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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Early Resident: Paddy Ryan, Stonemason

Paddy Ryan, the local stonemason, remains somewhat of an enigma. Not a great deal is known about his life or origins despite being described as an ‘early character of the district.’ It appears that he did not belong to any association or group in Springwood because when his name was mentioned periodically in the newspapers it was only in relation to his profession.
      
The earliest official record of Paddy is documented on the 1891 census, where it was said that Patrick Ryan lived in a private house on Grose Road, Faulconbridge. A few years later the 1894–5 electoral roll confirmed again that he was still residing at Faulconbridge. His occupation had changed, and was noted then as being a ‘farmer’. Andrew Ryan, a labourer of Springwood was also listed on the same roll, but it is not known if the two were related.
      
It is not clear how much land he owned because his name does not appear on any early maps. However, it appears that the property he held was located in the vicinity of Grose Road and Chapman Parade. The road that is currently Chapman Parade was known initially as Grose Road, and the present day extension of Grose Road past the High School was known then as Links Road.  More specifically, it would seem that Paddy owned the property where the Norman Lindsay Gallery is currently located.

That home, along with several others in the district, attests to the high quality and enduring nature of his workmanship. Some years prior to the 1890s he is believed to have been responsible for the erection of several other buildings in the area.  At Faulconbridge/Linden he is thought to have built Lady Martin’s Bath, Martin’s Folly and a home for Sir Alfred Stephen. Around c1882–3, in the same area, he was the stonemason who built Eurama/Weemala for Andrew Hardie McCulloch MP, to a design supplied by colonial architect George Mansfield. Paddy was employed again c1885–7 for the building of Everton for the Hon. John Meeks.  Everton still exists.  Paddy was most fortunate to have a ‘moneyed local’ clientele.
Maryville in the time of Norman Lindsay - man on horseback thought to
be Paddy Ryan

According to the Nepean Times (2 June 1894), the skill of local stonemason Paddy Ryan was in demand again. This time he was erecting a stone cottage for Mrs Quarry (formerly Gibbes). The Times mentioned that the home was being built on land that lay along Lomatia Park Road. A paper written many years ago by Mrs Quarry’s grandson, Mr H.B. Gibbes, stated that ‘several attempts’ were made at building the cottage from stone that was quarried from a site nearby. Unfortunately Mr Gibbes did not elaborate on what the problem was. The home later became Stonehaven, a home for boys, which was demolished 1966–7 for the Great Western highway deviation.
      
Several years later the Nepean Times (18 June 1898) related that P. Ryan, contractor, was about to ‘finish off’ the home that stood on property he had subsequently sold to Francis Foy of Mark Foy fame. Paddy had long been in the process of building the home—dubbed Erin go Brangh—but according to the newspaper the home stood unfinished for many years. We have no way of knowing how Foy came to know about the property because it is so far off the main road as to make it invisible to anyone passing. Perhaps Paddy advertised it for sale in the paper but, if he did, we have no record. Foy subsequently owned portions 4 (80 acres), 108 (42 acres) and 110 (50 acres) along the present day Chapman Parade. But it is not clear if Paddy Ryan was the original owner of all three lots.
      
In March 1898 John Lawler, a Sydney bedding manufacturer, employed Paddy Ryan to build his stone cottage on a rather uneven piece of property that he owned in Railway Parade, Springwood. The home still stands today and is one of the finest in the district.  It is listed on the Blue Mountains City Council heritage register. The erection of Lawler’s home did not pass without its share of drama. The quarryman (Paddy?) who was working on the project was served with a fine for having ‘too much powder on the job’, with insufficient means of storage.
He was obliged to appear before the bench at Penrith Court House where he was duly fined. The name of Lawler’s home, Eringah, like Paddy Ryan’s unfinished home (Erin go brah), would suggest they both had Irish connections.
      
