Helping you find government information and services

Historic Australian houses – living museums

Visiting the kitchen at Susannah Place, 60 Gloucester Street, as it might have been when first occupied in 1844. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

With their doors open wide to the public, historic houses invite us to enter the worlds of earlier Australians.

We stand where others stood. We see the views from their gardens, feel and see the detail of home textiles, furniture, and implements, find out what earlier Australians desired, bought, and enjoyed.

People want to know how other people lived in days gone by. 'Living museums' offer us that opportunity. Curators and other specialists, including chefs, gardeners and interior designers, challenge and develop ideas about the past through research, dialogue, exhibitions, publications and events. In New South Wales alone, nearly a million people each year visit an historic house or an associated exhibition or event.

Fifties Fair at Rose Seidler House, 2012, image by James Horan. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

As part of our heritage, the buildings and gardens offer us a reflection of the styles and features of certain periods, reflecting the Australian architecture of the day. Often historic houses and their gardens have aesthetic value and, as a community resource, can be a green oasis in a town or community, providing a space to relax, and hold events. They serve as a haptic example of a community's continuity as well as to connect people, past and present.

Historic houses range from some of the earliest colonial buildings, both private and public, many of them built and sometimes owned by convicts, or by the landed gentry, through to modernist icons like Rose Seidler House, built in 1948–50. In addition, there are historic towns such as Guildford in Western Australia which is regarded as one of the most historic towns in Australia.

Collectively the National Trust owns and manages nearly 280 heritage properties Australia-wide, with about 180 open to the public, and Sydney Living Museums in New South Wales has a further 12 sites which are open to the public. These properties include historic gaols and police stations, an aviation complex, railway stations, retail outlets, places of worship, inns, as well as houses ranging from modest workers cottages to grand mansions.

The kitchen at Elizabeth Farm, image by James Horan. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

Kitchen gardens were an essential part of any colonial house in order to feed its inhabitants and one of the key attractions for the public is to experience the taste of the food produced from those gardens. On offer are farm breakfasts at Elizabeth Farm or a convict breakfast at Hyde Park Barracks, afternoon teas overlooking the Brisbane River in the style of the Crown Commissioner for Lands as well as dinners and wedding feasts – as might have been enjoyed by the Wentworth family at Vaucluse House, or in the Macleay style at Elizabeth Bay House.

The enjoyment of the land's bounty also considers the original custodians of the land. It is not without irony that the colonial buildings in Sydney used mortar made with lime from the Indigenous oyster middens. In 2010–11 Sydney Living Museums and Darug and Dharawal Aboriginal communities made new partnerships. These partnerships will enlarge the stories of Rouse Hill House and Farm, Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Bay House.

Early built colonial houses

Most of Sydney's early buildings were single storey buildings due to the shortage of good mortar. Not surprisingly, early mud and clay brick houses rapidly deteriorated. Loam was also used for plastering. There is a surviving example of this early loam stucco at 'Ercildoune' near Ballarat, Victoria.

As neither limestone nor chalk was to be found in the vicinity of Sydney Cove; oyster shells found in Aboriginal middens all along the coast were burnt for lime. When these were exhausted the bays and inlets were dredged for live oysters.

The lime was sold in Sydney for a shilling a bushel and a settlement for burning lime was established on the Hunter River in 1816. Convicts were employed burning lime from oyster shells in NSW, Melbourne and Moreton Bay (Brisbane) in the 1820s and 30s.  The manufacture and trade of shell lime was continued by private settlers. Consequently shells can be easily seen in the mortar of older buildings in coastal and riverine New South Wales. This did not change until railways to the inland were established in the 1870s which enabled rock lime to be transported. (Miles Lewis, Australian Building: A Cultural Investigation, 7.01 Early Lime and Cement)

In the first decades of the early colony of New South Wales, when most of the 100 or so buildings were wattle and daub huts, mostly just divided into two rooms with a fireplace and chimney in one room; a substantial public building was noticeable. Yet, public storehouses, barracks and a planned hospital were seen as 'petty erections' compared to the laying out and completion of the governor's residence in Parramatta.

