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Storyteller and curator Elizabeth Burness, 20 September 2017

CARISSE FLANAGAN: Thank you for coming tonight to the third in this series of lectures that the Museum Friends is doing in partnership with the Canberra Archaeological Society. And, are you the new president?

DUNCAN WRIGHT: I am Acting President.

CARISSE FLANAGAN: Acting President. The Acting President will introduce Elizabeth Burness. I’d just like to welcome you to the Museum and welcome to our Friends, and if you are not Friends of the Museum, it is a wonderful organisation to be friends of, so please join.

DUNCAN WRIGHT: Okay, thank you very much. I am Dr Duncan Wright and I am President at the moment of the Canberra Archaeological Society. I’m very happy to introduce our speaker, but before I do so, I would also like to flag what a wonderful organisation the Canberra Archaeological Society is, and we very much suggest, that if you feel like getting your hands dirty, or even just getting a bit more understanding about local archaeology, you are very welcome to join and feel free to get in touch with our Canberra Archaeological Society members here to ask for more details. Well, without further ado, I introduce Elizabeth Burness, who is going to talk about the Tuggeranong Schoolhouse Museum.

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Thank you. I am pleased that many of you haven’t been here because this is one of Canberra’s treasures, and while we’re in one of the premier buildings in the whole of Australia for preserving the past, can I just say, that tucked away in suburbia, way down in Tuggeranong, where so many people, I’m north side, so many north side people say, ‘I’ll never go down there. It’s north Cooma. It’s too far away.’ But look, it’s a terrific environment out there, absolutely amazing. I’m mostly familiar with the north side. It tends to be doesn’t it, that when you arrive in Canberra, you’re either north or you’re south. Well I’m actually north, and I was able for many years to look after the Hall School Museum, where the Laurie Copping collection was housed, and it now has the Lyall Gillespie collection in there too, which is unbelievable.

So, we do work in tandem, north and south, although, I’m just me, and one volunteer, whose name is Mavis. Somebody thought I’d made her up because she comes from Wombat, Wallendbeen. So Mavis from Wombat, they were dead set certain she was made up, but she’s a very real person who unfortunately has succumbed to the latest lurgy, and she’s in an induced coma in a Sydney hospital, having been helicoptered there yesterday, and I had no idea. I of course spoke to her the other day, throat was not so good, but she has got pneumonia, so I’m looking for other volunteers. But, nothing can replace my Mavis, who makes scones and jam and cream for all of the visitors that come, or me if nobody turns up, when I open monthly at this address, 34 Enid Lorimer Circuit, down in Chisholm, which is just off Heagney Circuit.

Now, I thought for my presentation – there’s about 30 or so slides, but what I thought, if that’s okay with you – I’ll just give you a bit of an overview of what the property looks like. It is an acre of land.

I thought I might also start with some of the FAQs, the frequently asked questions, and then go from the outside of the site, because you can actually see it from the road, and it has one of those wonderful pathways to Canberra plaques outside with lots of information on it and in a few months I believe, you’ll be able to put your mobile phone against a little app on it, and you’ll be able to see a 360 degree view of inside the classroom.

So, inside, I’ll show you what it looks like inside, and I then will show some of the archaeology I inherited. The last person that was living in the property was part of the heritage team, and she did collect a lot of things. We think they may be a midden just here. Because she seems to have picked up a lot of material from there, and there was a cool room there, but it fell to bits and was demolished. That’s south side, so it’s very cool on that side.

The final bit will be a little bit of what I’ve actually found, and also, just some of the things that we’re hoping to do. So – the frequently asked questions. Who am I? Well, I’m a mad collector, quite eccentric, my husband and I, that’s our hobby, we collect. It was just very, very lucky that the ACT Government, who owns this site, Joy Burch got some money to have it restored, particularly a new Colorbond roof put on it. It was all painted white, but they had nothing in it.

They did know that I have a collection. It’s my collection that is in the property. People say, ‘But, who are you? Aren’t you attached to somebody’? Well I am now. I’m on the Council of the National Trust, and it was the ACT Property Group that allowed me to run this site as a museum since 2011. Before that, I was looking after Hall. But the beaut thing about it is they’ve redone my lease for another five years, and they’ve said that I can use the property to make money for the National Trust.

So, watch this space. We will be doing all sorts of things, and I’ll tell what some of them coming up are, and really along with the Canberra Archaeological Society, the Friends group for the National Museum, there’s also possibly going to be another little group of people doing things, probably getting their hands dirty killing the periwinkle down there.

But anyway, welcome. Come on in. So look. There it is. That is from the gate, and I’ll just move it along and we’ll just have a bit of a look. You may have seen this photograph here, which is from the 1890s. The building was built in 1880, so it’s one of the best preserved of late Victorian buildings in Canberra.

This photograph does show the shingle roof. I have got a box of shingles in the classroom, because most people think it’s a rather horrible affliction that you can get. But no, a shingle is actually a wooden roof. I think it’s called ‘shakers’ or something, as well, but look, it’s a bit light, but still there we go.

Built in 1880, so this is from the other side. It is a classroom, and it’s got attached a four room schoolmaster’s cottage. Then at the back is this 1899 weatherboard kitchen, mainly because Mr McGee was pretty upset when he’d arrived in 1898. He was the one that actually got the kitchen attached. We’ve got a copy of the letter he wrote for the New South Wales Education Department, because that’s who actually built this, and owned the property.

