Exploring the Dairy and Rangers Cottages Tour
In January, we made a little family pact to visit the 11 sites that form the Australian Convict Sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sydney has a quite a few on the list including Parramatta Park’s Old Government House and Domain. We were quick to jump on the opportunity to take the The Dairy and Rangers Cottages Tour in Parramatta Park when we became aware that tours run on the second Saturday of each month.
Constructed between 1796 and 1805 by ex-convict George Salter on his 30 acre land grant, the Dairy Cottage is one of Australia’s oldest surviving intact cottages from this period. George built the cottage with his partner Winnie Marsh, herself an ex-convict. They made the bricks down near the river with the mortar made from the river mud and crushed shells from Aboriginal middens. The timber as sourced from local hardwoods including blue gum. Exploring it via the The Dairy and Rangers Cottages Tour was going to be ace!
In 1813 the dairy cottage and the surrounding property was sold to the government, becoming a part of Governor Macquarie’s Domain, now a UNESCO site. In the early 1800s, the Dairy Cottage was enlarged and converted to a dairy with a sunken milk-processing room constructed alongside. Documentation from the time records the sunken room as being “19 feet by 14 feet, sunk to a depth of five feet with fixtures and steps, a circular sewer and cesspool” although it wasn’t until recent excavations that it was discovered under the floor boards of one of the rooms in the Range cottage.
The Dairy played an important role during the early colony. It was here that such products as milk, butter and cream were made for Government House, the Parramatta Female Factory and the Parramatta township.
When Parramatta Park became a public park in 1858, a more modern residence was required for the ranger. The ranger cottage was built next to the dairy cottage which became a storage facility. Right up to the 1970s, the dairy precinct remained a residence for the ranger who oversaw the upkeep of Parramatta Park.
We booked our Dairy and Rangers Cottages Tour for the second session of the day. When we arrived, the 11.00 am session was concluding. There were around 30 people in that group and we wondered if our group would be the same size. We were pleasantly surprised when we discovered it was just us and one other history buff on the tour.
Ulli, our tour guide, led us first into the Rangers Cottage where we sat and watched a short audio visual projection of the history of Parramatta Park. It was also in here that we discovered an amazing mural painted by the brother-in-law of one of the rangers along the top section of the walls. They seem to be a mismatch of scenery, some Italian villas with chinese junks. Perhaps he was a merchant sailor?
When the projection finished, we moved into the adjoining room where we were able to see the amazing sunken milk-processing room. Via a projection you can see colony maids at work which the kids both found interesting. It’s fascinating to see what the excavation revealed and to actually feel the difference in temperature in this space.
After exploring the Ranger Cottage we were led across the path to the Dairy Cottage. This was my favourite part of the tour. Each room revealed a new find: patches of original wallpaper, inventory tallies written in lead on walls, convict finger marks in bricks and even old rat nests where little pieces of history had been squirrelled away. It was amazing to walk inside and have our tour guide at our side to answer all our questions.
Gardens were an important element of colonial settings. This was our next stop, The gardens are still maintained and we also had a chance to look out to the Little Coogee swimming spot which was very popular back in the 1900s.
If you are keen to explore the cottages yourself, you can book into a tour which runs on the second Saturday or each month. Tickets are around $10 each. For full details head to the Parramatta Park website.