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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

What’s the Parramatta with that? (Day 148)

An unexpected whole day in Parramatta, the 2nd oldest city in Australia, which luckily some history of people and buildings have still survived.

Off to Parramatta by bus, an hour’s journey around the suburbs of sprawling Sydney with many new builds, lots of big houses squashed onto plots that don’t do them justice. You are in for a history lesson today folks:

Parramatta is 23km west of Sydney based on the Parramatta river. The Darug Aboriginal people called the area Burramatta meaning “the place where the eels lie down” and the Rugby League in this area are called the Parramatta Eels. It was establishes in 1788, making it the second oldest city in Australia and during this time in Sydney, food was running short as the soil was too infertile to grow enough food for the 1,000 convicts and soldiers. Governor Phillip took a detachment of soldiers and a surveyor to find better land for farming and this area fitted the bill.

Not long after in 1790 Lieutenant John Macarthur, his wife Elizabeth and son arrived in Sydney and he was appointed as commandant at Parramatta. He was quite an argumentative man and even before the arduous journey to Australia, he had a duel with the Captain of the ship. He was very influential and a couple years later was granted 100 acres of land promising to produce merino wool which he succeeded, with a further 100 acres a year later for clearing and cultivating the land. He built Elizabeth Farm on the highest point in honour of his wife, what a romantic!

So why am I writing about John Macarthur? Well, we visited Elizabeth Farm, but before that we walked along the river, smelling the aroma of the massive olive trees, walking along the path with river animals depicted on it, reading the history of the city and onto @HambledonCottageMuseum in a very balmy 34 degree heat. Who says global warming doesn’t exist? It is autumn here and usually about 20 degrees.

During our session with Shelley, she suggested that we made some short videos every now and again. Fine with me. I used to do a video for Glows Coaching once a week for a year a few years back. So outside of the cottage museum, Tim was there with his phone ready to video me. Oh dear, no video. The only time I managed to speak, Tim hadn’t pressed go, the rest of the time I was in fits of giggles. Better luck next time!

We met our guide Rhona, a lovely elderly lady who has an interesting history herself. Two of her great great grandmothers were convicts, with very minor crimes probably committed just to survive, and were brought over on the ships in the 1800s. She showed us round this beautiful historical cottage which was built by none other than John Macarther in 1824 for the governess to his three daughters to live in. It was great fun to see the antiquated kitchen utensils, many reminded us of our childhoods; the flat irons, the dustpan which the shape was patented, butter pats, jelly moulds and a whisk made from tin which came from America.

There were seven rooms altogether and Rhona made it so interesting, sharing with us details about the furnishings and objects such as a tea cup and saucer hand painted with the green made from arsenic powder!

We then went into the Lucas Gallery with an exhibition about the female convicts and Rhona showed us photos of some of her ancestors including Mary (Ann) Ahern who was born in Cork, Ireland, tried in 1830 aged 20 for stealing four 30 shilling notes and sentenced to 7 years transportation. Arriving in Sydney she was “disposed of” to Wm. Hayes and then C.Gold. Both were deemed unsuccessful so she was sent to Parramatta Female Factory in 1832.

Life was tough for many of the women, encountering having their head shaved, being paraded in the streets, given just bread and water and hard labour. Mary Ann’s story continues that she met Joseph Jones in Newcastle in Oz, married in 1833 and had 10 children. I hope she had a happy life.

The Parramatta Convict Female Factory was built in 1818 with an estimated 5,000 women enduring this place. It had 1st, 2nd and 3rd class areas depending on the severity of the crime with a 3 storey solitary cell block. Our guide Rhonda is passionate about the preservation of the place and informed us that there is currently a federal petition for the buildings to be included in the National Heritage Listing, preventing them being knocked down in place of another high rise block. Many historical sites have sadly been demolished. More information is at

Our plan was to go by ferry into Sydney to the Art Gallery, however we wanted to know more about John Macarther and his family, so strolled round in the heat to Elizabeth Farm.

Elizabeth Farm is Australia’s oldest homestead and now a hands on “living” museum. A beautiful building with its elegant Georgian symmetry. Deep verandas were added to provide necessary shade from the intense Australian sun. Our guide Kim showed us around, giving us the history of the building and of John Macarthur. Such an interesting character. As well as being an influential entrepreneur, he suffered from bouts of intense activity, then depression and died suffering severely from mental health. The cure then was to be given laudanum and mercury (which probably killed him off). Despite this he was one of the wealthiest landowners in the colony, owning over 24,000 acres of land.

His wife Elizabeth was a strong women, managing the home, family and farm, especially during his absents when he was band from living in Australia for 8 years after causing an affray.

Today, the house is set in a beautiful re-created 1830s garden and records the colourful history of this family with political intrigues and personal struggles. Only two families have lived in this house with the Swann family buying the derelict house in 1904, of which their nine daughters lived, maintained and preserved the house for 65 years which likely save it from destruction. There was a map in the museum showing the area that John owned overlaid by a recent map. The area is now covered with houses, shops and oil refinery.

Our tour with Kim finished and she said that we could continue looking around and taking photos. We were the only ones there, so had fun jumping on the bed (with the 3 mattresses), trying on a bonnet and relaxing on the veranda.

We eventually got back home via the bus, got changed and went to meet Colleen and Mario. Our friend Karen introduced us a couple of days ago, realising that we were living very close to one another and Colleen invited us out for a meal. Years ago Karen and Andy met Colleen and Mario on a Mediterranean cruise and they met us on holiday in Luxor. And how lovely that she has connected us via Facebook.

We had such a lovely evening with Colleen and Mario. He poured me the strongest Gin and Tonic ever – phew – one gulp and that was me done for the evening! We then went for a delicious meal at their local Italian restaurant where they very generously treated us. All we experience on our travels is pure generosity and warmth from people. So sad that the media doesn’t focus on that aspect of life isn’t it. Coleen and Mario have travelled quite a bit, Mario’s descendant are from Malta, and it was great sharing travel experiences with them. They are off to Japan and China later in the year so hopefully we can share some of our adventures with them soon.

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