Having heard of its Heritage on Sunday events, I finally got the chance to visit Tea Tree Gully Heritage Museum in person. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon made even lovelier wandering through the historic house, outdoor pavilions and gorgeous garden.
Built in the 1850s, Highercombe Hotel was a meeting place for the then Steventon (now Tea Tree Gully) community. Its main room, which is also the largest, had been used for public functions such as council meetings, lodge meetings and dances. In actual fact, the room held the very first dance in the area! Unfortunately, the hotel could no longer be supported after 24 years and had to close its doors. Its cellar, which can be viewed from above, remains as a remnant of those days.
Between 1880 and 1963, the northern side of the old hotel served as a post office while the southern side housed the headteacher of a local school and later the Hughes Family. Interestingly, the Tea Tree Gully Post Office kept mail in a two-compartment tin-lined postal cupboard. Why? You may well ask. I'll let you find that out for yourself during your visit. Also, while you're there, don't forget to ask how people avoided paying extra for their letters back then. I definitely learned a fair bit that afternoon.
After 1963, the building was used as a library and council office for approximately two years before being bequeathed to the National Trust of South Australia. An 1855 map of our country's eastern provinces, located in the library, is surely worth a closer look if you have the time.
Cleaning the floors with a pneumatic vacuum cleaner
Today, the two-storey bluestone structure is the centrepiece of an accredited museum managed and maintained by volunteers. It offers visitors the opportunity to envisage the local lifestyles of a by-gone era. We spent almost two hours at the museum and yet not covered everything. There are more than ten rooms to explore, with interpretive panels in the main room outlining the building's history.
A display has been set up in one of the rooms downstairs to depict a family kitchen. Obviously, home duties back then would have looked quite different, but can you imagine cleaning the floors with a pneumatic vacuum cleaner? A knowledgeable volunteer is at hand to show you how it works. Other items to check out include a pewter collection in the dining room, an early Victorian chrome and iron bedstead in the master bedroom, and a baby walker in the nursery.
Heading outside into the garden, you can explore four aptly named pavilions plus a laundry, police cell, blacksmith and even a backyard dunny. I'm sure at least one of these will further enrich your understanding of the history of Tea Tree Gully. A resident blacksmith was also hard at work on the day we visited.
The pavilion that most interested me was Hoe to Harvest where the stripper is located. As the wheat crop grew, John Ridley manufactured this stripper to assist in the harvesting efforts. The machine's fingers, set at a specific height, would advance through crop stripping heads, which would then be forced by the beater into the hopper. It was an invention with immeasurable benefit to not just the colony but also the nation!
Before saying goodbye to the friendly volunteers, why not take some time to browse the range of handmade gifts in the gift shop. All monies raised from purchases go directly back to the maintenance of the museum. A sausage sizzle and Devonshire tea are also available if you feel a little peckish. Parents would be pleased to know that the construction of an adventure playground is in the pipeline for some time in the near future.
Site of future adventure playground
The museum is open to the public on the third Sunday of each month. Having now been there, I must say the visit is definitely worth my while. Entry fees are just $5 per adult and $4 for concession. Group tours can also be organised. Further details are available on their website and Facebook page.
Wonderful article Audrey. It's important the relics of the past are preserved for all to see. I guess the tin-lined postal cabinet was to protect the mail in case of a fire. From my childhood I recall postage was a halfpenny cheaper if your letter wasn't sealed.