In August 1903 the Nepean Times correspondent mentioned that ‘Mr P. Ryan was doing some good work as a stonemason at Mr Lawler’s new buildings’. Unfortunately, the reporter failed to specify where these buildings were!  Almost a year went by without further news, and in July 1904 readers were told by the Nepean Times that Mr P. Ryan of Vale of Avoca had lately started in the poultry farming line. An amazing tale was told of an Orpington hen he had purchased from a Rooty Hill poultry farm that had laid 66 eggs without a break. The poor hen rested for a week before she started this amazing feat all over again! He was reported to be very pleased with his purchase.
      
  The exact location of Vale of Avoca is unclear, however a paperback entitled Exploring the Blue Mountains mentions a place with this name as being downstream of the Grose Valley. The first explorer into the narrow valley was William Paterson who thought it might be a gateway to the west. However, it is not known if this refers to the place of residence of our Paddy Ryan.
      
Paddy is known to have married Kathleen (Kate) but no details are available as to where or when this event occurred. They had a son Patrick junior who was a contemporary of William and Percy Croucher. The three made a return trip on foot to Jenolan Caves in 1895. Paddy died in 1917, and proctor James C.J. Ryan administered his estate. Kate was his beneficiary.
      
The 1920 electoral roll mentions Thomas George Ryan, railway employee, Tyneside Faulconbridge, Kathleen Ryan, St Martha’s Home Leichhardt, and Martin Ryan, Avoca, Archer Street, Chatswood, as owners of allotments of land at Faulconbridge. It seems safe to assume that Kathleen (his wife?) and Martin were relatives of Paddy but more research would be required to confirm if all three shared kinship.

Pamela Smith
From: The Making Of A Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District 




Monday, May 23, 2011

John Dabron


"The Fish"


Signatures of passengers on last run of The Fish

The Blue Mountains has always attracted a wide variety of creative people – artists, writers, actors, musicians – many of them delightfully eccentric.  John Dabron was one of Springwood’s most memorable characters.  Teacher of both music and art he became the assistant supervisor of music teaching for N.S.W. in 1946, and in 1947 he became supervisor of the Art Education Department of N.S.W.

John used to travel to Sydney on the Fish and various stories are told about his cooking expertise on the train.  In those days the Fish was a steam train and seating was arranged in compartments - six seats per compartment for 1st class carriages and eight for 2nd class.  All seats were reserved and passengers travelled with the same people morning and evening every week day.  Gerald Harvey, local historian, was interested in collecting stories about travelling on the Fish and recorded an interview with John Dabron, who told some of his favourite anecdotes. This is one of them.
While you could buy breakfast or just tea and toast from the train canteen in the morning, John thought it would be fun to do their own cooking.  He said he would provide all the ingredients and the stove and he would do the cooking if they brought plates and cutlery.  His travelling companions agreed and the next morning he arrived with a spirit stove, methylated spirits, scrambled egg mixture, bacon and pancake batter.  They bought tea and toast from the canteen. 

All went well and they thoroughly enjoyed their eggs and bacon until John put more spirits in the stove and loaded the pan with pancake batter.  They were at Strathfield at this stage, and as they came to Croydon the train stopped with “a hell of a bump”.  Over went the stove scattering pancake mixture and flaming methylated spirits everywhere.  They were all wearing dust coats (a custom on steam train commuting) and there was paper on the table and the flames went everywhere, not to mention the batter.  One man screamed, “I’m out of here” and ran into the corridor with the flames licking off his fingers.   They eventually got the fire out and cleaned up some of the mess but the paintwork was all blistered and the table ruined.  John said they were thoroughly ashamed of themselves.  When they caught the train home they found that their carriage had been taken off and was off for a week.  This put a temporary stop to his train cooking but he did do something special for Christmas.  He thought it would be safer cooking in a metal bucket and he prepared special things such as lobster in a cream and tomato sauce.  He bought some light cooking pots and carried everything in a hessian bag.

This is just one John Dabron story.  There are many more.
Shirley Evans
REFERENCES

Blue Mountains City Library Local Studies Collection

Blue Mountains City Library Local Studies, image collection; the Fish ceased running in 1957 when the railway line was electrified as far as Katoomba.

Oral taped interview, Gerald Harvey with John Dabron, Blue Mountains City Library Local Studies Collection.