Old Government House, Parramatta, New South Wales. Courtesy TripAdvisor

Old Government House, Parramatta

Old Government House in Parramatta, New South Wales is Australia's oldest surviving public building. The central block of the house was completed in 1799. In 1815 Governor and Mrs Macquarie extended the house, transforming it into an elegant Palladian-style residence. For 70 years, it was the 'country' residence of 10 early governors.

Old Government House was built on land of the Darug Aboriginal people and there is evidence of Darug occupation at the site. The land still has signs of firestick management, and trees show scars where bark was taken. The shells from Aboriginal middens are clearly visible in the mortar.

The Cook and the Curator set the table for a Macleay dinner, at Elizabeth Bay House, image by Alysha Buss. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney

In 1826, Governor Darling granted 54 acres (21.8 hectares) of land around Elizabeth Bay to his Colonial Secretary, Alexander Macleay, who conceived of building the finest house in the colony on a site with vistas across Sydney Harbour. Whilst plans for Elizabeth Bay House were made in 1832, its commencement was delayed until 1835 and then was not habitable until 1839. This delay was probably a result of the large expense incurred by Macleay in landscaping a celebrated garden.

The native bush was retained and planted with exotics to enhance its botanical interest and the dramatic topography was embellished with picturesque structures: a turreted stables, cottages, a rustic bridge, terrace walls and grottoes.

Elizabeth Bay House, image by Patrick Bingham Hall. Courtesy of Historic Houses Trust

Macleay's development of his garden reveals his interest in entomology as well as romantic enthusiasm. In 1825 Macleay's insect collection was believed to be the largest in the possession of a private individual. While he did not publish on entomology, some British natural scientists paid tribute to him for access to his collection and his knowledge.

Reflecting the rise of the colonial middle class, Elizabeth Bay House was a detached villa set within the garden. It was seen as the most elegant and sophisticated house of the 1830s in New South Wales although it was eclipsed by the new Government House when that was completed in 1845. (Elizabeth House Guidebook)

Unfortunately for Alexander Macleay, he lost his government post in 1837 and due to his declining fortune, his son William foreclosed on him.

Patrick Taylor Cottage, Albany

Patrick Taylor Cottage, Albany. Courtesy Historical Albany

Patrick Taylor Cottage in Albany is the oldest surviving house in Western Australia. Patrick Taylor was a wealthy young man of very delicate health who came to Albany in 1834, possibly for health reasons and to purchase land for farming. On his voyage out he met Miss Mary Yates Bussell to whom he wrote many love letters and later married. Bussell was a Western Australian embroiderer whose pattern books are held by the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. Her letters over 50 years are held in the Battye Library.

The cottage today includes a fragment of its original wattle and daub construction from 1832 as well as the additions in this style of construction. Mann's Emigrants Guide to Australia advised in 1849:

The most usual style of knocking up a house is that called wattle and dab. Strong uprights of wood are driven into the ground, and long narrow sticks are then woven across these, like the twigs of a wicker basket. Moist clay, or earth, well mixed up with chopped hay or straw, is then plastered over this, and finished off with a trowel. The whole is then white-washed inside and out ... 
Quoted in Miles Lewis, Australian Building: A Cultural Investigation, 4.01 Wattle and Daub

At the time of Mary's death in 1887, and still today, the Patrick Taylor Cottage is a substantial wattle and daub cottage with 11 rooms: entry, boxroom, parlour, nursery, bedroom, dining room, family room, sewing room, kitchen, laundry, and side veranda. Beautiful artefacts are on display including embroidered items.

Susannah Place – four terrace houses, The Rocks, Sydney

Susannah Place corner store, Sydney. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

In the heart of The Rocks area, Sydney, is a small terrace of four brick houses with a corner shop that was built in 1844. This is Susannah Place. Rare in Sydney, it has never been substantially remodelled. It is unique in that working class families lived in them continuously.

Susannah Place still shows the ways these families lived. The varied decorative finishes, wallpapers and floor coverings from the 1800s and 1900s that are still in the houses tell much about working class interiors.

