Tag Archives: National Trust

Thursday Doors…Government House Parramatta, Sydney.

Welcome back to Thursday Doors.

This week’s photo captures the front door,  Government House in Parramatta, Sydney from an interior perspective.

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While its grand hallway reflects the social standing of its occupants, what really attracted my attention, was the keyhole. That old-fashioned keyhole and all the narratives which have been spun by nosey-parkers peering through it. Unfortunately, the powers that be, didn’t like someone crouching on the ground and photographing their precious keyhole. I was told off like a naughty school girl and told to book in a photo shoot. I suppose this is what comes with having a weird photographic device called a “camera”, and not using a camera that’s better known as a phone.

 

 

 

Government House Parramatta is a convict-built Georgian house and its surrounds is a World Heritage site. It was the country residence for the first ten governors of NSW. Today it houses the nation’s premier colonial furniture collection amongst parkland and other heritage sites. Standing in 200 acres of parkland overlooking historic Parramatta, the convict-built Old Government House and garrison buildings were built in 1799-1816, the oldest surviving public buildings in Australia. For seven decades, it was the ‘country’ residence of ten early governors of the Colony, including Gov. Lachlan and Mrs Macquarie who, from 1810 to 1821 preferred the clean air and space of rural Parramatta to the unsanitary and crime ridden streets of Sydney Town-https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/old-government-house/

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The Front Exterior View, Government House, Parramatta, Sydney. 

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Rear view.

What immediately strikes me about this building, is its very plain and minimal exterior. While I understand that this is sacrilege, I want to add some decorative features and jazz the place up. From the rear, this significant building would pass as what we call Mc Mansions…hastily built huge modern homes squished onto tiny parcels of land. Having all that space must be fantastic from the inside, but is as plain as sliced bread from the outside. Mind you, that’s a huge step up from our place, which is awaiting demolition without a plan in place.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed out brief visit to Government House Parramatta. Thursday Doors is hosted by Norm 2.0 at Thursday Doors.  Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors.

Best wishes,

Rowena

What Are Museums For?

Yesterday, we had what I will call “an unfortunate museum encounter”, which has raised the question, at least in my own mind, about why we have museums and how the interaction between visitor and exhibits should be conducted. Are we still living in the days where the museum dictates how the public should respond to an exhibit? Or, have we loosened the chains and allowed the public to discover history for themselves?

Over the last week, I unwittingly put this philosophical question to the test when I saw the Archibald Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW,  Elizabeth Farm at Rose Hill and Old Government House out at Parramatta, in Western Sydney. Since I’ve already shared my interpretation of the Archibald Exhibition, today I’ll be focusing on Elizabeth Farm and Old Government House.

Somewhere along the dimly lit corridors of memory, I remember visiting Elizabeth Farm as a child and given my love of history and historic architecture, I’ve always wanted to go back. However, I’ve only been out to Parramatta a couple of times. Although it’s a major city, it’s a bit off the beaten track for us. Moreover, when you’re caught up in the rush and bustle, museums seem like a bit of a luxury…an indulgence. Something, I usually only get around to on holidays, or if there’s a special exhibition.

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Looking like a real writer with my quill at Elizabeth Farm.

What I really loved about Elizabeth Farm is that it is a touchy-feel museum. Everything inside is a replica or historical equivalent, including the portraits on the wall, which look very authentic. They’ve even gone to the trouble of copying the very sideboards, chairs and other pieces of furniture, and using them to furnish the house. That meant, I could touch everything. I could smell the spices on display in the kitchen, and I could even sit down at the writing desk and chair and pose for photos holding the quill. That gave me a real buzz…Rowena the writer. We could also sit down on the lounge chairs, with their firm horse hair bases and run our hands through the soft, luxurious possum fur rugs, which were draped over the top. Indeed, it was quite a sensory experience. (We are, however, hoping that the rug was made from New Zealand possums which are actually an environmental pest, very much like rabbits are here in Australia). There was also an informative DVD about the history of the house narrated by much loved Australian actor, Garry McDonald. When I heard him talk about bringing that sense of being in a bustling household back to life. I immediately thought about the houses I grew up in and indeed our own home with kids and dogs running through the place and a sense of chaos, adventure, laughter, tears and amusement. This place was anything but a mausoleum.