Springwood Historians   “The Making of a Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District”







Tuesday, May 10, 2011

School Teachers - Robert Anderson




Maypole dancing in grounds of Springwood Public School
before school re located to Burns Road.


Robert Anderson was born in Glebe in 1860. His father, Thomas, was a coach builder, and his mother was Margaret McFarlane. Robert was Springwood Public School’s third schoolmaster. He began his teaching career as an apprentice pupil teacher at Sydney High School in 1874. He worked his way through the grades in Botany Road Public and then went to Crown Street Boys earning £5 per month. He then taught at Fort St Boys for a short time, earning the same salary.
      
In November 1880 he was sent to Cobar Public. Here he met Mary O’Conor and they were married in 1882. Cobar was a mining town with plentiful deposits of copper and also some gold, and the town had an Evening Public School. Robert began teaching in the evening school in 1883, the same year as their first child, Arthur, was born. In September 1884 Robert was transferred to Pitt Town where Alfred and Elsie were born in 1885 and 1887. In April 1888, Robert was transferred to Springwood. The Nepean Times reported that he had ‘an intelligent and open countenance’. The townsfolk seemed well pleased with their new schoolmaster. In 1889 several of the residents were quoted as saying that Mr Anderson ‘has done more to relieve the dry monotony of school life to his scholars than any of his predecessors’. The fourth Anderson child, Mary, was born in 1891.
      
The Andersons were active in the community, organising bazaars, concerts, lantern shows and generally raising money for the school and for end-of-year treats for the children. Robert also took part in the Literary and Debating Society and was for a time an office bearer in the Springwood Progress Committee. However, he was forced to resign this position when a local influential member of parliament reported him to the Department of School Education. Robert, together with William Rayner, John Illingworth and Lancelot Brennand, organised Springwood’s first flower show and it raised £20 12s 9d for the Public School picnic.
      
Both Robert and his assistant teacher, Miss Brady, kept up with their studies and both were successful in passing the exams necessary to gain promotion. The school was also subject to unexpected inspections where the inspector examined the children. In each of these the Springwood pupils did well, even when, in 1892, they had an enrolment of over 100 due to a large influx of pupils, many from Glenbrook. Robert also found time to pursue his artistic activities. He worked in a variety of media and styles—landscapes, water colours, silk painting, crayon drawings and etchings. These he exhibited at both the Hawkesbury and Nepean Agricultural Shows, winning many prises. He also created beautiful illuminated addresses which were presented to those citizens leaving the district or retiring from public office.
      
In January 1895, after 6 years in Springwood, Robert was promoted to Hanbury School, Waratah. He and Mary were given a valedictory farewell at the Oriental Hotel where they were presented with a purse of sovereigns.
      
Hanbury appeared to give Robert a few problems as his inspections mentioned defects in discipline. However he continued to be promoted, going first to Woonona Public and then to Croydon with an annual salary of £300. In 1907 he was promoted to Class 1A (Good Service). He died in Haberfield on 21 January 1939 and was survived by his wife Mary, his daughter Mary and his son Arthur.


Shirley Evans, taken from Making Of A Mountain Community; A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Early Residents - The Wiggins Family

Wiggins Farm Bee Farm Road Springwood



Elisha Wiggins forefront in greenhouse of Greenheyes

Thought to be Bill Wiggins
Joseph Wiggins sailed into Sydney Harbour aboard the full rigged sailing ship named Illawara in July 1883. The Illawara was built in 1881 by Dobie & Co. Glasgow for Devitt & Moore London. In 1883 she was under the command of Captain D.B. Carvosso.  During the years 1889 to 1907 she served as a cadet training ship and in 1912 she was abandoned at sea after capsizing when the cargo of coal shifted or caught fire. 
      
Accompanying Joseph in 1883 was his son Elisha, together with his son’s wife Sarah and the couple’s two sons. Their names were William Thomas and Elisha jnr (Walter Elisha). Joseph was listed on the ship’s manual as being a gardener aged 68. He may have been a widower as no wife accompanied him. Elisha was also listed as a gardener aged 34. Sarah’s age was given as 25, while William and Elisha were aged 4 and 1 respectively. The family religion was noted as Church of England. Elisha, Joseph’s son, was born in Great Malvern Worcestershire, and at some point in time he married Sarah Jane Jones who came from Pontypool in Wales. 
      
