verdict that the fate of the ship was due to pure misadventure, and the owner of the ship was blameless despite previous claims that it hadn’t been adequately repaired following being run aground at Port Hacking two years beforehand.

The jury also noted: “We desire to add as a rider that life-saving apparatus should be placed at frequent intervals along the coast.” This may be seen as a precursor to the Australian Surf Lifesaving movement.

The residents of the district were so moved by the loss that they gathered the funds to erect a memorial. Originally the monument was located on a site donated by a local family near the beach on the banks of Flanagan’s Creek. There was a tall white marble column, but over time this has been seriously truncated.  It had been pulled down by vandals in Christmas 1908, with portions of it thrown into the lagoon. In the 1950s the memorial was moved to its current location, and the local progress association has been lobbying for its third relocation as the memorial is knocked about by passing traffic.

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Monument to the loss of the Brig “Amy” on 13 Feb 1898 at Thirroul Beach

Shipwrecks along the south coast weren’t unusual, and there were other ships lost or damaged on that particular day, but this monument is the only one along the south coast in the 1800s to be commemorated in a formal manner. Nearly a hundred years later, a further plaque was added, listing the names of the captain and crew, including their office and country of origin.

There is a comprehensive article in the Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin outlining the story behind the ship and its crew by Joseph Davis who notes: ‘What remains is the fact that there are probably few sadder ends than dying unknown and alone, far from home in a shipwreck where your body is never recovered.’ Davis played an integral part in confirming the names of the crew and ensuring they were added to the memorial.

A painting of the shipwreck by a local artist, Christine Hill, can be viewed here, along with her research into the history behind the Amy.

Have you stumbled across any interesting local history lately?

[Photo: Thirroul Beach]

 

 

Woodford Academy, Oldest Building in the Blue Mountains

From its origins as a roadside inn, the Woodford Academy on the Great Western Highway has seen a variety of uses over the years. It started out as a weatherboard and stone inn called the ‘Sign of the Woodman’ in 1834, providing accommodation for 10 people and stables for passing travellers.

During the early decades of the 19th century, the Great Western Road to Bathurst was a journey of up to four days. Twenty Mile Hollow (now known as Woodford) was a popular stop at the end of the second day of travel, between Springwood and Blackheath on the road west.  The pub was rebuilt and expanded further during the gold rush years of the 1850s onwards, when it was known as the King’s Arms. In 1868, it was bought by Alfred Fairfax as a gentleman’s residence, and he renamed it Woodford House.

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Old taproom with shelves marked out and a centrepiece of grapes, peaches and corn above the door

The alternations, extensions and repurposing of the property helped to ensure its survival. Various uses included as a guest house, licensed hotel, boarding house, private hospital and a boarding school, when it became known as the Woodford Academy. From the late 1930s onwards it was a private home until Gertie McManamey, daughter of scholar and principal of the Woodford Academy, bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1979.

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Old schoolroom at Woodford Academy

Aboriginal heritage in the area is acknowledged; the nearby reserve has an engraved groove in a sandstone platform, considered likely to be a signpost or signal to assist travelling Aborigines.

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View from bedroom in loft looking towards Great Western Highway

From foot traffic to horse and carts, wagons to motor vehicles, the passing parade of people heading west has been viewed from this site. The loft area above the residence is accessed through tight wooden stairs. The rooms offer views of the highway, gardens and courtyard. The property has a central courtyard area, reminiscent of Rouse Hill House, with access to washrooms, kitchen, laundry and stable areas.

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Kitchen, including stone sink

Throughout the property there are series of photos celebrating previous eras, highlighting the many lives the property has had. Memorabilia in the rooms provide insights into what life was like in earlier times, before the arrival of electricity, sewerage and running water.

On the day of my visit the academy was doubling as an exhibition space, continuing to provide a place for people to come and gather and experience something unique.

[Photo: front of Woodford Academy from Great Western Highway, Woodford]