Calthorpe's House 90th Birthday Celebrations

1 September 2017

It was a perfect spring day and appropriately Wattle Day for the morning celebration at Calthorpe’s House for the 90th birthday of this charming early Canberra House now gifted to and preserved for us all. Designed by Oakley and Parkes, the architects for The Lodge, Calthorpe’s is a quasi Spanish Mission style home with a distinctive burnt butter stucco finish and a large garden that was typical for blocks on Mugga Way.

 1927 was when Dawn Waterhouse  (nee Calthorpe)  moved from Queanbeyan with her mum and dad, Della and Harry, her sister Del, the cat - which promptly had butter put on its feet as the tried and tested method to settle it into a new environment - the dog, canary in a cage and a casserole in the oven with a brood of new chooks out the back. Dawn loved this new home and reminisced with pleasure about those early days, reminding me that my aunt, her school friend, had a beautiful singing voice.

That was not inherited, but Dawn is my go-to memory bank when I need to know old Canberra stuff. On this occasion I needed to know the first name of the lady we always called Mrs Llewellyn who had the horse riding stables where my mum used to ride. She knew; it was Bobbi.   

Calthorpe’s House remained in the family until purchased by the Commonwealth Government was later acquired by the ACT Government and is now a museum where the original fixtures and fittings present a time capsule of life from Canberra’s early days. And it was again a trip down memory Lane for many of us with a tour of the house and a wander around the garden. It’s as if the family moved out and we came stickybeaking into the nooks and crannies, the maid’s bedroom, the laundry with  triple concrete tubs, a copper boiler, wood chopped and ready and a old sunbeam mixmaster with a bowl mended with vinegar and brown paper. So Jack and Jill. And I never knew it could mend glass bowls!

The house and garden is well cared for, the decor with original fabrics and upholstery is maintained, and the accoutrements of another life reflect intimate aspects of Dawn Waterhouse’s early years in the city.    

Dawn Waterhouse is a Canberra treasure, sharp as a tack with a phenomenal memory and determination to see Wattle Day become the preferred Australia Day. To acknowledge that guests wore sprigs of wattle for the occasion and indulged in memories and connections to old Canberra when this was Mugga Way, Blandfordia.