By the way, I should also add that we went on an informative tour of the house and our guide was absolutely delightful and very informative. Indeed, initially when it was just Geoff and I on the tour, I immediately introduced ourselves, and she said: “you were reading my mind. That rarely happens”. So, that was a lovely personal touch, along with the fact she’s worked at Hyde Park Barracks, which is of personal interest to me as I’m descended from an Irish famine Orphan who passed through there.

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Joseph Lycett, The residence of John McArthur Esqre. near Parramatta, New South Wales, 1825. Sydney Living Museums.

Sunday, we drove over to Parramatta Park and visited Old Government House, which was a very different experience. Old Government House is owned by the National Trust and the displays are authentic historical items, while Elizabeth Farm is part of of the Living Museums network. I don’t know if my experience is typical of visiting a National Trust venue and indeed, I hope it isn’t. However, upon arrival and paying our entry fees, we were told no flash photography. We were given no other limits on photography. I was not only struck by the grand entry hallway, but also the keyhole. I have visited a number of historic homes in my time, but as far as I can recall, it’s the first time I’ve actively looked through the keyhole into the world outside and had what I will call an “Alice in Wonderland experience”. I don’t think I’d actually considered that you could see anything through a keyhole, and it reminded me of childhood stories, eves dropping, spying…seeing and hearing the forbidden. Something not intended for your eyes and ears. So, I knelt down in front of the keyhole and toppled over onto my derriere and perched my camera in front of the keyhole trying to capture the tree outside.

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Naughty Alice looking through the key hole…Old Government House, Parramatta. National Trust.

Unfortunately, that’s when wonderland came to an abrupt halt. I was squawked at by a rather militant guide, who told me you’re not allowed to take close-up photos in the house, only room shots. She also seemed quite irritated that I was actually sitting at the door and was stopping other people from viewing it and that I could come back and book in a photo shoot. She scared the bejeebers  out of me, and I felt like a naughty little school girl who was taking photos of the staff room or some other private, inner sanctum. I’d been a “bad, bad girl”.

However, the thing was that I wasn’t in a forbidden inner sanctum. I had paid my entry fee. I wasn’t using my flash and by looking through the keyhole, I wasn’t even photographing something inside. Indeed, most of what I captured was the sky, which to the best of my clearly inferior knowledge, isn’t the property of the National Trust. I was so shaken and outraged, in quite an uncharacteristic way, that I approached her. The whole thing seemed mad, and after the great time we’d had only the day before and going into the Art Gallery of NSW during the week and being able to photograph even the finalists of the Archibald Competition up close, it made no sense. Indeed, I also noticed another visitor taking close-up shots like myself but using her phone instead of an SLR with zoom, and nothing was said to her. Fortunately, after encountering this woman, we met another guide who was very friendly and chatty and helped me to calm down.

Above- There was an exhibition on covering Governor Phillip’s time in India and establishing the links between India and NSW through history. As early as 1850, 4 ships a week were arriving in Sydney from India, so there were close cultural ties.

By the way, I would also like to point out that there were only a few people in Old Government House at the time. So, it wasn’t like I was blocking traffic. Indeed, the Archibald Exhibition was much more crowded and nobody complained there.

This brings me back to my original question about the role of museums these days. Have we moved beyond the starchy museums of the the past into something more interactive? Or, given the value and fragility of the exhibits, does that line between exhibit and audience still need to be maintained and never the twain shall meet?

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Is this where I belong?