Some of you may have known that there was an earlier one, in 1870 that was on Martin Pike’s property, down at Tuggeranong Homestead. Some of us went on a walk there to have a look. Sadly, just a few bricks and some pine trees, but still, to be on the site, it really was interesting. There’s supposedly a story that Father McAuliffe turned up and actually checked on the children in the classroom, the one down at Tuggeranong Homestead, happened to spot a little book, picked it up, looked through it, it was the teacher’s prayer book, but it was Anglican. So he was terribly upset. The story goes that he was about to cast it into the fire, which was going. Kelly the teacher says, ‘No, no you can’t do that. That’s not yours’. Oh right – shut the school, and they had no schooling down there, because I think Pike then used it as a store for cattle feed, or something.

So yes, interesting. This all comes up in Shumack, particularly Samuel Shumack thinks it’s a great story, but when you think that this was then given in 1880, but it was actually about 40 acres – 33 of which were being grazed by James Cunningham, who was actually running Tuggeranong Homestead, well, living there as a grazier.

There were some letters. McGee had a lot of trouble when he came. He had a five-year-old daughter, a three-year-old son, a one-year-old son, brand new baby, a servant, wife, and himself. Four rooms on this side, they were living in, and no kitchen. So, he was able to write a letter and we’ve got a copy of it where he said, ‘My wife is doing the laundry in the paddock. Please can I have a kitchen and a fire?’

Because they were cooking in fact over this fire, with that fireplace just there. That isn’t the original tank, but we have got some photographs showing what sort of tank. Water is a problem there. In fact, we have also got letters where poor Mr McGee actually had to take a pony and slide a quarter of mile away to get water for not just his family, but the school children as well, when the tank ran dry. Yesterday, I had a student from the 1930s, one of the last living students visiting. He said, ‘Oh. It looks much smaller than when I was little here.’ He was hopefully going to help us, but he said, ’Oh, 1930s, the Depression, and no, we never had any water. We couldn’t have gardens’. So one of the ideas is to recreate the gardens very similar to what’s in this 1890s photograph. It is now just one acre.

Again, frequently asked questions. Well, who owns it? ACT Property Group, who owns lots of other properties around the ACT, many of them fenced and forgotten, as you know. But this one, they at least knew that it would get something happening there, and it certainly has.

The story of the kitchen and everything is interesting, but there’s a 1920s weatherboard bathroom and laundry at the back, and unfortunately this is a 1980s cool room, and the whole thing is attached by a breezeway. That cool room sadly, has ruined the run-off from that Gothic roof as you can see. It was a bedroom for a child in the 1980s, so I was told by the last lot of people that lived there with a large number of kids.

This here is where we think the midden might have been, and as you can see, these are elms that are far too close to the building, but quite a lot of archaeology has been found in these garden beds, and that’s some of the hated periwinkle, which while is very pretty, has overtaken. There’s white violets and all sorts of things in there, so we are hoping to murder it and find out what’s under there.

This is sort of the back door, and the garage, a 1920s garage, and there are two skillions and as you can see, some of the timber’s been recycled railway sleepers. It’s very picturesque and in fact is looking stunning at the moment.

There’s a whole orchard full of blossom out at the moment, very, very attractive. All of this garden furniture and pots and things are mine. It’s very picturesque, and very nice.

This is ‘the dunny’, and it is a ritual, and it is the two seater. So, I’ve got actually, a little thing here, a little plan that does show that it has the two holes, big hole for big bottoms, little hole for little bottoms. Inside there, which doesn’t look terribly good, it’s actually got a little bit of the wood that was for two holes, and then the long drop.

I reckon there’s archaeology under there. That was only used by the family, by the schoolmaster and his family. I’ll just take it back, because that’s tree lucerne, all around it, and stock feed in times of drought, and it’s particularly fine at the moment and very attractive.

The privacy screen here, has been there for a long time, and it’s considered quite an unusual piece to have around the property. One idea was that the poor old schoolmaster’s wife would not like to be seen by the school children, going to the toilet during the day, so what she normally did was have a pile of kindling just near the door, so when she was seen coming to and fro, she’d always have the kindling in the hand, and she went back so the kids went, ‘Teehee teehee, look at the schoolmaster’s wife.’

This is a favourite spot for possums to live, and there is a possibility – it has concrete floor at the moment, but at the back there would be a possibility – for digging under without the whole thing collapsing.

But that’s 1880, and the bricks are made on site. That was the interesting thing. They’ve even found they think, where the clay pit was, in Curnow Street, just further along. That’s actually marked here on one of these little plans. Somebody’s probably been trying to grow a nice garden on the clay pit, and wondering what’s wrong, but we know everything about who made the bricks, how much they cost, everything is there.

1984, Eric Martin actually did the whole conservation management plan, a 115-page document, and very, very thorough. He got a lot of stuff from New South Wales archives up near Penrith, and I’ve been up there a few times too and got even more stuff, because he’s a man and an architect, and I’m a women, a mother, and a teacher, so I found different things. So between us, we’ve got a whole lot of documents in the classroom for people to check and look at.

Now this is an interesting one. A lot of people think that is the school, which is a bit distressing. That is in fact, as it says here, 1950s tin shed and timber woolshed, and it was on the weather shed. The Monterey Pine is the last of a whole bunch of them that were around the whole side, and that’s the last one.

Actually, that poor little pram is going through the auction barn. It’s only a 1960s one, but I thought it looked rather poignant there. The man who built that was Les Morton. In fact, we know of all of the families pretty much, who’ve lived on site. Four families lived there for about 20 years.

Getting back to the frequently asked questions, it’s got heritage listing because of the McGee family, because one of their sons became Professor James McGee, who in fact helped discover television, radar, infrared photography, and it was the site of where he was born, and his early schooling, with his father. It’s also because McGee was there for 30 years, and the family lived there for 30 years. Well, I’ve actually set it up to replicate how it was when they lived there.