Because the amenities at Susannah Place are so intact they show the big shift from oil, candles, wood and coal to gas and electricity early in the 1900s. Early in the 1900s, corrugated iron bathrooms and semi-open laundries with tubs and coppers were added. These are some of the earliest surviving washing fixtures in Sydney.

Research has uncovered the names and other biographical details of many of the tenants. Their occupations included grocer, mariner, compositor, baker, shipwright, painter, policeman, and lodging house keeper. The house at Number 58 is being kept 'as found' with only essential repairs. It will remain as an archive for conservation, research and teaching. A caretaker occupies the house at Number 62.

The cash grocer at number 64 Gloucester Street

The 'cheap cash grocer' restocked as it was in the early 1900s. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

The centre of life was the 'cheap cash grocer' on the corner of Susannah Place at number 64 which was in business for over 90 years from 1845 until about 1930. During this time there were 12 shopkeepers who lived onsite with their families. The two we know most about are George Hill, who ran the shop from 1879 to 1890, and the Youngein family, who ran the shop from 1904 to 1930.

The store has been re-created as it was in the early 1900s. This is typical of many corner stores of its time. Its recreation is based partly on oral histories such as Mr Jim Young's reminiscences of growing up there in the early 1900s and partly on the evidence of surviving photographs, journals, bankruptcy papers which included detailed invoices from one of the shop owners, as well as from the shelves and fittings.

The kitchen at No 60 Gloucester Street, Susannah Place Museum, image by Leo Rocker. Courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

Other historic stores which display their collections include Brennan & Geraghtys Store in Maryborough, Queensland, the Commissariat Store Museum, 115 William Street, Brisbane, Dow's Pharmacy, Chiltern Victoria, and the Market Square Museum, Burra, SA.

Anne Poynter's residence at number 60 Gloucester Street

Anne Poynter lived at Number 60 from 1919 until about 1924. The downstairs kitchen has been refurbished to this period based on recollections of tenants' grandchildren. Meanwhile the front rooms downstairs and upstairs retain much original detailing and have been refurbished as a parlour and bedroom of the 1840s.

Guildford, Western Australia – a town of historic houses

Guildford has been classified and listed by the National Estate as

a rare and comparatively intact nineteenth century town within a relatively undisturbed topographical setting … the basic character and structure of the town remain as they have been since the period of railway development (1880‟s-90‟s) and are relatively unimpaired by encroachment from metropolitan Perth.

Guildford is only one of a handful of towns where there are surviving examples of both the first two decades of the colony of Western Australia from 1829 to 1850 as well as from the period of convict settlement from 1851 to 1880. Examples of the first period include 21 Meadow Street, a colonial bungalow styled home built in 1842 for Captain Meares, a small workers' cottages at 49 Helena Street and Welbourne's House in Market Street built c1840.

Local clay deposits enabled early construction to take on a permanent form. The rich, orange, red brick colour is a distinctive feature of the colonial buildings in the town today.
Barbara Dundas, The Historic Town of Guildford – Between Sea and Scarp in Australian Garden History Society Conference Proceedings 2005, p. 33-41

King's Cottage and Shop, 11 Meadow St Guildford constructed c1864. Image by and courtesy of Barbara Dundas

Convict labour enabled the building of roads, bridges and civic buildings, many of which still stand today. The first building constructed by convicts was the home of 21 year old Lieutenant E. Du Cane, Royal Engineer, appointed in charge of convicts and public works in the Eastern Region. His fine brick and shingled residence with front door to the hills and the kitchen, stables and toilet abutting Meadow Street still stands.

Many of the historic houses in Guildford at this time are distinctive for both their reflection of the English architectural styles at that time with Georgian symmetry as well as their innovative use of local materials. These include casuarina shingles, jarrah verandahs, bricks and terra cotta floor tiles from local materials. King's Cottage and Shop, 11 Meadow Street, constructed c1864 and 93 Terrace Road are examples of this style. Arbors and timber framed walkways were popular garden features for all classes in this period and survive in the garden at King's Cottage.