Of course, I would like to see some combination of the two and this is what I am used to in museums these days. There are elements of the exhibition that the kids and tactile people can touch and feel along with audio-visual presentations which bring the history to life. I think visitors to our museums have spread their wings, and don’t appreciate having them clipped by an old world approach.

What do you think? What is your experience of contemporary museums? Please leave your feedback in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Details

Elizabeth Farm is located at 70 Alice Street, Rosehill, near Parramatta.

Old Government House is located in Parramatta Park.

Hahndorf, South Australia: the Blacksmith and the Artists.

Welcome to Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills.  As you prepare for landing, could you please switch you clocks back well into last century to an era where there were few, if any, cars and the horse and cart were still being serviced at HA Haebich’s Smithy on Main Road, Hahndorf. That was before WWI when Hahndorf’s name was changed to Ambleside, as a reflection of fierce anti-German sentiment and changed back again in 1935.

Map showing the location of Hahndorf.

I send my apologies in advance as this is only going to be a rudimentary tour. This will only be a fleeting day trip for the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I promise I’ll pop back later for a more in depth visit.

My much loved Grandfather, Bert Haebich, was not only born in Hahndorf but was also descended from the Hartmann and Paech families, who were among the very first German settlers to arrive in Australia back in 1838. These Lutherans were escaping persecution in Prussia and came to South Australia in search of religious freedom. They were an extremely stoic and hardworking community who used to walk their produce into Adelaide on foot and certainly weren’t afraid of backbreaking hard work!!

Hahndorf is a thriving tourist attraction these days and something of a living museum. In so many ways, it looks like a chunk of 19th century Germany, which was dug up and transplanted to the South Australia. Many of the original houses have been retained and restored including Haebich’s Cottage, the family’s home on Main Street, which was built in the late 1850’s by J.Georg. Haebich. It is a substantial ‘fachwerk’ (basically a timber skeleton with infill of pug [straw/mud], brick or stone) German cottage and is absolutely gorgeous.

As this is just a fleeting tour, I’m going to cut to the chase and introduce you to the Blacksmith and the artists.

Heinrich August Haebich, my Great Great Grandfather had a Smithy on Main Street, Hahndorf and lived in Haebich’s Cottage next door. August was was born in Hahndorf on the 17th March, 1851 to Johann George HAEBICH (1813-1872) and Christiane SCHILLER (-1857). August married Maria Amalie Thiele in 1874 but she died less than a year later and on 12th April, 1877, he married Caroline Maria Paech. They had 9 children and I think all four boys worked in the Smithy at some time. With the advent of the car, the business slowly wound down and my Great Grandfather Ed left to work as an engineer with the railways and later as a market gardener. His brother Bill was the last Haebich blacksmith…the end of the line.

My grandfather loved telling me stories of growing up in Hahndorf and I was enchanted. There was an incredible cast of characters and antics like tying a goat to the Church bells so they rang every time to goat reached out to eat more grass. There was also an explosion of some sort during WWII, which sparked fears of a Japanese invasion but was yet another prank. There was a cockatoo which allegedly used to walk across the road leaning to one side with its wing bent staggering along saying: “Drunk again! Drunk again!” Hahndorf is a short distance from the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s most famous wine-growing regions and there is even a Lutheran Church planted, or should I surrounded by vineyards. I think that should put you in the picture!

While most of the characters in my grandfather’s stories remained anonymous, one name certainly stood out. That was the world-renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen, who lived in Hahndorf with his wife Sallie and family in a spectacular home called: “The Cedars”.

Hans Heysen, "White Gums".

Hans Heysen, “White Gums”.

“Its (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy – mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the colouring of its covering. Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful.”