For more than 20 years, Les Morton, who also married a local woman, because McGee married Mary Anne Morrison, in Spring Bank. Of course the Morrison family lived there, where she was born on Spring Bank Island, so she was one of the very first of the pupils at Bulgar Creek School, over near Mount Stromlo.

This is a woolshed. I’ve been told not to call it a shearing shed. It’s a woolshed. And when I first opened the place in 2011, Rob Eddlington, said oh yes, he remembers shearing with a generator. So we’ve got lots of connections. This is something that could in fact be made into a much better – the floor is gone, so it’s fenced and nobody’s supposed to be in it but try and keep the local kids out. That’s not so easy.

By the way, that is actually Wunderlich ceiling tin because Les went up to Sydney, and came back with a job lot – well it’s 1911. I’ve checked in Lassiter’s and found that it’s a 1911 profile for the pressed tin ceiling tin. He’s made it from anything. It’s a very good example of very rustic stuff.

Here’s another one that he made. It’s a chook palace, that one. A lot of people just would go mad for photographing the lovely pressed tin. But, that’s worth getting in. We had some little kids that came from Woden Special School, and they loved getting in there and coming out as little chooks. I’ve got fake eggs in there. I’m spreading the story that no chooks have lived on the site since 2009, so there must be phantom chooks. So I’m spreading the word.

Now, this is what I’ve done with the inside. These are just some of my collection, and it’s really just to get a sense of the past. There are no barriers, no labels, nothing. As you walk into the front door, this is what you see. So the white walls are probably not right for the time, but it really has a sense of Edwardian and also late Victorian.

I’ve focused on 1908, because that’s when the school photograph, there’s a copy here, was taken, and also a family photograph for the McGees. I’ve had at one stage, a whole lot of replica children and things around, because I have actually had 1000-plus children through in the six years that I’ve run it, and I had to stop having too many because they bring 65 at a time, and those of you that remember Blundell’s, as it used to be, well that’s what this is like.

In fact, the kids have been very good. I’ve heard them saying, well they did actually like the fact that there were no barriers. But when you’ve got that number of kids, to bring them into these small rooms 25 at a time, they all have to sit on the floor, and Mavis generally works them through because getting to the kitchen, she can still cook on a wood stove, would you believe.

There’s all sorts of things in here. I’ve just got a quick selection that is the other side. Luckily, the photographs … Jim Cleaver, some of you may have heard of Jim Cleaver, has given copies of all of the family photographs, the weddings in the [19]20s of the seven McGee children.

In 1908, all seven were in the house at the same time, aged from 15 down to two. So, I’ve busily gone through to work out who was sleeping in which rooms and they obviously were top and tailing the kids, but all of these things are for handling and for checking, and there’s now quite a lot of information there for people to look at and to read.

The wedding photograph here, from the 25th of April 1915, of the oldest girl, the girl that arrived aged five. She’d married the Tharwa school teacher, Fred Cleaver, so there’s all these connections, unbelievable connections with this site.

I’ll quickly go through. This is the main bedroom. It’s just been a lot of things put here that people can even look at some of the books, the Ladies’ Home Journals. Everything is hands on. I’ve set it up so that there are seats so that you can make yourself comfortable and just immerse yourself in the site. The ceiling in this room is the only one that’s original. The others have been moved down. A bed warmer, interestingly enough, not that they look anything interesting, but the baby dress dates from 1910, was worn by a woman who I think is still alive, and born in 1912. Her mother’s night dress is there and her father’s night shirt. I bought all of these things from Molly Griffiths.

There’s a bunch of things you can look at, and of course the chamber pot. Very interesting for children, that whole notion, well when you see how far that old toilet is from the house, it makes a lot of sense.

This is the family room. The rocking horse and a few of the toys and things are going into an exhibition that’s going to be out at Yass Museum, on childhood from Victorian and Edwardian times, with clothing and toys, which will be an interesting one.

This is the room where they cooked over that fireplace, but you’ll notice that when they restored it, they’ve whacked white paint everywhere, so none of the six fireplaces can ever be used again, unless somebody goes to the trouble of getting the paint off, which is a bit of a nuisance. No cranes or anything over these, but six fireplaces, so every bedroom had one.

This is the children’s bedroom. There’s an unknown quantity of animals, made an animal skin on the bed. There’s 48 animals died to make that skin, but I haven’t shown that there’s a possum coming through the roof above that bed, and has always done, and he’s been told, he’s 49 if he gets through, because possums are a big problem on this site, but I think they’re quite cute. I’ve photographed them and all, but children are encouraged to play with the toys in here. They seem to like it.

The floor by the way is original. It is 137-year-old kauri pine. The one in the classroom was actually eaten, would you believe, by white ants, and I have got an example of what they do to the wood. That whole floor in the classroom is replaced, but nothing here has ever been replaced.

This is the kitchen. As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff in that kitchen. The chairs are early 1800s European. Again, they’re set up so that people can sit on them. They’ve been restored with beeswax and shellac. There’s a lot of things on that mantelpiece, but there’s even more around the other side. Some of these ember irons are going to go. I don’t need quite so many, but somebody came in and said they’re still using those in laundries in the Philippines, which is quite interesting.

I’ve actually had to block what was a fireplace there, because a baby possum fell down the chimney and was imprisoned in this room for three days and three nights. He didn’t smash anything except an egg cup, which was unbelievable, but everything was on the floor. So, that’s blocked, but then of course, somebody put in an apple tree, which overhangs the chimney, so not a lot I can do about that.

