Mary, or Mollie as she was more commonly known, was born Mary Nason Chapman in the year 1912. Her parents were Michael Nason and Charlotte (nee O’Connell) Chapman. Mollie’s father’s genealogy is rather complex but he was the second male to carry the name of Michael Nason Chapman, and had been named for his grandfather.
Mollie’s father was an electrical engineer by trade, and at one time served on the Blue Mountains Shire Council. Prior to residing in the mountains the Chapman family lived at Glebe, and in an oral taped interview Mollie said that she could remember spending holidays at Phoenix Lodge (currently Coomassie House) with her extended family. She was under the impression that her grandfather Henry had built the home, when in fact it was her great grandfather Michael. She also assumed that Chapman Parade was named for her father but we presume that it was actually named for her great grandfather who was the original holder of the land.
Following the death of her great grandfather the property had been transferred, c1907, to Henry Chapman (her grandfather) but it appears that on the same date it was transferred to Mollie’s father. They moved to Springwood around 1913. When she turned five Mollie attended Miss Bradford's College. The college was a girls’ grammar school that took day pupils as well as boarders. It was located on the corner of the Great Western Highway (then Bathurst or the Western Road) and Lewin Street, Springwood. She recalled that she wrote on a slate board before progressing to a copybook. For sports they played skipping, netball and tennis.
Later, Mollie attended St Joseph’s Convent, located on Hawkesbury Road, Springwood. In the interview Mollie said that when she completed her years with Miss Bradford she was a very good speller, but not so skillful when she left St Joseph’s. According to Mollie, Father Simmons – from St. Columba’s College – petitioned for some time to have a Catholic school established in Springwood. When he succeeded, the nuns were from the teaching order of the Sisters of St Joseph’s. The nuns initially lived in what later became Fripp’s shop, and later still, in the home that had belonged to the Lawler family, where they took in boarders. There is conjecture that Lawler left the home to the Sisters because his daughter had joined the order, but this has not been confirmed. The schoolroom that Mollie could remember was the old weatherboard church building that had been moved from the opposite end of Springwood near the western subway. The school was then known as St Thomas Aquinas.
After concluding her education she was obliged to care for her ailing mother and father. Around 1924, portion 69 (the Chapman family land) was subdivided into 30 separate parcels. Four lay south of Phoenix Lodge and 26 lay along Bathurst Road (now the Great Western Highway). William Dawson purchased lot 5, and the rest were subsequently sold off over time to various other parties.
According to Mollie’s recollections her parents fell on hard times, and were subsequently forced to sell Phoenix Lodge to Mr A.J. Taylor. Taylor, a solicitor, was also the owner of the cottage Greenheys. Her father apparently had made some bad decisions and lost three shops that were located in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. Mollie and her parents moved across the road into the smaller sandstone home that was the gardener’s cottage - in the time of her great-grandfather - and Taylor gave Mollie the nameplate from their former home. This meant that the small cottage changed its name from Knock-y-theina to Phoenix Lodge. The cottage was located on the western side of Chapman Parade. Mollie said that in those days there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment for young people. One of her playmates was a girl by the name of Joyce Parry whose father had a farm and kept pigs. The Parry family lived nearby in the vicinity of Coomassie Avenue. In spring Mollie and Joyce would pick wild boronia, flannel flowers and waratahs that thrived in the area. Today the same locality is mostly modern day suburbia and has been stripped of much of the original bushland.
Her parents were very strict and wouldn’t allow her to go out. Finally they relented after about six months of continual asking, but she wasn’t allowed to attend the dances that were held in Springwood in the evening. She was only allowed to attend the afternoon matinee at the local picture theatre. Mollie was asked if she would like to work at St Columba’s College when her parents’ finances got bad, assisting the cook. Conditions were fairly tough because the girls employed there were made to work back three afternoons a week in order to have a half a day off.