Whilst the National Trust has supported endeavours from local residents to protect the town and conserve their historic houses as private dwellings and encouraged the Council with its conservation planning, development decisions have affected this quite fragile heritage. Local historic house and garden specialists believe that the sustainability of Guildford as an historic town will depend upon statutory recognition and protection to maintain this town of private historic houses.

Historic Limestone coast towns, South Australia

There are other historic towns in Australia, with a fascinating cluster on the Limestone Coast (one of 13 regions in South Australia with historic towns) including Beachport, Millicent, Mount Gambier, Naracoorte, Penola, Port MacDonnell and Robe.

The port towns of Robe, Beachport and Port MacDonnell developed in association with the gold rushes in Victoria, as many new arrivals to Australia from the 1850s chose to disembark in South Australia. This preference to travel overland to Victoria was to avoid taking the risk of sailing the shipwreck coast. Today, the towns are full of historic stone houses, court houses, maritime offices, hotels and houses.

Situated on the limestone roads, the area offers houses open to the public including Dingly Dell, the home of Australia's first bush poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, near Port Macdonnell; and Wilson's Cottage, Penola incorporating the original 1856 slab and bark roof home which was then used as a kitchen.

Wolston farm house, Brisbane

Wolston House on the Brisbane River. Courtesy of National Trust

Wolston House is the oldest surviving residential farmhouse in Brisbane, commenced in brick in 1852 and completed in stone. It was built as the home of a Crown Commissioner for Lands and was the farm house of a working pastoral property of 640 acres (247 hectares), which also bred horses and cattle.

Wolston House is situated on the banks of the Brisbane River. halfway between Brisbane and Ipswich. It is seen as aesthetically pleasing and significant for its high quality techniques and workmanship.

Commenced by Crown Commissioner Dr Stephen Simpson, Wolston House began as a small brick house together with the station out-buildings. When it became the property of former Chinchilla pastoralist Matthew Goggs and his wife Ann, Goggs built reception rooms in sandstone and a children's wing in cedar as an annexe. There have been five owners of Wolston and each has either built or adapted the house and grounds to suit their family's needs.

Today, Wolston House has six rooms, detached lean-tos and two cellars. Having no formal access, a verandah along its eastern side allows ingress to each room. Folding cedar dividers are a feature of the reception rooms. A silver and plate collection, including tea and coffee service, napkin rings, christening mugs, and cutlery, belonging to the Goggs family who owned the property from 1860–1906 remains at the house. Wolston House is opened every Sunday.

World Heritage convict built estates – Tasmania

Eleven historic convict houses and living museums were entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2010 as significant within the Australian convict system as part of the Australian Convict Sites nomination. Brickendon Estate, along with its neighbouring property Woolmers Estate in Tasmania, was listed alongside other sites including the Cascades Female Convict Factory, Hyde Park Barracks and Old Government House at Paramatta 'amongst more than 3000 convict sites remaining around Australia representing different aspects of the story of convictism'. The exhibition Convict Sydney was launched to coincide with this recognition of the Sydney sites.

Brickendon Estate and Woolmers Estate, Longford, Tasmania

Brickendon Estate. Courtesy of Brickendon Estate

Brickendon Estateis a Georgian house in a garden setting with hedges and farm buildings. The house and land use patterns offer a rare glimpse into the living and working conditions of settlers and the convicts assigned to them on the Tasmanian rural estates from the 1820s to the end of transportation to Tasmania in 1853.

Brickendon Estate, along with its neighbouring property Woolmers Estate are regarded as the most significant rural convict estates in Australia having the second largest number of convict workers and still retaining a living history from early European settlement to the present day.

Brickendon was developed as a mixed farming enterprise with wheat (corn), barley, linseed and flax as crops.

Convicts spent many days hand digging drains through the farm to improve the soil and many of these can still be seen today. With a large work force of animals requiring feeding, fodder crops including mangolds, wurzels and turnips were also cultivated then stored and processed with equipment that is still located in the barns and granaries.
Brickendon, Farm history

Today the farm also runs livestock. Accommodation is available at the Coachman's and Gardener's cottages which were built by convict labour during the 1830's.