Now, there’s part of the laundry, and this is a toy washing board that’s going to feature in an exhibition, but the old mangle was given and the old concrete tubs are there. It has a very rustic feel, because I really think that they did get the ‘dodgy brothers’ in to do the restoration. It is very rough and ready.

But for archaeological purposes, that’s probably quite good, because it just hasn’t been overdone. There’s still an opportunity for digging about.

This is the inside of that cool room. That’s part of my agricultural collection that I take out, and I have brought along one piece for you to guess what it is. There’s probably rare to find a flail, but that is a real flail that came from a local family. I’ve done a bit of research on it. I think it is from County Leitrim, and the O’Rourkes were the main family from County Leitrim. They also came out as threshers, as a team, so it could be interesting to do a bit more research on that.

Well there’s the horse bits and bobs and the bullock yolk and things are there. There’s a human yolk in the corner here. There’s a 12-tined fork that I’ve told kids if they misbehave I’ll run at them, and I never ever miss, what with 12 tines. I thought it was for hay, but somebody came in and said, ‘No it’s for mucking out stables. You get the lot on 12 tines’. That makes sense.

I have tremendous fun. Most of my visitors do come for two hours or more. There’s a lot to see.

QUESTION: What’s a flail?

ELIZABETH BURNESS: A flail is for threshing the wheat to get the little seeds out of the ear of wheat. So, four of them will hit it, and you probably remember them saying, ‘Oh then you winnow it and all of the chaff blows away’. But to hit it first, to dislodge the little bits of wheat, that’s what they do. If I’m not making sense, please ask.

This is the classroom until 1940. Not enough kids turned up, and that was sort of freaky, yesterday, having this 91-year-old come. He was actually Darcy Curley, or still is. He is Sylvia Curley’s second cousin, and quite amazing, all of the connections. Turns out, Sylvia Curley’s mother, I reckon, was one of the first children in this classroom in the 1880s, before she went into service at the rectory I believe, for [Pierce} Galliard Smith, so some amazing stuff.

The old desk here with the store behind it, is from Sutton Primary I’ve been told. I swapped it for one of the other desks that I’ve got there. Although, Darcy was saying they didn’t have those forms by the time he was at the school.

I’ve got a lot of things in here – that’s an unknown soldier hanging on the wall there. Some of you may have remembered David Ellery gave me a little bit of plug not so long ago. When he came in there, that’s the thing he saw immediately, the high Victorian print of the little sheep that’s been lost and the collie calling for help or whatever.

I’ve got some others, because I do remember they were of great interest to people of my vintage, in swap cards a lot of them came through. Look, there’s a lot of stuff there. Quite a bit of that has been donated, the different desks, but it is quite exciting to have people come in and say, ‘I sat in a desk like that’. I have deliberately left things so that people can feel at home – and there’s another one.

The blackboard is in the wrong place, so I was told, because it was around the other side, so Darcy said that the subsequent teachers didn’t sit in front of the fireplace, and having them face that way. Now, we’re losing all of that information, of how the classroom was run, but there’s still one or two, and it’s really exciting.

This is part of the archaeology which is on just an ordinary trestle in there. I have got a proper teacher’s desk from the 1880s. But when you think McGee was in there for 30 years, he actually had to have the children swear allegiance to three different monarchs, Victoria, Edward VII, and George V. Then, Federation as well, the Boer War, First World War, all in the time that he was the teacher.

The other interesting thing about McGee as a teacher, was that, he was very, very interested in science and new curriculum. Science curriculum came through in the early 20th century. He embraced it, and we know that because there’s a 40-page book that’s been written on his son Professor James McGee.

These 13 books, they are the only things except for the archaeology, and they were found at Uriarra School in 1966, because when they shut the school, at the beginning of 1940, all the furniture and stuff went to Uriarra School, and I believe Uriarra School is no more.

But in 1966 Michael Dwyer who some of you may know, was the headmaster, and he spotted these books, looked inside, found they were all stamped, Tuggeranong Public School, Federal Capital Territory. So, he kept them, and there they are, and the two David Copperfields. The two brown ones have actually got written on the flyleaf, in McGee’s writing, ‘1917’, so they’re 100 years old which is pretty exciting. I took them to Darcy to have a look at them. Darcy Curley didn’t remember any of them, which was a bit sad.

The school bell is actually one from Duntroon School. I picked it up at a garage sale, would you believe. So there’s all sorts of odds and sods in there that make it come to life, but now we’re on to the archaeology. Once again, she didn’t grid it. Things were not gridded. They’re just as they were found. There’s the beer bottles under the woolshed. There are other pieces that have been found, different bottles, and I inherited all of these, so the little labels that went with them. They sort of didn’t say when it was found. I think there’s still more to find. The picture of William Farrow was always in the school because Darcy Curley’s father, who was in this school photograph, but misidentified as one of the Gallaghers. His children said, ‘Well, there’s Dad,’ and he was the one that in 1906 when William Farrer died of a massive heart attack, was buried at dusk. This is the kid that was holding the lantern, because his father Thomas was the right hand man for all of the Farrer experiments, so quite remarkable.

There’s so many connections from down in the Tuggeranong Valley. Here’s more of the items. Some things are pretty obvious, I suppose, like the shelf pieces and different things. My visitors do identify things and like to have a look at them. This is a piece of the white-anted floor that’s there.

There’s bits and bones found on the site, but they’re dog bones. I have brought along this artefact here because it was found in the road. It is totally different to anything else, but I’m hoping some of you may be able to see if it in fact is an Aboriginal piece, but there it is. It normally lives in the classroom.

