Hughenden Hotel – Matilda Fish and the Bushranger

Hughenden Hotel Image

The historic Hughenden Hotel, Woollahra

Matilda Fish and the Bushranger is the second of Blaxland and Daughters productions to be performed at the historic Hughenden Hotel. Earlier in 2016 it also hosted our one-woman play Pioneers in Petticoats, which showcases four inspirational Australian women.

Since The Hughenden was built around 1870, it has experienced many changes, from a grand family home to a Masonic Hall and even a Ladies College. In 1993 the building was transformed into a boutique hotel, which hosts a variety of art exhibitions, literary events and theatrical and operatic performances.

The original builder was Dr Frederick Harrison Quaife, son of Australias first philosopher and Professor of Divinity, Barzillai Quaife. Barzillai lived on Queen Street and preached in the Congregational Church on Ocean Street, Woollahra. His son Frederick ordered the house built in the Victorian Italianate style, with black marble fireplaces, servants bell ropes and an unique staircase which are all still features of the hotel. Dr Quaife was an important social and political figure in the colony asa founding father of the British Medical Association and later its President,bringing the first x-ray machine to the colony. He was also a foundingfather of the British Astronomical Society in Australia. Dr Quaifes initials arestill etched in Lombardic script in the glass above the hotel entrance.

After this, The Hughenden led a chequered life as a Masonic Hall, guest house, nurses home, dance hall, and the Riviere Ladies College. The Riviere Colleges motto was Des Fleisses Lohn Rewards of Work and Diligence and it inspired a generation of Australian women to pursue varied brilliant careers.

The College was founded by the German Professor Georgs, a Professor of Music, and his wife, and had several homes in Woollahra between 1877 and 1911, before moving to its final home at the Hughenden in 1912. Here it operated until 1920 under headmistress Mrs Mitchell-Mears, who had been (as Matilda Meares) a woman pioneer graduate of Sydney University in1889. The curriculum at Riviere College included geography, history, English, general knowledge, composition, arithmetic, German, painting and music.

A number of leading Australian women were educated at Riviere College. They included Lillian De Lissa, a pioneer in early childhood education, who saw education as the basis of social reform. She established the Kindergarten Unions of South Australia Western Australia. and also went to Great Britain where in 1923 she helped found the Nursery School Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Other graduates of Riviere College included Dame Constance DArcy, a distinguished obstetrician and gynaecologist who pioneered antenatal care for women, and was committed to lowering the maternal mortality rate. Dame Constance DArcy also became the first female Deputy Chancellor of the University of Sydney, founder of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation, foundation member of Sancta Sophia College and fought for equal pay for women. Another Riviere student, Margaret Estelle Barnes, was one of Australias first female dentists. The logo of Riviere College is etched in the glass in The Riviere wing of The Hughenden.

Eventually the building became lodgings, and fell into disrepair until the Gervay family re-discovered it in 1992 and restored it as a boutique hotel. Distinguished prize-winning author Susanne Gervay and her family began the lengthy restoration of The Hughenden with the legacy left by her parents, who escaped communism in Hungary to find a safe haven in Australia.

Since then it has become known as one of Sydneys premiere boutique hotels, located at the top of Woollahras Queen Street, across from Centennial Park. This park began as the Sydney Common, proclaimed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811, with its open areas intended for public use. Redesigned as parklands in 1888, it became Centennial Park in 1901 and was the focus of Australias founding as an independent nation, where Australias first Governor General, Lord Hopetown, was sworn in and the Federal Constitution proclaimed on 1st of January.

The Hughenden Hotel has hosted travellers and many unique functions, and lies at the crossroads of heritage Woollahra Village, Paddington markets, designer fashion boutiques, the Sydney Cricket Stadium and Football Stadium, the Entertainment Quarter and Fox Studios. It sits among one of the largest expanses of colonial Victorian architecture in Australia, which is classified by the National Trust as an area of historic and architectural importance.

In addition, the Hughenden Hotel is an uniquely Australian arts and literacy hotel, a patron of the arts and literary life. Susanne Gervays series of childrens books beginning with I Am Jack has become a vital resource on bullying for schools, and a internationally touring Australian play. In addition, The Hughenden Hotel is home to the Australian chapter of The Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It also supports a number of charities including Room to Read, which brings literacy to the children of the developing world, Books in Homes which reaches out to indigenous and disadvantaged children, Monkey Baa Theatre and many other community organisations.

The eclectic art of The Hughenden includes artworks from the 1800s to today. Dr Quaifes portrait and the silver plate awarded to him for his services to the Ambulance in 1886 hang in the bar, a permanent exhibition of the works of Australian childrens illustrators is located in The Reading Room, and important portraits of Australian icons including Barry Humphries by eminent artists hang in the reception area and Victorian lounge.

The vibrant history of the Hughenden Hotel provides a perfect setting for the colonial subject-matter of Matilda Fish and the Bushranger. The pleasant atmosphere of its restaurant also makes it a great place to enjoy dinner afterwards with your friends.

Wendy Blaxland

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