Early pre-fabricated houses – Melbourne and Geelong

Prefabricated building from the 1850s, Coventry Street, South Melbourne.

When Governor La Trobe arrived in Melbourne, he brought out two homes. His timber pre-fabricated cottage, constructed in 1839 can still be seen in Kings Domain.

This was not unusual given the shortage of housing in the colony although at the time of his arrival, the population of Melbourne was only 3000.

By the time La Trobe relinquished his role as Victoria's first governor in 1854, Melbourne was the richest city in the world. It had a population of 123,000. The discovery of gold in 1851 had led to an influx of migrants who needed housing, and this created a ready market for pre-fabricated buildings

You could choose and purchase what you wanted from a catalogue. Buildings ranging from cottages to churches and theatres were constructed in factories in Britain, and then dismantled, every component labelled and packed into wooden crates. According to some descriptions they could also come with floors, ceilings, walls, wallpaper, carpet, furniture and even a water closet.
Stories from the Iron Houses, National Trust, Resource Kit

La Trobe's Cottage, in South Yarra, was moved from a site near the Royal Botanic Gardens herbarium in 1998.

La Trobe's pre-fabricated timber cottage

La Trobe's Cottage is one of the oldest buildings in Victoria. The cottage was pre-fabricated in England and brought to Melbourne and Charles La Trobe and his family lived there. It now contains furniture and possessions of the La Trobe family. It is a chance to reflect on La Trobe and his contribution to Melbourne.  La Trobe has been described as

a tall, rather handsome chap who liked butterflies, painting, poetry, plants and music, who had lived in aristocratic circles in Switzerland, and who had travelled the US with the author Washington Irving.
Jenny Brown, Many thanks, Governor, 1 December, 2012, Domain, News

La Trobe was responsible for many of the key cultural aspects of Melbourne. Believing 'a highly educated community should be well versed in the arts and sciences', he laid the foundation stones of the University of Melbourne; the State Library; the Philosophical Society, which became The Royal Society; Melbourne's first big hospital, the Royal Melbourne Hospital; the Mechanics Institute; and the Royal Philharmonic Society.

La Trobe's legacy also included a connected parkland system in inner Melbourne and what are now historic gardens: Royal Park, Princes Park, Albert Park, Fawkner Park, Yarra Park, Fitzroy and Carlton Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Pre-fabricated portable iron houses, South Melbourne

A terrace of iron pre-fabricated cottages from the 1850s, Patterson Street, Melbourne. Courtesy of National Trust

There are very few examples of iron pre-fabricated cottages left in the world. However, the National Trust has three cottages constructed of corrugated iron and wood on site at 399 Coventry Street South Melbourne – Patterson House, Bellhouse and Abercrombie. Patterson House is on its original site and was once one of a Terrace of such houses.

In the early 1850s, thousands of gold miners and other fortune seekers arrived in the small country town of Melbourne and strained its accommodation to the limit. On the slopes of Emerald Hill, a 'canvas town' of tents arranged in an orderly pattern grew into what is now South Melbourne. After the Government released the first blocks of land for sale in 1852, entrepreneurs such as Robert Patterson erected iron houses for sale or rent which they imported from Great Britain.

By 1855, almost 100 portable buildings, including cottages, two-storey houses, shops, stores and a coach house were assembled around Coventry Street. It wasn't until the mid 1960's that the last of the houses in 'Tin Pan Alley' (now known as Patterson Place) at the back of the block, were demolished.

Number 399 Coventry Street is still there on its original site, close to the road used by countless miners heading to Melbourne and the goldfields.

The Heights, Geelong

Built in 1855, The Heights is a unique pre-fabricated dwelling, the largest of its kind in Victoria. It was home to three generations of one Geelong family. Today The Heights is an interesting example of a 1930s remodelling of a Victorian-era home. Many of the older outbuildings, including the 1850s bluestone groom's cottage, the water tower, the extensive stable complex and an unusual dovecote, remain intact, as does the garden, which occupies two and a half acres. It is one of the oldest private gardens in Geelong.

