Friday, 19 December 2014

Arson at Warrimoo? The Christmas night Fire

Arson in Warrimoo? The Christmas night Fire

On Christmas night, 1919, the new 'shop building' at Warrimoo burst into flame so that by the early hours of the following morning it was 'too far gone to be saved'.

This is the somewhat tragic story of Henry Varlow[1], one of the original white settlers (1919) of the new Warrimoo Estate--returned serviceman, family man and alleged arsonist. He was the first occupant of the double-storeyed ‘shop’ on the Highway opposite Warrimoo Railway Station, and his stay in the infant community was a rocky one, indeed.

 Originally Henry Varlow was from Leura, further up the ‘Mountains. He was a ‘plumber’ there, and had settled at Mount Street with his wife, Ella Irene Varlow and their two children, when war was declared in August 1914.

 Varlow volunteered to fight overseas on 3rd of September of the same year. In other words, he was one of the ‘first wave’ of enthusiastic patriots destined to fight in the Middle East against the Turks, for the greater good of Empire.

Volunteers line up to join the AIF, September 1914. Henry Varlow, after already serving in the Light Horse for the Boer War, was one of them...

Why a man of 38 years would want to leave his wife and children to go and fight in climes as far away as Europe and Egypt is worth pondering. Was he bored with work and life in Leura? Was he inspired by the tide of patriotism that swept the country in the wake of Germany’s invasion of Belgium and France? Or was it rather, having been born in Stepney, London, Henry felt an overwhelming loyalty to his Mother Country, coupled with a yearning to see it again?

 At 38, he was no spring chicken. He had already served in the Imperial Light Horse at the “cessation of hostilities” of the Boer War fourteen years previous. When he signed up for his physical he was described as 5 foot 7 inches tall, 10 stone in weight, fair complexioned with grey eyes. He was to be paid 9 shillings a day.

 ‘Light Horse glamour’ was not to be his calling this time, however. He was to be a member of the 4th Infantry Brigade in the 7th Company of the Army Services Corps. The range of jobs in the Services Corps could be anything from stable-hand, to cook, to transport provision and construction. This may have been a disappointment to him.

 Whatever the circumstances, Henry Varlow’s service record grew steadily more miserable.  It began with minor misdemeanours such as ‘untidy quarters’ but then a series of complaints about his ‘sciatica’ had Henry in and out of hospital as an increasingly disgruntled soldier. Was he a ‘slacker’? The AIF reports are careful to avoid the charge, but ultimately the Army could bear it no longer—Henry Varlow was discharged due to ‘medical unfitness’.

 Warrimoo must have offered Henry and his family an opportunity to put the war behind them and start afresh: to build a new and successful life. A sympathetic landlord in the form of the Rickard Company, a double storeyed dwelling leased to him at discounted rates, and the chance to build a shop’s clientele within a growing community. It required patience and dedication…

The Varlows may well have thought Warrimoo would grow more rapidly and become a modern cosmopolitan centre for tourists--maybe it was all too slow.

 Christmas Day 1919, however, did not bring the cheer the Varlows may have wished for. On that night a fellow ex-serviceman, Henry Todd of Florabella Street, noticed a major blaze in the direction of the shop and sounded the alarm. The fire burned so fiercely that by 3.00am the shop was “too far gone for anything to be saved…”.

 The Blue Mountains Echo of 2nd January 1920[2], takes up the story, under the heading ‘BIG BLAZE AT WARRIMOO’…

…Varlow, who is an ex-Leuraite, was charged as the perpetrator of the blaze. The investigation was held before the District Coroner Arthur Judges on Monday last. Varlow’s statement was to the effect that he went away with his wife and family on the 24th and was away till the afternoon of the 26th ultimo. The fire, which took place on the evening of the 25th, was an enigma to him. He was partly insured (for contents--WH) for 150 pounds and Rickard and Co. had the house insured for 1,203 pounds. Varlow said he was drawing 7 pounds 7 shillings per fortnight from the Repatriation…

In short, Henry Varlow’s alibi was that he wasn’t there. He wasn’t rich, but he wasn’t poor. At this stage, the level of business at the store was slight, but there was a good chance the settlement would grow and that Highway traffic too, would increase.

Varlow's alibi was that he was elsewhere on the night of the fire. Surely a cursory check of his whereabouts on Christmas night would have established its truth or otherwise...
But suspicion fell upon Varlow for two main reasons. One, the Coroner was convinced that the fire was deliberately lit, and two, a witness said he saw a man whom he ‘thought and believed’ to be Varlow at Blaxland station on the night of the 25th

 Night officer Hartigan said on the night of the 25th, he let a man whom he thought and believed to be Varlow out at Blaxland, one and a half miles from Warrimoo. Witness said he had never been introduced to Varlow, but he knew him by his prominent teeth and his voice.