Moving right along, now, there’s heaps and heaps of pottery and things. Most of it that I’ve found in the six years was found in the garden beds, and on the lawn, so I just think that they’ve dug out somewhere, and just spread it. You know, it’s random, where the things are.

The phrenology head is interesting, and I‘m hoping somebody might like to be a volunteer to put that phrenology head together again. I had to buy one to show people what in fact a phrenology head is. There we are. I reckon that a schoolteacher must have gone around feeling all the bumps on the kids’ heads, and wasted time, opened the window, and chucked it out, smashed it.

It’s an amazing sort of a range of things. All sorts of bits and bobs, but that’s how they were when I arrived, and just very random, but maybe of interest. So there’s the head – it is the Fowler’s one.

Now there’s the Chevrolet Tourer automobile, and I think it is the accelerator pedal, and you wouldn’t believe it, but there’s a photograph of the Chev Tourer, and the various classic car people that have looked at the pieces of metal and identified them as parts from this car, whether it’s this one or another one, who knows. The brake was taken by the asbestos fellows, because it had asbestos lining, so they took the whole thing. That’s gone.

But anyway, there is the medal of Mary MacKillop. I didn’t bring it along because it’s a replacement – $2.20 at Dickson’s St Vinnies – but we can date it, per when she started making the medals of her. But it’s like my business cards – I have little picture of my business card. I’ve found children love anything that’s like a miniature picture, and they’ll take it, whether they want it or not, but that’s gone twice.

I know where it is, but I can’t actually track it. I know which child has taken it, because I get on quite well with the local children. Being an old schoolteacher, we have ways and means, but they have been quite good generally. We were a bit surprised when a large family of children had come through, and toddling after them was a baby in just a nappy.

It is quite a dangerous site. I do pay quite a lot, nearly a $1000 a year on public liability for this site, and for taking a lot of the things out, which is what I do.

These photographs are interesting too, because they were taken at the site in the 1930s of Christmas parties, and somebody has put the dates, which is really good. So, you might like a closer look at those.

So, six years, I’ve had it. They are not wash stand tiles because they’ve got quite a lot of concrete stuff behind them. We have no idea where they would have come from. I don’t think they’re from this site.

All of this stuff, is what I have found, just off the surface, in six years, and there’s still more stuff coming up, continually coming up. This stuff is coming from the surface into builders’ dumps and there’s even more stuff than that since the asbestos boys went through last week and found that every time there’s any rain, more bits of asbestos come up and I have to actually declare that, and they just take it away.

There’s all sorts of things that probably, you can identify. Somebody thought that that was from part of a pick handle or a shovel handle or something that had the piece of wood through it, and I don’t know. Duncan will probably know, but there you go. This is the asbestos that keeps coming up. They just get rid of it. That’s the one, so maybe there is something along on this side. We could easily have a bit of a look. That’s the end.

So once again, the property is a government property. I don’t pay rent. I pay a peppercorn, and have done for six years. Only in Canberra, I reckon, would they let somebody have an acre of land with an 1880 building on it, but they get all of that – thousands of dollars’ worth of things to bring it to life.

I open once a month, second Sunday, hoping that people from the north will come over to the south and go to the Tuggeranong markets, which have now relocated to Calwell High School. I think they used to be at Tuggeranong Homestead, and I thought that would be quite nice if people came down. But most of them say, ‘No, it is too far away’. It takes me half an hour from where I live in Holt, on the Tuggeranong Parkway, Isabella Drive and half an hour from Holt to Chisholm, not in peak hour, and they are digging up Ashley Drive at the moment, but still, it doesn’t take very long.

I’m actually now targeting a lot of the 26 Probus clubs. I do a free talk where I dress as Mrs McGee, and dress in parts of my collection, and take along some of the things, particularly the punishment book seems to resonate with everybody and particularly when I bring along a cane, so people can hit themselves. The punishment book – but not anybody else – well it may mean so much more when you read the punishment book. Interestingly enough, the youngest child was McGee’s own five-year-old daughter, age five, for talking.

The whole thing has been typed, so that modern children can read it. This is worth gold, you know, because it really does give an idea of who was living – and well in the classroom, their toilets and things were where the road is now, so that’s been lost forever, but I reckon the other family toilet would be more interesting.

They did have a heritage festival on Tuggeranong Open Day, back in the [19]90s. Somebody was still living in the house, but they opened up the classroom, and they went to a lot of trouble with photographs like that one and others. And, also a timeline of who was actually living on the property, and a little history of the site as well.

When I took over, it really was quite good. Here is the latest of the conservation and management plan. It does show the restoration of how it was done. It’s got aerial views, plans, and all sorts of things, so it really is quite a document, but we’re using it to see if we can find plantings, if we can actually get some historic plantings. We’re particularly thinking of lavender, so I’m hoping to get out there and get the periwinkle out, but very carefully – we’re not going in with a whipper snipper.

There has been a call out for volunteers from the National Trust, to come on the 14th of October with their own secateurs and gloves, and they’ll get all sorts of goodies and stuff, and interesting information about the place. Even if they want to bring their own plants to make a mark on that site, they’re most welcome.

We’ve been able to look at these aerial views. I might have mentioned them before. The first one is a black and white one, and it was from the 16th of December, 1944, and that was one of the photographs, and there’s a whole mass of them, in the ACT archives, and these ones were taken because they were doing the arsenal down there. Do you remember, around Isabella Plains, and they found an unexploded ordinance? They were doing bombing runs down there, and so this was part of that series taken.

