Society News

Digitisation of Australiana magazine

One of the most important assets of the Society is the contents of the Australiana magazine. The Australiana magazine contains a wealth of valuable information as a result of dedicated research by our members and in many cases, documents the knowledge of our members who are leading experts in their areas of interest. In order to ensure that the information is protected and preserved, the committee decided to digitise the complete set of back issues of the magazine. This process was completed this year and soft copies of all our back issues are now available for ordering. Please go to the Back Issues Order Form page and Back Issues List page for details.

Illustrated talk and tour of the musical instruments collection at the Powerhouse Museum, 29th September 2012

A fascinating and informative afternoon was provided for Australiana Society members who attended the “Illustrated talk and tour of the musical instruments collection at the Powerhouse Museum” on 29 September 2012. The Powerhouse Museum has Australia's foremost collection of musical instruments and includes many early Australian made instruments.

Those attending the talk and tour were met on arrival by Michael Lea, Curator, Music and Musical Instruments and Dr. Paul Donnelly, Curator, Design and Society. Paul is also a committee member of the Australiana Society.

A surprising element of the tour was being taken from the public exhibition areas to the working area of the Museum and to see the huge space devoted to storage and conservation.

The afternoon started with a talk by Michael Lea on the nature of the musical collection and a number of stories concerning their acquisition. The talk was followed by afternoon tea and small groups being taken to the storage area, initially looking at a small portion of the Museum’s piano collection and then onto see smaller instruments and, in some cases, documentation concerning the items in the collection.

Included in the collection are a number of brass and woodwind instruments.


 Two of the Museum’s grand pianos, one with a painted scene on its inside lid.   Michael Lea with some of the Museum’s collection of flutes.   An engraved saxophone from the Museum's collection.

An interesting instrument displayed to the groups was a very decorative and highly engraved gold plated brass/mother-of-pearl alto saxophone, made by J.E. Becker of Adelaide for C.G. Conn, Elkhart, Indiana, USA in 1926. What added to its interest was the documentation showing its provenance.

Both of the curators, Michael Lea and Paul Donnelly, were very approachable and answered the many questions put to them. Those members who attended the talk and tour were very appreciative of the time and effort contributed by Michael and Paul.

The Australiana Society at the AAADA fair 2012

  The Society had a small display and presence at the Sydney AAADA Fair held at the Byron Kennedy Hall, Moore Park, from 2nd to 5th August. A group of dedicated volunteers generously donated their time to be at the stand to promote the Society and answer questions. As was the case last year, there was great interest from the fair attendees and as a result, we welcomed many new members to the Society. Our stand was greatly assisted by a wonderful display of Australian pottery and pokerwork sourced from the collections of our members. The items all had a common decorative theme of Australian flannel flowers. We also said hello to many members who were attending the fair, including some from interstate and out of town.


The Australiana Society annual dinner at Swifts. 11th February 2012

  A report by Jim Bertouch, Society President

Swifts has been described by the Australian Heritage Commission as '... perhaps the grandest house remaining in Sydney.' Mrs Kerry Jones, one of the current owners and a Society life member, generously invited members to an 'open house' evening in which guests could freely move around and inspect the garden and formal floor rooms of the property.

Following dinner the invited speaker, well known eminent architect and architectural historian Clive Lucas, gave a short presentation on the history and restoration of Swifts.


The fascinating talk revealed that the property had been owned at various times by two 'beer barons'. Robert Tooth commissioned the original gothic, sandstone mansion in 1875 to a design by G.A. Morell, named after the family home in Kent.In the 1880s, (Sir) Robert Lucas-Tooth (1844-1915) enclosed the original structure in the stone castellated envelope which we see today, specifying that the ballroom be larger than that at Government House.

Edmund Resch purchased Swifts in 1900. In 1963 the property was left to the Catholic Church by Resch's son, and the original ballroom was converted into a chapel, which became a popular wedding venue.

Clive Lucas explained that during this period of occupation by the Catholic Archbishop, all of the portraits of famous musicians and composers, which had been painted on the walls of the ballroom, were systematically removed. At various times wallpaper had been applied over the other painted decorations on the walls, and the contrasting painted colours on cornices and ceilings were lost.

In 1986 the building and property was sold to a developer and fell into disrepair.

Doug and Greta Moran purchased the estate in 1997, by then in a dilapidated state. Many of the original features had been damaged or lost. Clive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners were engaged to renovate the property, which surprisingly was still sitting on the original 3.5 acre (14,000 m2) parcel of land. Despite the daunting setback of a freak hailstorm in 1999, which destroyed the new Welsh slate roof and caused considerable water damage, the building was eventually restored to its High Victorian style.


Swifts is constructed from Sydney sandstone and resembles a castle in appearance with arcades and parapets. The magnificent painted wall and ceiling decorations and portraits have all been restored, with the non-original wallpaper having been removed. Ornate, oversized fireplaces, some with hand-painted glazed tiles, decorate the formal rooms. Some original cedar joinery is still present and there is some Victorian cedar furniture made by Hudson Brothers of Redfern.

The property is sited at the end of Darling Point in an elevated position and must originally have had magnificent harbour views, now significantly obscured by modern apartment blocks. The garden is being restored under the supervision of Dr. James Broadbent.

During the evening, the opportunity to wander around the garden and formal rooms provided a wonderful experience and the furnishing and decorations are magnificent. The charming small proportioned Moorish smoking room was particular popular.

Given the enthusiastic response from Society members, who attended in record numbers, the opportunity to hear Clive Lucas talk about the history and painstaking restoration of Swifts, while sitting in the beautiful ballroom, was irresistible. It was possible only because of the tireless efforts of Annette and Bill Blinco and the generosity of Kerry Jones.

Society News 2011