However, the voyage into Sydney Harbour in 1883 was not the first time that Joseph had made that voyage. In 1827, Charles Sturt, as a soldier in the Royal Anglican 39th Regiment of Foot, commanded the first voyage. Sturt gained great prominence at Waterloo and in Spain fighting Napoleon’s army, and later gained the rank of Captain. Sturt and the regiment were sent to Australia and first saw service in Hobart, then Sydney, Bathurst and Western Australia. The regiment finally left in 1832 to serve in India. Joseph’s earlier experience with Charles Sturt may have been the inspiration for migration.  Sturt returned to Australia in 1835.
      
According to anecdotal information given by Joseph’s granddaughter May, the trip aboard the Illawara was extremely rough until the ship reached the Cape of Good Hope. But an epidemic of measles broke out before they landed which forced officials to quarantine the ship, her passengers and crew. The delay was unfortunate for Elisha because he had been contracted to work for Mr. Gidley King of ‘Goonoo Goonoo’ station. The property, located near Tamworth, had associations with Henry Dangar, and the Australian Agricultural Company. Goonoo Goonoo, which is said to mean ‘plenty of water’, was an important sheep station. In 1853 when gold was discovered at Nundle the A.A. Company was reformed into the Peel River Land & Mineral Company with Philip Gidley King acting as its first superintendent. He later became the first Mayor of Tamworth.
      
Elisha, who served a nursery apprenticeship in England, contacted a solicitor to see what could be done about the broken contract. Fortunately all was not lost, and due to the Gidley King’s kinship with the Macarthur family, Elisha found a position at Camden Park, the then home of the Macarthur Onslows. He stayed there for a period of two years. The family moved to Springwood c1885 spurred on by the knowledge given to them by a family friend that the district had potential. This possibly may have been the Frenchman named Honore Marie because, according to May Wiggins, Madame Marie worked as a governess for the Macarthur Onslow family at one time. Honore and his wife also took up land at North Springwood. Mrs Marie then taught at the school that was directly opposite their property, operated by Miss Hooper in the home now called Hartfields. 
      
Several more children were born to Elisha and his wife. They were Frances May (May) who was born at Camden Park c1883, James Joseph c1885, Edith Violet (Violet) c1892 and Jack c1895. The last two children were born at Springwood. James Joseph was the first recorded baptism in the register of Christ Church, Springwood and the service was conducted in the conservatory of Moorecourt. When the Wiggins family first arrived in the area c1880s, May remembered that Mr Deemer was the landlord of a wayside inn, which predated the Oriental. This was named the Springwood Hotel, and was different to the Springwood Inn run by Thomas Boland. The family initially lived in a sapling and stringy bark hut along Hawkesbury Road until Elisha purchased 4 acres of land on the southern side of Springwood in the area that is known today as Bee Farm Road.
      
In those days Springwood had only just begun to develop as a township and Rayner’s store was located in the main street. The first railway line had already gone through the area. An earlier paper written by S. Bentley suggests that Elisha worked, at times, for William Rayner and in fact laid out the tennis court that Rayner built behind his store. He also assisted J.T. Ellison setting out his gardens and orchard that was located along Hawkesbury Road. During this time Elisha built another home on his Bee Farm Road property and cultivated fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. The produce was later sold to local residents in the area. An Explorers Tree article written by Bentley in November 1995 said that he was known for expertly clipping the fruit trees in the form of vases or fans.
        
Elisha established bee keeping on the property, hence the name. But a hot dry summer in the early 1900s put paid to this line when bushfires destroyed several and then starvation killed the remainder. According to a paper written for the Springwood Historical Society the apiary stands still existed on the property until that time. The fires destroyed his livelihood, so thereafter Elisha worked for various people, assisting residents about the town to establish and maintain their gardens.  He assisted Captain Taylor with the design of his garden at Greenheys, as well as attending the orchards, and grape vines that grew across a wire netting enclosure. The local studies picture collection holds photographs that attest to this fact.
      