Again, it shows the place was covered around with the Monterey pines, so it had shrunk by that state, but you can still see the dairy and the stables, up the back. That’s pretty interesting.

Then of course, the next one goes to 1968. The Tharwa Road. You can see the little road from this very lonely little settlement, down to the Tharwa Road, which is sort of the Monaro Highway, sort of, but it does give an idea of how remote the property was, and a lot of people are very interested in looking at these.

Then it goes to 1975. That’s a bigger one. Once again you can see – and there’s no water anywhere. It was really weird that they decided to build this abutting Simpsons Hill. That’s the other thing. It is the only museum showing European settlement adjacent to a nature park, at Simpsons Hill, which is really worth looking at, because it’s got walking trails and seats everywhere, stunning views over the Tuggeranong Valley. The two together, and in fact, that’s one of the things we’re hoping to do for the National Trust, is a walk up there, identifying all of the native vegetation, and then to contrast it down at Tuggeranong, and that will be next year sometime, that we’re doing that.

Then of course, there’s this amazing photograph here. I thought you Tuggeranong people might find it interesting to see if you get on the map. This one I think was 1996 photograph taken, and it’s outlined.

It’s like a little oasis. This poor chap yesterday, he sort of looked around and he really couldn’t get his bearings, because of the proximity of the houses, but he still was very, very useful, and that of course is Simpsons Hill.

On my website, a little DVD was done. They used a drone camera, so they flew it around, and it’s really nice. Harcourt’s Real Estate people did a similar thing, and flew a drone as well.

So, it’s worth having a look in case you can spot your property. What’s so nice, is there’s also these as well, and these are part of the 1915 maps that were done when they were setting up the national capital, and it really is interesting because the names of the properties are on there and who was living there, so once again, really worthwhile seeing.

McGee kept running out of water in summer, particularly, one tank, and he had to use a pony and slide to try and get a quarter of a mile away to a spring. Well, you can find it on these maps, which is really quite interesting. The only thing of course it’s in somebody’s yard probably, so they’re probably wondering why they’re a bit soggy. It really does show a very interesting part of Canberra down that way, and the vegetation, everything’s there.

So to the people. This was the only photograph where the children were named by Everly Lea-Scarlett, and Bert Sheedy, and of the 25 children in the photograph, six of them are McGee’s. He was working half-time. He was down at Tharwa School in this year as well, and so he loaded his six kids onto the sulky. They got a full day of school, and everybody else only got half.

It’s been fascinating looking at these and Darcy Curley was able to look at one of these that isn’t identified – that there is Sarsfield Gallagher. The Gallaghers, many of you probably know, like the Morrisons, they’re were very, very religious, Roman Catholic. All of those families built the little 1902 – well it was Sacred Heart but it’s now Francis of Assisi – church that has been shifted.

So it was all of these families, and they’re all here represented, the Gradys, the Monks, everyone. He just recognised him from the facial features. His family gave two monsignors and so did the Morrisons, as well as all sorts of them, as nuns.

What I didn’t say, which interested a lot of people, was that of the seven McGee children, three of them were born in that main bedroom, and that really resonates with my visitors. I know it’s all coming back into fashion and stuff, but one of the descendants became emotionally overcome standing in that room, where her great-great grandfather had been born. That sort of is really magic, you know, when that happens, those sorts of things. People do connect.

Certainly, when I’ve had hundreds of people come through. In 2011 when I first opened for the Heritage Festival and Jim Cleaver sat just inside the door, and as people came through, he said, ‘My brother and sister were born in that room’. Do you know, people kept writing that in the evaluation that the connection to the family was still there. Really, there’s even more. The other day, I videoed him singing the old songs with a harmonica and he’s raconteur and he’s amazing. He’s a good singer, amateur singer, part of the ‘Heartbeats’, who’ve been going for 25 years, so he’s 88-and-a-half he says.

So I had to video him now, before he fell off the perch, and into the water bowl. So now I’ve got him and he’ll be going on a loop singing the songs and you know, the recitation, particularly his grandfather’s poems, because nobody realised that, that family, they all played the violin, they’re all champion Irish dancers, they were also great – they sang, they did everything. Great cricketers, unbelievable family.

They had 80 beehives on the property, and there are bees living in the chimney in the classroom. They have never been able to get rid of them. They’re always there, so whether they’re the original ones from the family, who knows. They may be descendants.

The place is magic. It’s got that sort of environmental thing, unspoiled down there. It’s got the history, the archaeology is sort of waiting to be properly done. But, even to get a taste of what’s there.

The other thing I brought along though to show you, was in fact, some of these items. Here’s two archaeology pieces. One of them, it’s a burnt medal, and it says, ‘Jonathan Knott, 1990’. The children are fascinated with that when they come in. I don’t know why it was burnt. I know it was found. So, these sorts of things come up.

That family, the Knotts, lived there for 20 years as well, in the [19]80s. They were the ones that put the cool room on. They’re still around, in Canberra, so there’s a heap of more work that we can do in collecting. One of the things you might have noticed was a ‘Barbie’ shoe. I pick up all sorts of things like ‘Barbie’ shoes.

But still they’re archaeology. This was a great find I felt up near the old toilet. That’s just a piece of a horseshoe, and I thought, well, the stables – I know where the stables and the dairy were – they’re under somebody’s house now. But to find that was really good, except, when I was able in the punishment book, to give Darcy a copy of the punishment book, because his father’s in there as well as him, age seven, and his handwriting. The teacher made him write. All of the children had to write what they had done wrong, and he had no recollection of it, but there it was for his grandchildren, him in the punishment book, age seven.

