Pioneers in Petticoats is performing this Saturday at the historic Arms of Australia Museum, which will be open for audience members to view for a gold coin donation. Come and enjoy seeing Australias colonial history come alive in a truly evocative atmosphere.
The Arms of Australia Inn Museum is one of the oldest inns standing in the Penrith area, one of what were originally 23 roadside inns in the Nepean district.
It was built in 1826 as a farm house in this important agricultural area, then bought by John Mortimer, who eventually in 1840 turned it into an inn, because the road had been built across the Blue Mountains and was the main route to Bathurst, Orange and the gold diggings.
The Arms of Australia was the final inn before travellers started to climb into the mountains, and the next inn stood at the top of the first hill. In its early days the area was made dangerous by a number of bushrangers, so the two inns had a signalling system. They hung a lamp in a window if it was safe to travel. If the light wasnt lit, travellers stayed where they were till morning.
The inn had a number of paddocks and holding pens for the sheep, cattle and horses travelling through the mountains, said Rosemary Weaver, Senior Vice President of the Nepean Historical Society which runs the Inn. The Society calls the Inn home, along with the NSW Corps of Marines, whose members recreate the lives and times of the First Fleet Marines, sailors, convicts, gentlemen of quality and their ladies and enjoy being in meticulously recreated clothes from these times.
However, the accommodation for people at the inn wasnt as spacious. The inn didnt have any bedrooms, so most overnight travellers had to sleep in the barn, on the veranda or under their wagons.
But two years later regulations came in decreeing inns had to include rooms for women and children, said Rosemary, so four more rooms were added for the women and children.
The inn provided travellers food such as mutton, steak, bacon, bread and possibly fresh vegetables, along with ale and other drinks; the same fare as in all the inns on the road from Sydney to the interior.
People would also have enjoyed reading newspapers here, even if they were a couple of months old, and exchanging information about what was ahead of them, added Rosemary, But there wouldnt have been much variety in the food.
Eventually when the railway came through in the 1860s the inn closed, because it was quicker and easier for travellers over the mountains to use the train.
The inn then became a private house for about a hundred years, and finally in 1972 was sold for subdivision.
This was the time when the inn was in greatest danger of demolition. In fact, the bulldozer was already on-site when a quick-thinking neighbour stepped in.
Luckily, said Rosemary, Ivan Casson decided to take the rotor out of the bulldozer. This gave just enough time for Penrith City Council to finalise a deal to buy the land and building, which it still owns.
The Historical Society owns all the items in the museum, which have been donated by people in the area.
It took the society four hard years to restore the building which had been vandalised, some flagging stolen and termites had destroyed the floor and roof, said Rosemary. Finally it opened in 1976 as a museum.
At least three to four thousand visitors a year come to the Arms of Australia Inn Museum.
Since the Bicentenary of the Crossing of the Blue Mountains from 2013 to 2015, our visitor numbers have really increased, said Rosemary. Now we have lots of schools coming to the museum, because life in colonial times is on the history curriculum. We split the students into groups of ten to play with old-fashioned games, make butter, wash clothes and so on. They really enjoy it.
The museum also hosts visiting groups such as Probus, and a number of special events every year. It holds an Open Day to celebrate William Coxs building of the road across the mountains with his thirty convicts, an amazing achievement in just six months, a lunch to celebrate Captain Watkin Tench finding the Nepean River in 1789, and the Airing of the Quilts weekend.
Rosemary became involved with the Museum in 2000, when the Historical Society was presented with a bugle, and a historic diary, and she was asked to come and film it.
And Im still here, she laughs. Then Museum gets under your skin. We also have groups interested in the paranormal coming to see if they can spot any ghosts. I also love the museum because I come from England, where the recorded history is so much longer, and when you only have 200 years of recorded history, you cherish it. So many families here are related too, which makes all the stories very interesting. You know the people whose history is being preserved here.
The Arms of Australia Inn Museum is open every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9am till 2pm, and on the first and third Sundays of every month from 1pm till 4pm, staffed by knowledgeable volunteers from the Historical Society.
I asked her about the museums future.
The future lies with the children, she replied. I watch the very young children, in their first few years of schooling, come and play with the old equipment. They write on slates in the schoolroom, use the wringer after theyve washed clothes, churn the butter and taste it. They get a feel for what life was like without i-phones and computers. And thats important. I think theyll remember that, and hope they will think it is worth preserving, as we do.
So come and see Pioneers in Petticoats bring colonial women alive at The Arms of Australia Inn Museum on Saturday 30th April at 2pm. And explore Penriths history in the Museum as well.