This paper also mentioned that a visit to the old property in 1995 unearthed parallel terraces, and stone hive stands that were attributed to James Joseph Wiggins who became an excellent stonemason. Mr Jack Proctor, another family member, could remember an old family story that told of the honey being exported to England c1883.  
      
The papers of Joseph Jackson MP, held in the local studies section of Springwood Library, also suggest that Major Baines (Baynes) of Linden visited the Wiggins family to discuss old army campaigns. No doubt these campaigns would have been connected to Joseph. According to Miss May Wiggins, Elisha tried to get the Progress Association to promote water connection to the area. He believed that the area would take off once a reticulated system was connected. May said the only person to share this belief with her father was Mr William Johns the local postman. When the Association left his words unheeded Elisha proceeded to ensure the safety of his property and water for his family by putting in two wells. To supplement this, he obtained a large galvanized tank and a smaller one that ensured that in drought conditions the family would not go short of water.
      
A Gazette newspaper article dated 19 October 1983 mentioned that ninety years previously May – as she remembered – had been hanging over the schoolyard fence while a drover drove his sheep through the main street of Springwood. She said that the noise was so deafening lessons had to be abandoned. May worked as a housekeeper for Captain Taylor for a period until her mother took sick and she was required to take over the family duties. She shared the honour of being Springwood Public School’s oldest pupil in 1983 with Mr Bert Honeysett. A paper written by May attested to the difficulty faced by women in the early days. She remembered that having no copper meant that they were forced to boil clothes in old kerosene tins, fashioned with wire handles, over an open fire in the yard. A large galvanized tub was used prior to this to wash the clothes.  Miss May Wiggins died 20 March 1984 aged 101.
      
Family members are mentioned in the Nepean Times newspaper regularly from 1893 as performers in benefit concerts, school concerts, football matches and so on. The 1894/5 electoral roll has Elisha listed as a Springwood gardener.  However, the 1891 census lists Elisha Wiggins as a storekeeper with four males and two females living on the premises. The 1903 electoral roll listed Elisha as an orchardist, Elisha Walter – his son – as a labourer, Sarah Jane, and William Thomas a labourer. A Henry Wiggins also appeared on the roll and he lived at Faulconbridge.
      
William, James and Jack followed their father in his occupation as gardener and handyman. At the time of the great depression, in the mid 1930s, William worked for Blue Mountains Shire Council assisting with the layout of the gardens of Buckland Hospital. He also worked on the duplication of the railway line. Jack and he returned to Bucklands eventually and maintained the gardens they helped to lay out. James worked in the quarry that is now known as Yellow Rock Quarry, and assisted in building the retaining wall located in front of St Thomas Church on the corner of Hawkesbury and Macquarie Roads.  The wall is still there today.
      
Walter was employed for many years by the firm Lamson Paragon which was a firm of stationery manufacturers in Sydney. He and his brother James were members of Springwood’s first ever rifle club, and Jack was one of the local men who joined Hitchen’s ‘Coo-ees’ when they marched through Springwood from Gilgandra. They were going through to Sydney during the time of World War 1. He served two and a half years in France. Only three of Elisha and Sarah’s children married, they were James, Violet and Walter. James married Ida Bertha Nordberg c1910 and had five children whose names were James, Fred, Bertha (Mrs Davis), Edith (Mrs Davies) and May (Mrs Herbert). Violet married Norman Proctor c1916 and they had five children too whose names were Ann (Mrs Charlton), Jack, Norman, Tim (who died as a POW in World War II), Jean (Mrs Ison) and Peter, who was accidentally killed whilst employed by the Blue Mountains City Council. James or Jim started the first bus service in the area in 1942 and operated a taxi service in conjunction with his brother-in-law (Archibald Frederick Davis). Later, Jim operated a service station on the corner of Raymond and Macquarie Roads, Springwood and later still, Faulconbridge taxis. Jim was a member of the Garden Society that worked on Buttenshaw Park. The society won awards in the Herald Garden competition. The bus service was later taken over by Stan Johnson c1946, then F.J. Spellacy, and later still Horrie and Vera Pearce.
      