Beaufort Steel House, 1947 – No 4, Type 2, Cowper Street, Ainslie, ACT

Beaufort Bomber House, Ainslie ACT

Beaufort Homes were designed around the principles of the Beaufort Bomber aircraft. They were prefabricated in the manner of aircraft production by the Beaufort Aircraft Company which built the Second World War Beaufighter, the Beaufort Bomber and the G for George Lancaster Bomber, now located at the Australian War Memorial. Like the Beaufort Beaufighter, 'fast, robust, and able to carry a wide and heavy range of armaments', the Beaufort houses were built for durability as well as their ease of construction.

They were designed by architect Arthur Baldwinsonfor the Department of Aircraft Production, as part of a government scheme to alleviate housing shortages. They were designed as a module system to facilitate mass production, essentially of steel construction for the floor members, walls, roof structure and sheeting, mounted on concrete foundations, with wood used for the flooring, doors and cupboards.

Materials were scarce and domestic buildings were subject to strict guidelines in terms of size and expenditure. These restrictions continued into the post-war years when there was a desperate need for housing, with a wave of new migrants and returned servicemen all looking for accommodation. … They were also a method of converting munitions factories to peace time needs.
Beaufort Homes, State Library of New South Wales

Beaufort Steel House, March 1947

Although the scheme was ultimately abandoned, it represented a pioneering venture into prefabricated building design and production.

The Cowper Street house in Ainslie, Australian Capital Territory, arrived in prefabricated components in March 1947 on a truck from Melbourne; the house was completed in nine days. It was furnished by a local home furnishing store, Cusack's and opened to the public for inspection. Between 18 and 27 April, over 4600 people had viewed the house including the Prime Minister Ben Chifley and James Scullin MP. Today it exists as it did in 1947, with additions from the 1970s and 80s having been removed. The house is open on an irregular annual basis.

Rose Seidler House and its furnishings

Completed in 1950, Rose Seidler House immediately created a sensation. The house featured glass walls, asymmetrical composition, cubic shapes and a flat roof; this was architecture unlike anything built in Australia before.
Rose Seidler House, State Library of NSW

Hardoy 'Butterfly' chair designed by Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, Antonio Bonet and Juan Kurchan in Argentina,1938, reproduction, on the deck at Rose Seidler House. Courtesy Sydney Living Museums.

The internationally renowned architect Harry Seidler built Rose Seidler House for his parents. It is one of the finest examples of mid-century modern domestic architecture. Seidler's holistic Bahaus-inspired theory determined the way every single design element is used. The house is intended as a total sculpture based on the counterpoint of these elements. House, contents and grounds have been meticulously restored to the original scheme.

As an historic house and living museum, the colour scheme of the house has been precisely reconstructed. A neutral background of light grey and mid grey is crossed with lines of black (wall cabinets, desks, Hardoy chair frames). These neutrals are accented by dark brown and the primary colours: red front door, kitchen doors, cushions; yellow playroom door, curtains, cushions, Hardoy chair; blue studio wall, curtains, bedspreads, cushions.

Like an abstract painting, the interior scheme of Rose Seidler House is the composition and counterpoint of all its forms, colours and textures, not the embellishment of any one of them.
Rose Seidler House Guidebook

Furniture and furnishings are arranged as Seidler arranged them between 1950 and1967. Most of the furniture is original, and it forms one of the most important post-war design collections in Australia. There are plywood and chrome dining and lounge chairs designed by Charles Eames and two types of upholstered chairs designed by Eero Saarinen. The womb chair of 1948 shows early use of moulded fibreglass in furniture. The canvas sling chairs were designed by Ferrari-Hardoy in 1938. Later this design became a familiar sight on Australian patios. Dining table, coffee table, traymobile, desks, cabinets and sofa – all of these were built to Seidler's specifications.

Rose Seidler House is open on Sundays.

