News & Events

Heather retraces steps of early colonists

September 30, 2016

Rushall park resident Heather Hodge on 150th history working group

Heather Hodge and her husband, Ray, moved into one of the new units at Rushall Park three years ago and she loves it! But it’s the original cottages that have captured her heart and interest. Heather is one of the residents on the 150th history working group gathering information, anecdotes and historical facts to share with people during the sesquicentenary celebrations of the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria that kick off in 2019.

The Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria was formed in 1869 by a group of prominent Melbourne leaders including George Selth Coppin to care for Victorian-based retired and poor actors before it became the place for ‘aged persons and deserving poor’.

Heather is spending hours each day poring over OCAV Council records, newspaper clippings and records, and developing a ’biography’ of the cottages, particularly the early buildings. It’s almost retracing the early work and influence of George Coppin and his friends at Rushall Park.

The research project is perfect for Heather, 77, who has discovered an interest in the history of settlement in Victoria (which started with studying family genealogy). She has joined a few other Rushall Park ‘sleuths’ in this history project and much of their findings will appear during the events being planned for the 150th anniversary.

“It’s a rummaging task at the moment as we go through everything. I want to make sure that we have a real understanding of the early cottages, who built them, who designed them, the developments and renovations over the years to incorporate things like gas and electricity and the various people who have lived in each cottage since they were built,” Heather said.

“Most people who endowed a cottage, selected their own architect and through the village you can see a range of architectural styles including Victorian, Edwardian, Arts and Crafts, Inter-war and a few ‘Austere’ cottages, built just after WW2, which reveal the lack of building materials and labour at that time.”

Heather first discovered the Rushall Park cottages when her aunt, Audrey Oscroft-Jones moved there 25 years ago, and then her mother, Eileen Fairbairn. Audrey has recently moved from her cottage to Liscombe House. When Heather and Ray were offered a cottage Heather was keen on one of the early buildings, but Ray desired something more modern. Now, she couldn’t be happier with their choice. This project means she gets the best of both worlds – living in the modern, but immersing herself in the old.

“I remember when I first came here I thought Rushall Park was like a quaint little village from the past, tucked away. Wandering around the village is amazing because you can see so many different styles of building that reflect the architecture of the day and the style the benefactor wanted to use, or that his architect favoured and wanted to ‘trial’. When you go inside you can see how the many beautiful features have been maintained during the modernization of the facilities,” Heather said.

“If you look up as you walk around you can appreciate the many different chimney styles which are a lovely feature of the village. From my balcony, I can count 37 chimneys!”

Heather has found the story behind many of the original cottages as captivating as the building itself. Once George Coppin and his friends had established the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria in 1869 and built a few of the early cottages in the early 1870s, other wealthy people ‘endowed’ a cottage to the Association for a poor person to live in. Heather has found a newspaper clipping which talks of the village benefactors, inviting them to come and walk around the Park and ‘observe the genteel poor’.

“ It was considered a ‘suitable’ outing for the wealthy folk to wander around with their sun brollies and watch the cottage residents digging in the garden or hanging their washing.”

“Apparently there was one toilet and one bathhouse for every four cottages. A very special bath house was fitted with gold taps and marble fittings.”

Heather’s favourite cottage was originally built for Old Actors or Comedians (like George Coppin). It is painted bright pink and along with the one next to it, is unlike any other in the village. It features very high ceilings, beautiful timber floors, a sun drenched country style kitchen, shapely windows and one of the best cottage gardens in the village.

“My dream is to create a seamless history of each cottage which will be a valuable resource for the 150th anniversary, but also for people who come after us, genealogists, local historians and lots of other people,” Heather said.







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