Joseph died c1888, Elisha died at the age of 89 in 1936 and Sarah Jane died in 1924 aged 69. Aaron James Wiggins died in 1988, Walter aged 69 in 1951, Jack at the age of 65 in 1960, James Joseph at the age of 65 in 1951 and William Thomas at the age of 78 in 1957.

Pamela Smith
Taken from The Making Of A Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District

* Additional research has been carried out since this article appeared in the above publication and it now seems highly unlikely that Joseph Wiggins had ever been to Australia before he arrived in 1883.  It would seem that he married Elizabeth (?) prior to 1844 and the 1851 English Census listed their children as Sarah 7, James 6, Thomas 5 and Elisha 1.  Joseph is listed variously as a chimney sweep and an agricultural labourer.  Sophia  12 and Charles 8 had been added to the family by 1871, and Elisha (aged 21) was still living at home.  Sometime after 1871 and before 1881 Elizabeth died because the 1881 census listed Joseph as a chimney sweep living with Elisha (gardiner) and Charles 17 and William aged 2. The NSW unassisted immigrant shipping records listed Joseph (born Oxford), Elisha (born Worcester), wife Sarah (born Monmouth) and their children William and Elisha (born Worcester), arriving aboard the Illawarra in 1883. 

Elisha and Sarah Jane Wiggins were featured in Peter Barrett's The Immigrant Bees 1788-1898.  Barrett stated that Elisha had 'Langstroth' style bee hives set out on terraces but a visit to the property showed no evidence of the honey extracting equipment, boilers or honey tanks.  Fred Wiggins, grandson of Elisha still owned the property when Barrett visited the property in 1995. 

Ref:
Various Census Records. 
Peter Barrett, supplement in The Immigrant Bees 1788-1898, A Cyclopedia on the Introduction of European Honeybees into Australia and New Zealand, Peter Barrett, Springwood, 1995, pp. 8-9
     


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Peter Dawson and the Empire Theatre Katoomba


A testimonial, penned in 1937, possibly opens up a new field of research into theatre life in the Blue Mountains, and speculation that the famous international singer - Peter Dawson - was a one-time manager of the Empire Theatre at Katoomba.[1]  Dawson, at the time of writing the testimonial for Mr. Athol Farrell, was manager of the Majestic Theatre in Melbourne.
Dawson attested to the professionalism and good character of Athol, the chief projection operator at the Empire, who he worked with for a period of ‘about seven years.’[2] The conjecture that it was the noted singer Peter Dawson seems to be confirmed by articles in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Argus (Melbourne) newspapers in 1939.  The Argus stated that Mr Peter Dawson manager of the Majestic Theatre in Melbourne had resigned to take up a position as general manager of Continental Film Art Theatres of Australia in Melbourne.[3] Further weight is added to that by Jeanette Horn who suggested that in 1936, and under the direction of Peter Dawson, the ‘famous tenor,’  the Majestic Theatre was decorated for the opening of Charles Chauvel’s film Uncivilised in 1936.[4] 
According to Hoorn the early ‘Australian talkie,’ Chauvel’s fourth feature film, opened at the Majestic Theatre to a fanfare fit for royalty.  Members of the three tiers of government attended on that first night including the Lord and Lady Mayoress of Melbourne, the minister for Agriculture, the minister for Labour and the Attorney General.  The appearance of an Australian film was a cause for celebration among the sea of American productions, hence all the pomp and ceremony.[5] It would seem that National pride or pride in Australian made was at its zenith.
It is odd therefore, that this phase of his life does not appear in any biographical information.  He was born Peter Smith Dawson in Adelaide in 1882, and was the youngest of nine children born to Thomas and Alison (nee Miller) Dawson.[6]  After his school education had ceased Dawson was apprenticed to his father who was an ironworker and plumber, however his parents did not fail to encourage his early musical abilities.  Dawson sang in various church choirs and began singing lessons with C.J. Stevens when he was aged seventeen.[7]  Encouraged by his tutor, Dawson arrived in London and studies with B.L. Barnford and Sir Charles Santley and Professor Kantorez.[8] 
Dawson’s association with Santley is of interest because Madame Jean Durand, who was associated with Springwood Ladies College in the early decades of the twentieth century, also had a connection to him.[9]  Durand, a proficient pianist, appeared in a number of concerts put on by Santley in Melbourne. 
In 1905, Dawson married Annie Mortimer Noble, the daughter of the box-office manager of the Alhambra Theatre London.  Annie, a soprano, sang under the pseudonym Annette George.[10]  The couple never had any children.
Dawson had a brilliant career, appearing at venues like the Crystal Palace, Queen’s Hall, and Convent Garden with Amy Castles.  In 1904 he made a test record for Edison Bell Phonograph Co. And began a fifty-year career with His Majesty’s Voice and recording became the ‘dominant success of his career.’[11] Despite signing up for war service during World War One, Dawson did not serve overseas.
He used various pseudonyms in both his singing and composing careers, and in 1930-31, topped the bill at the London Palladium.  During the period 1939-47 Dawson lived in Sydney where he married his sister-in-law Constance Bedford Noble following the death of his first wife.[12]  Dawson worked with many famous names in the world of entertainment like the Tait brothers who took over J.C. Williamson’s business enterprise, pianist Lettie Keyes, composer and accompanist, Horace Stanley Keats, Ella Caspers and H.D. McIntosh. 
His association with Keats and McIntosh are of interest because Keats married Janet le Brun Brown who performed under the name of Barbara Russell.  For a short time Janet had attended school in Springwood and Hugh McIntosh had business interests there.  McIntosh was the proprietor of Bon Accord Guest House (owned by jeweller David Stewart Dawson).[13]  McIntosh, who promoted boxing matches and musical entertainments, was associated with J.C. Williamson who purchased the rights to several of his shows.