On her 21st birthday the old cook made a special cake for the occasion but, despite this gesture, she only worked there a year. Family finances were still not the best so Mollie took a job with Rose Lindsay. Mollie used to help with most of the indoor chores as well as milking the cow and bringing in the coke for the fires. Initially Rose would pick her up each day in the Lindsays’ car but eventually Mollie stayed overnight. She recalled many funny situations that arose whilst she worked for the Lindsays, like the time - not long after she started - they had an exhibition of works at the house. She said ‘she nearly collapsed’ when she saw the almost life sized nude paintings. The previous owners of the Lindsay’s home, the Foy family, were said to have had left religious statues everywhere, and therefore Norman’s nudes made a startling contrast.
Norman Lindsay suggested to Mollie one day that she pose for him and his protégé Margaret Cohen. At first she was reluctant, thinking the worst, but sketch her they did. Mollie still had the drawings. Prior to this Margaret Cohen had only executed floral studies. When Mollie learned to drive in the late to mid 1930s, Rose allowed her to use their car. Eventually Mollie took charge of most of the family shopping because Rose had tired of doing messages for all and sundry (neighbours) along the way, and felt shopping was a burden she wanted to avoid.
Cars were somewhat of a rarity in those days, and the only residents Mollie could remember owning a car, apart from the Lindsays, were Edgar Jesse Baldwin, Dr Schuette, Hedley O’Meagher, the Honeysetts, and her own father. His was a Metz that was used principally for pleasure. On her daily round of shopping, Mollie would pick up the papers and the mail from the train for the sister of Miss Coombes. She was the postmistress at Faulconbridge.
The Red Cross children’s home was in Chapman Parade and Mollie did errands for the Matron stationed there also. About twenty youngsters were housed at the home at any one time, and she thought they were children who had never had a holiday. Paddy Ryan, who died when Mollie was quite small, lived opposite. When Rose Lindsay caught Mollie out horse riding one day, she wanted to know ‘what part of the cemetery she wanted to be buried in?’ Rose knew that Mollie’s mother didn’t particularly like her riding a horse because it was unladylike and because she wore riding pants.
Charlotte, Mollie’s mother, didn’t like her being out at the Lindsays, and thought it was an awful place. Perhaps she had good reason because Rose was well known for throwing ‘gay’ parties at the house, and often too many drinks were drunk. Whenever this eventuated Mollie was called upon to drive the unsteady persons home.
A man named Toby became the new handyman gardener whilst she was there, and invited her to the cow shed one day for a surprise. Mollie thought that the cow had had her calf but he assured her that was not the reason. After puzzling over this disclosure for a while she met Arthur Davis on his way to the cowshed delivering a bag of chaff. Toby’s ‘surprise’ was somewhat horrifying, because Arthur and Mollie encountered him swinging from the rafters.
When Mollie reported this to Rose the latter was sure that Mollie had been drinking.
Mick Stratton had been the handyman at one time and was responsible for building the courtyard at the back of the house. According to Mollie, he was also the builder of the bottom studio. Mollie stayed with the Lindsays for about seven and a half years, and admitted that Rose Lindsay was very good to her. She said that Rose was a clever woman, and could turn her hand to most anything she tried. Rose modeled for Norman, made handcrafted garments, and worked the press for his etchings. It was in the latter service that Rose damaged her leg, which made her almost lame.
Mollie could remember the brothers Rupert and Roy Hillsmith who lived much further out along Chapman Parade. They would travel back and forward to work by horse and sulky. When visiting the Hillsmiths one day, when she was quite young, a terrible dust storm blew up and caused much consternation. Everyone thought that it was the end of the world especially when darkness fell much earlier than usual. The storm lasted much of the day, and was an eerie bright red colour. Charlie Stratton was the Chapman’s caretaker and lived in the smaller cottage, and later still the Ferguson family resided there.
In 1941 Mollie’s mother died and in 1944 she married Ernest James Fisher. During the Second World War Mollie was called up to work at the munitions factory and she was there for approximately two years. Ernest and Mollie never had any children.
2011: Both Coomassie House & Knock-y-theina still exist in Chapman Parade.
Blue Mountains City Council local studies vertical & image files and oral taped interviews.
The Making Of A Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District.
|Left to Right: Charles Stratton, Kate Huges (on horse), Bessie Stratton,|
Jessie Hughes, Isabel Stratton, Mollie alongside driver.