What they’d been doing is racing their ponies, and he was able to remember where they were because where you’re able to park the car to come in at Enid Lorimer, is the horse paddock. That’s where the horses were kept.

It was only when talking to him – they were taken for water, right up the back, up near the toilet – and there he was remembering it, as if it was yesterday. It was really, really magic. But he won’t let me video him or anything unfortunately, a very shy man, but still I’ve collected his story, or what he remembers, and his sister’s as well. I went up to Minnamurra where she and her husband, both of them in their nineties live in a two-storey house. I think they’re fitter than me, and their memories are fantastic, just as, for those of you that remember Sylvia, quite a remarkable family.

I’ve only got a couple of other things. I’m going to see if you can identify them. Does anybody know what that is? Because it certainly had us beat. Because I think that for archaeology students, just to have a look at the things, and if they don’t know what something is, ask.

Anybody got a guess? It’s an agricultural thing. It’s for drenching your horse. That goes over the tongue, and you put the little drip in here, and the poor thing, it goes down his throat – nose through here. We had no idea, but something like that might come up in a dig one time. Here’s something else. They all look a bit gross, but I like ‘as found’ things. Anybody know what that is? I’ve got the rest of the equipment.

QUESTION: A mirror?

ELIABETH BURNESS: No, not a mirror.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

ELIZABETH BURNESS: No. I’ll give you a clue. It’s iron. Goes over a fire.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Yes. Your lump of tallow. Your sheep fat, whack it on over the fire, it melts into the little runnel here, and you pour it into your candle mould so when you come visiting, you’ll see the candle moulds are there, not that we’re going to demonstrate. It’s hard to get sheep fat now, but still. I’ve got a big one as well, because I’ve been doing a lot of work with coach tours out at Cooma Cottage at Yass, and nobody realises, that out that way, of course the O’Briens saved the Australian economy pretty much, as did Farrer, with the wheat, but they actually, when the wool prices fell through the floor, worldwide, they boiled down the sheep. This is a little domestic one. They did it on a much bigger scale, the tallow works out there. It all sort of connects. There it is. Nobody knows what it is.

Here’s another. It’s a kitchen item. Anybody know what that is?

QUESTION: It’s a timer is it?

QUESTION: A roasting jack?

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Yes. It’s a roasting jack. I didn’t bring the key, but you can wind it up and then you have it suspended on your crane, hook your chook, and around it goes – tick tick tick, tick tick tick. It just keeps going round and round and round. It’s roughly 200 years old, I think. They’re very old. But anyway, lots of children have handled that, and you’ve no idea. It resonates with so many of them, and they remember. They’re really amazing. It’s old.

Here’s something that I’ve had a lot of fun with. What do you reckon that is? If you’ve got a drunk husband ladies, it’s very good, but if you might find a hinge maybe in a dig. Anybody know what it is?

QUESTION: A knife sharpener?


QUESTION: A wooden tube and fork?

ELIZABETH BURNESS: It’s wood. It’s for the man without a wife, to pull off his boots.

COMMENT: We’ve got one at home.

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Yes – to pull it off.

COMMENT: But it doesn’t fold up.

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Well, this is for somebody on a campaign, you know a soldier’s one, for getting his boots off, although, you might find the hinge and think oh – it’s just the way that’s built. I could be a millionaire from the number of people that find that fascinating.

It’s just a simple thing – the wood won’t survive –but I’ve got various things down there. Swap meets are terrific places for finding odd things out of people’s sheds. It’s just so nice.

What I didn’t say was that as a collector, I’m a collector that likes to share, and really having a lot of fun finding the things, but now we’ve got to stop, which is such a pity. Hopefully some of you may be interested to come on down and have a look at the place, poke around, pick up stuff, read Mrs Rutledge’s Goulburn cookery books. I’ve got 1912 and 1932. I’ve even got the recipe for underground mutton, but it’s also underground chicken, which as you know, is rabbit. So, the children spend most of their time rabbiting and you know, it’s quite amazing, having the children visiting. Not in such big groups, but when there’s smaller groups.

I do take a lot of this stuff out, and some of you may have seen that I do in fact dress up in some of my gear sometimes. I just find that if you’re talking about the past, it’s a bit of fun. You know, I’m now so eccentric, one of my areas of expertise is women’s underwear, so a lot of fun. Why not?

Because it’s something that everybody’s interested in and that’s the same with the school experience. Everybody’s been to school, and this is why I don’t stay locked into just one era in that classroom, because, gee, it’s fun. The little box pleated tunics. How many of you ladies remember wearing those? Well I’ve got several of them, and I got them from op shops would you believe. So, there’s a lot of fun around. I do work with Alzheimer’s Australia, out at Kaleen. I have been doing it for several years now. Once a month I take stuff out and bring back memories, so a lot of these things, they find fascinating. Even doing a whole school one. I actually go into schools as well if they want me to, and work with the little guys and take the stuff in.

You probably saw a cow skin in one of those slides. That’s Daisy. Very interesting to have them all sit on it, to have them look underneath and then to have them say, ‘It’s leather’. ‘Yes, where did you think leather came from’?

So, they were like little sponges, and the stuff from the past is all there, and so we are hoping that some of the people that come to kill the periwinkle in October would like to stay on and become part – even room sitters or to just take in some of the stories there. Have their own basket of artefacts that they might like to work with visitors. We’re very, very flexible down there, and that’s one of the beauties of a private collection. It isn’t being as the museum is, keeping things for posterity. This is a working collection down there and a working environment, and I’m just so thrilled that the ACT government has entrusted the place to me. I think we’re about ready to do a shout out and a little bit more publicity, so that more people can come on down and enjoy it.