Lettie Keyes, who was an accompanist for Dawson worked for George.H. Horton, the piano roll manufacturer, until 1929.  It was Horton who discovered Edith and Laurel Pardey duo pianists who had received an ‘effective musical grounding at the convent in Katoomba.’[14]  Mrs Pardey senior operated a guesthouse at Katoomba which became popular with holiday crowds because the Saturday night dance music was provided by the Pardey girls who played all the modern tunes of the day.  Edith also played organ at St Hilda’s Church while Laurel was the dinner-music pianist for the Carrington Hotel.[15]

In 1927, Dawson recorded ‘Advance Australia Fair,’ and although the song had been composed in 1878, it did not achieve popularity until his record was released.[16] Dawson is said to have remained unspoiled by his international fame.  He and his second wife lived at Dee Why where he filled his days with ‘painting, drawing cartoons and growing roses.’[17] His funeral was held at St David’s Presbyterian Church Haberfield when he died in September 1961 and he is buried in Rookwood Cemetery.

I think it is fair to assume that the Empire Theatre Peter Dawson is one and the same given the details of his association with the theatre.  Nevertheless, it remains a mystery why his seven-year association with Katoomba remains un-recorded in the biographical details of his life.

Pamela Smith




[1] Peter Dawson, Testimonial letter about Mr. A. Farrell, 24.3.1937 in the possession of Shirley Evans. 
[2] Ibid.
[3] Argus (Melbourne), 28.3.1939, p. 10.
[4] Jeanette Hoorn, ‘White lubra/white savage: Pituri and colonial fantasy in Charles Chauvel’s Uncivilised (1936), Post Script, Vol. 24, Issue 2-3, Winter-Summer 2005.
[5] Ibid.
[6] James Glennon, ‘Dawson, Peter Smith (1882-1961),’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 8, Melbourne University Press, 1981, pp 245-246.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Unpublished research Pamela Smith.
[10] James Glennon.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] The Making Of A Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District, pp 213-215.
[14] Glenn Amer, Artists of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Co. 1919-2006, www.glennamer.com/amer/Piano_Rolls, accessed 3.5.2011.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Frank Van Straten, Peter Dawson 1882-1961, Live Performance Australia, Hall of Fame, http://wwwliveperformance.com.au, accessed 3.5.2011.
[17] James Glennon.