Sydney Living Museums collections, events and library

Sydney Living Museums conserve thousands of historic items such as textiles, wallpapers, linoleums, chairs, sheet music and indeed Australia's oldest dishwasher.

Trade catalogues

A priority for Sydney Living Museums is to improve public access to their collections with a new digital library project. They are making available a selection of significant trade catalogues from 1849 to 1900 relating to brass beds, furniture, hardware, ironwork, joinery, lighting, linoleum, plaster, stained glass, terracotta, tiles and wallpaper. Most of these items are held in no other public collection in Australia and are highly regarded internationally.

Marion Hall Best Collection of furnishings

Interior designed by Marion Hall Best. Courtesy Sydney Living Museums

Marion Hall Best (1905–1988) was one of Australias most influential interior designers throughout the 1900s, disseminating ideas of international modernism to Australian interiors. In 1938 she opened Marion Best fabrics, a workroom in Woollahra to which she later added a retail business. Until its closure in 1974 the shop stocked the work of Australian and overseas designers including modern Australian textiles by Frances Burke and Douglas Annand, and furniture from Australians Gordon Andrews, Clement Meadmore and Roger McLay.

Sydney Living Museums holds a collection of her sample books, exhibition catalogues, photos and other materials.

Events and historic items

Students enjoy a snooze in the hammocks during 'Rats: convict tales' education program at Hyde Park Barracks Museum, photographer Ross Heathcote. Courtesy Sydney Living Museums.

In 2010-11 the houses of Sydney Living Museums in New South Wales and the National Trust hosted 383 events with walks, talks, tours, Sydney Open, the Fifties Fair and many more activities. More than 63,000 students took part in their education programs. (Annual Report 2010–11).

Their research databases, library and staff are a great source of advice for stylists, filmmakers, architects, historians, gardeners, builders, interior decorators, and homeowners. The low-energy solutions of the 19th century rural house are also being reappraised:

the environmental suitability of traditional building materials has been recognised; water is again being treated like a precious commodity and passive shade, ventilation and heating strategies are once more being utilized to condition the air.
Built for the Bush: The Green Architecture of Rural Australia

Houses, gardens, events, items and collections are sought out as source material for all those who seek to enter and discover the worlds of others that we might better identify and understand ourselves and how we live.

Useful links

Look, listen and play

  • Search the Historical Towns Directory, Australian Heritage Online
  • Explore the Cheap cash grocer on the corner of Susannah Place at number 64 Gloucester Street, Sydney Living Museums, blog
  • Search the Colonial plants database – a database of plants known to be available in the colony of New South Wales up until the 1860s. The database comprises more than 11,000 listings, compiled from Botanic Gardens records, nursery catalogues and manuscript plant lists created by colonists like Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay (1767-1848).
  • Visit Convict Sydney exhibition
  • Play The corner store, video , 4:40, Sydney Living Museums
  • Play Making roofing shingles, video – Gary Williams demonstrates how to make roofing shingles. Gary was responsible for cladding the domes over the guard houses at the entrance to the Hyde Park Barracks. Shot during the Redcoats and Convicts day in 2011, Sydney Living Museums
  • Play The Sarantides Kitchen, video – Susannah Place, 60 Gloucester Street, Sydney Living Museums
  • Play Stonemason, video – James Gardner discusses his craft during the Redcoats and Convicts event at the Hyde Park Barracks in 2011, Sydney Living Museums
  • Look at Sydney Living Museums' Digital Trade Catalogues
  • Search Sydney Living Museums' Pictures catalogue for pictorial materials – paintings, drawings and photographs - including images from the collections of all Historic Houses Trust properties
  • Search Sydney Living Museums' Collections catalogues for wall coverings, floor coverings, garden ornaments and hardware

Resource Kits

Historic houses and sources

Government buildings

World Heritage list


Print references


Sydney Living Museums in New South Wales is acknowledged in providing access to collection material and images.

Last updated: 24 November 2013
Creators: Kathryn Wells

Did you find the information you were looking for?

Yes, I found what I was looking for No, I didn't find what I was looking for

Thank you.

Your feedback helps us improve