SIR HANS HEYSEN

 

Heysen had what you could describe as a spiritual relationship with the Australian Gum Tree and he was also captivated by light and trying to capture and infuse light onto the canvas. Understandably, Heysen was quite the conservationist, particularly where saving these glorious gum trees, which were threatened by the installation of electric wires but also by development. He deeply lamented each tree which was lost. Indeed, it was his through his protection of the local gum trees that Hans Heysen entered my Grandfather’s stories. It was known that if anybody wanted to chop down one of these trees, they would have to speak to Hans Heysen first and he was a formidable force. I also found out that my grandfather’s sister, Ivy, worked as a housekeeper for the Heysen’s. That still intrigues me and unfortunately I need had the chance to discuss this with her.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

Here is a link to some of Hans Heysen’s works: http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/agsa/home/Learning/docs/Online_Resources/Heysen_Trail.pdf

With his love and reverence for the Australian Gum Tree, I guess it is fair to say that Heysen’s outlook fitted in better with the more pastoral and bush portrayal of Australia and Heysen certainly despised Modernism and all its trappings. This was reflected in paintings such as The Toilers (1920) where Hans Heysen painted a local farmer “Old Kramm” and his horses.

Perhaps, it was Heysen’s love for this passing pre-mechanised world,which inspired Hans Heysen to undertake an etching of Haebich’s Smithy in 1912. My grandfather had a print of this painting and it was something we knew about and I guess were proud of without knowing any background to it at all.

Hans Heysen, "The Old Blacksmith's Shop, Hahndorf." (1912)

Hans Heysen, “The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Hahndorf.” (1912)

It was only last year, that I really questioned Heysen’s perspective of the Blacksmith’s shop and how his still life contrasted to my grandfather’s animated stories of a busy, flourishing workshop. I remember how my grandfather;s face would light up, even as an old man, talking about how the water would whoosh up when the red hot steel rim for the wheel would be dunked in water producing an incredible gush of steam. He was a small boy once again mesmerised by the whole experience and and there was such theatre.

In addition to questioning Heysen’s still life of a place which was anything but still, I also realised that Heysen’s work portrayed the more traditional tools of blacksmithing at a time when the Smithy was already being mechanised. August Haebich and his eldest son Otto, were innovative engineers who invented the Wattle Stripper and engines. They were hardly relics from the past or living and breathing museum pieces.

So, there was a bit of food for thought, which I’ll need to investigate further.

In the meantime, while  doing yet another Google search and romping through the online newspapers at Trove, I made quite a discovery. It might not warrant global acclaim but it felt like I’d found a gold nugget in my own backyard. Believe me!  I was shouting “Eureka”from the rafters even though no one else was listening!

It turned out that Hans Heysen wasn’t the only famous artist who had depicted the Haebich Smithy. Hans and Sallie Heysen entertained numerous artists and performers at The Cedars. Indeed, famous singer Dame Nellie Melba was a regular visitor and naturally fellow artists also came to stay. Naturally, they roamed around Hahndorf and did what artists do…sketch. After all, the very quaint German buildings are what we would now call very “photogenic”.

Lionel Lindsay: "The Smithy Window, Ambleside" (1924).

Lionel Lindsay: “The Smithy Window, Ambleside” (1924).

So, consequently, I have unearthed other sketches of the Haebich Smithy. There was one by Sir Lionel Lindsay, brother of artist and author Norman Lindsay of Magic Pudding fame as well as artist and art publisher Sydney Ure Smith. Sydney Ure Smith was so smitten with Hahndorf, that he included scenes in his book: Old Colonial By-Ways (1928)…alongside much more recognised Sydney landmarks such as the buildings in Macquarie Street and Elizabeth Farm House in Parramatta, which is the oldest house in Australasia. Elizabeth Farm House was built In 1793 Sir John MacArthur and was where he con ducted his experiments with merino sheep, giving birth to the Australian wool industry.

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith's Shop, Ambleside (1925).

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith’s Shop, Ambleside (1925).

So, immortalised alongside, Elizabeth Farm House, is Haebich’s Smithy.

When you look at it like that, it really does seem rather incredible and amazing and yes, I’m impressed, proud and so many superlatives that I couldn’t possibly get them all down without sounding like a thesaurus!

xx Rowena