A simpler time

We know, or should know, that happiness doesn’t lie in accumulating physical things. Following this path inevitably leads to the amassing of useless stuff and no real sense of serenity. Real happiness is where you find home, whether this is a state of mind, a place of unconditional love, or a special house full of childhood memories.

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One of these special houses, a particularly loved family home, still stands in Newcastle West. It is a free standing Edwardian terrace built by Herbert Porter in 1909 for himself, his fiancé Florence Jolly and their family to be. For almost 90 years, as Newcastle grew and commercialised around them it remained the only family home the couple and their daughters Ella and Hazel would ever know.

When Hazel Porter, the last member of her family, died in 1997 she left the property with all its domestic and personal items still in place to the National Trust. It remains Newcastle’s only National Trust property, containing objects from the 1910s to the 1990s and decorated with household furniture and domestic appliances from an earlier era. Outside the back door the small cottage garden still has its rainwater tank and wooden outhouse, a hardy lemon tree and the original fernery.

Ella and Hazel seem to have lived their adult lives happily removed from much of the activity of the outside world. Their realm was the private and the domestic, never marrying, never leaving home and only working outside the home for short periods of time. The treasured family home remained a powerful constant in their lives; providing an unbroken continuity from their childhood to adulthood and connecting them forever to their parents. It was the place where they had all been together; family moments had built on each other like bricks creating a solid shelter for the sisters which was as much emotional as physical.

Simple domestic pleasures seem to have given the siblings a sense of happiness and daily purpose and their world became one of gentle spinsterhood. Skills in dress making, embroidery, cooking and gardening helped them be fairly self-sufficient, allowing them to remain locked in a simpler time despite the world changing rapidly around them. But sometimes the outside world cannot be locked out.

When the Newcastle earthquake struck the house was hit badly and a wall collapsed across a door way trapping Ella and Hazel inside. Staff from the nearby Hunter Water Board came to check on the sisters and helped them to escape by pulling them through a window. The house was structurally damaged and for the first and only time in their lives the sisters had to move from their beloved family home while it was repaired.

The Porters would no doubt be delighted that their family home remains intact, the rooms looking just as they did when they were in residence. It’s just what they wanted. But have the Porters really left the house they loved so much? Ghost tours have been run in the house and the question of paranormal activity cannot be ruled out. I don’t think this is a scary thought, but a comforting one – the Porters are still at home.

Miss Porters House, 434 King Street Newcastle West is open on the 2nd Sunday of the month from 1.00pm – 4.00pm. Entry fees apply. Phone: 4927 0202. It is managed by volunteers who welcome prospective volunteers. Private visits are available at other times including a ‘Talk and Tour ‘and a ‘High Tea and Tour’. Contact the National Trust to organise. www.nationaltrust.org.au/nsw/MissPortersHouse


Kimberly O’Sullivan

Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: kimberly@netspace.net.au; 0413 250 155.


4 responses to “A simpler time

  1. Beautiful observations as usual. Thanks for your great blog. i look forward to each new instalment.

  2. The opening paragraph is beautifully expressed. Simple lovely words – quite in keeping with the spirit of the Porter House:
    A trulyTreasurable subject.

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