I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to share a little bit with you, and if there’s any questions or anything I didn’t make clear, please ask.

QUESTION: What hours are you open on a Sunday?

ELIZABETH BURNESS: I’m open from 10 o’clock until four o’clock, so six hours, and everything is on my website, so Tuggeranong Schoolhouse, or my name, and my website will come up and it’s got the lot there.

Thank you very much for coming out and to hear my little talk and hopefully – anytime – just give us a ring because if you’ve got visitors or a bit of free time, you can come on out and have a look. I’ll open the place at the drop of a hat, if you’d like to come out and see it for yourself. It’s looking lovely with the orchard at the moment, although I don’t know what the orchard is. I’ve photographed it and hopefully some Arboretum people are going to come and identify all my plants. I’ve got a heritage advisor, who specialises in cottage gardens. She’s actually working on it as well, and so, even though there’s no water, there’s six tanks but I can’t get the water out of them. They didn’t think of that, which is quite bizarre.

QUESTION: Is there a site for school houses of Canberra? We all know about Ginninderra School House and Tharwa – that you could join forces for a website together? [inaudible] here in the Tuggeranong Valley and I’ve never really heard of it.

ELIZABETH BURNESS: That’s right. That was only six years ago, and it was mostly with Hall. The thing with Hall, they did an exhibition in 2013 on all of the schools that were around so I worked with them. Tharwa is a preschool, so there really is only this one, and I will be getting more publicity for it, but Hall has got over 20 volunteers and the Lyall Gillespie collection, which includes, as you know, his archaeological collection of Aboriginal artefacts, so they’ve really – and actually that’s one of my first frequently asked questions, with people saying, ‘But who are you’? Who are you with’? Well, I’m just me. But I am planning now to get more volunteers so that the load can be shared and we can get a bit more publicity, and make money.

We were hoping next year to have – well, we’ll have the Christmas party for the National Trust, will be happening for the second time. Again, many members had no idea the place existed. They do now, and we’re also going to have grandparent days, where we will be having the face painting lady, and the ice-cream lady and all of that too. We’ll get some publicity for that, and that will be going through the Events and Tours Committee of the National Trust.

Once again, it’s just not me, like a shag on a rock, you know. I am working with them, so more publicity. Ginninderra School is up for sale again as you know, it became an art gallery and restaurant. That’s a pity because it’s about the same sort of quality as this one.

Hall is 1911, much later, and as you know, St John’s goes back even earlier, but the teacher’s residence is just a museum. They’re backed by the archdiocese of Goulburn. Hall have got behind them, the Hall Village Progress Association. I know that Tuggeranong, the Art Centre has been in touch with me. We’re trying, maybe down the track, to get a grant or maybe work with the Men’s Shed.

We know that in the past, they’ve used day release prisoners to really do the verandahd of the property once the white ants ate the columns. Somebody remembers seeing the boys. I’ve never seen anybody have such a long smoke as those boys.

They really did have a nice time, sitting out there. They’ve restored it. We know who did put a lot of work into it. A couple were living in it. They stripped a lot of the paint off of the architraves and things, to reveal Australian cedar. So, I do quite a lot with Alzheimer’s men’s group. They come quite regularly, and just love sitting in there looking at the different timbers that have been used. They like the atmosphere. They like just sitting in there, especially the parlour, it’s just enough to bring back memories.

QUESTION: Goodwin Homes which is in Monash – they have the Men’s Shed there – for their Alzheimer’s [inaudible]

ELIZABETH BURNESS: I didn’t know they had that. I’ve actually done quite a lot of work with them. I do take a lot of my collection around to aged care places. I’m about to start on happy hours, would you believe, where I supply the hats and a story, because somebody gave me a washing basket full of about 13 hats from the 50s, 60s, into the 70s and who wore them, when, how much they cost, where she got them. People are very much sharing their histories with me too. The only problem with the happy hours is they’re at three o’clock in the afternoon because they’re all in bed by six, so there you go. Why not?

QUESTION: If you want to drive down to see the garden and its blossom beauty, can you actually [inaudible], can you see it from the road?

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Yes you can, from Chase Place. It’s just that if there were events, people park there. It’s only a little tiny road whereas in Lorimer, you’ve got heaps of parking, so it works out quite well. You still can see it, but it’s better to see it from Chase Place.

There’s also kurrajongs. There’s a massive kurrajong tree in somebody’s yard. They asked me to come have a look at it, because I’ve got two of its babies on this property. We’re going to quite a lot on what plants there are. Mainly, going back to lavenders, because we know that Mrs McGee certainly had lavenders, but the last people that lived there had 16 goats, and they ate the lot. We’re going to put them back again if we can. It’s been quite a problem, in fact, one of the goats died, and I was amazed – the children. A little bit of archaeology, I better warn you one of the little kids died. His name was Eric. He’s buried under a huge gum tree at the front gate. I told these seven-year-olds, so they solemnly came up, stared at nothing. They were there for a long time thinking of Eric. So, I’ve now got a fake goat that I have photographed around and have him in the classroom with all the other kids.

It’s amazing though how much people really, especially children, really love this place, and I’m looking forward to having them out again.

DUNCAN WRIGHT: Well, I think you’re going to have quite a few visitors.

ELIZABETH BURNESS: Good, good. Give me a call.

DUNCAN WRIGHT: I’m very keen to have a look at your punishment book. So, maybe we can all just join together and thank Elizabeth.

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Date published: 01 January 2018

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