Guard John Lysaught testified to setting a man down on the night of the 25th and collecting his ticket. He could not identify the man, as he did not take much interest.

Station Master J.T. Neale,* relieving officer, said he received one ticket (produced) on the night of the 25th[3]

One fact stands out in this evidence: clearly it was unusual for travellers to use the train on Christmas night. Much moreso than today, Christmas was the opportunity for families to attend church in the morning, stay at home for Dinner and remain together for one of the few special days available throughout the year. An individual travelling on such a night would have stood out quite noticeably. Was it impossible for police to clearly identify this man?

 Apparently so, since after an adjournment of a week, the prosecution could come up with no further concrete evidence to fit Varlow to the fire. As to motive, there appeared to be none. While a piano had been removed from the property some weeks beforehand, Mrs. Varlow testified that the couple had lost 105 pounds on furnishings and equipment in their lodgings. The central claimant for insurance damages had been A. Rickard and Co., for the destruction of the building. This was for the amount of 1,203 pounds.

Accordingly the Coroner reluctantly declared an ‘open verdict’—the fire had been deliberately lit, but by ‘persons unknown’. Varlow was discharged.

 For Henry Varlow, however, this was the end of Warrimoo for him and his family. He could no longer live in a community where he was ‘under a cloud’. He left and returned to Leura.

 William Way speaks of another shop operating on the corner of The Boulevarde and the Highway while he grew up in the early 1920’s. The renewed shop opposite the station was not rebuilt from insurance funds till 1926, when it was taken over by ‘the Breakspears’[4]. William Way’s dad was able to use the bricks available at the ‘corner store’—presumably these were the rubble from a fire—to build their own dwelling in Albert Street. There was always a shortage of building materials, which didn’t ease until the 1960’s.

[1] Information on the biography of Henry Varlow comes from a variety of sources, but the overwhelming effort of drawing them together was carried out by: RICHARDSON, E., and MATTHEW, K Warrimoo History Project, Library Records
[2] TROVE, Blue Mountains Echo, 2nd January 1920
* Could this be the same ‘Mr. Neil’ who attended a meeting in Glenbrook, representing Warrimoo Progress Association, and who later appears as the Secretary of the Association in the 1930’s?
[3] Ibid
[4] Op. Cit. My Story, p.14

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Roaring 20's

Warrimoo in the ‘Roaring Twenties’

Promotional pic for the Blue Mountains 'Roaring 20's and all that Jazz' festival, showing Claudia Chan Shaw modelling 1920's fashion. Photo by David Hill
In truth, the newly-born settlement of Warrimoo didn’t do much ‘roaring’ in the 1920’s. Maybe that was left to Sir Arthur Rickard’s snazzy automobiles as they ploughed up the dusty Highway to ‘Cadia’, or possibly the loco on the new ‘Caves Express’ throwing clouds above and about as it thundered past laden with excited tourists.

‘Warrimoo’ was too young to ‘roar’. In 1920 it was a myopic infant, groping for its future, trying to establish an identity, self-absorbed with survival. One newly arrived young boy was Lawrence William Way[1]. Lawrence recalls…

When the war came to an end, six wooden homes were built for returned soldiers to move into the area. We rented the house near (the present) primary school after (my father) paid a deposit on three blocks of land, Lots 4 and 5 in Florabella Street (and another in Albert Street). Another house was built where the Todd family lived in Florabella Street and two houses in Rickard Road, one in The Boulevarde and another one in Waratah Street. Waratahs were numerous on the western side of this ridge and beautiful scented Boronia grew in this area.[2]

So, there was a minute population in Warrimoo at the outset of the 1920’s. According to available records, the only fully recognised “residents” of the estate were Thomas Smiley—worryingly, his wife and child (children?) shown in an earlier photograph, are not mentioned—who presumably lived near the station or the railroad crossing because his occupation was still listed as ‘Railways’.

Then there was Mrs Simpson, the War Widow who lived in the home supplied by the Rejected Volunteers, which Warrimoo Historians consider to have been at some position on the Great Western Highway. A War Veteran by the name of Henry Varlow had occupied the shop building[3], Henry Todd lived on the corner of The Avenue and Florabella Street, neighbouring Lawrence’s parents, Walter and Ellen Way[4].

That was it. The ‘pioneers’ of white settlement in Warrimoo. In the absence of photographs, one can only paint a presumptive sketch of the area. There would have been some very occasional weatherboard buildings, plus the brick exemplar in The Boulevarde, and the shop on the Highway. ‘Thinned’ bush would have prevailed throughout the rest of ‘Warrimoo’, intersected by unsealed roads and very basic drainage. Service provision was non-existent: no electricity, no town water, no sewerage. All settlers had to be self-reliant in this regard.

The nearest institution to supply ‘service provision’ at the time was ‘Blue Mountains Shire Council’ which met at Lawson between 1907 and 1947. It was not yet amalgamated with the Katoomba City Council nor the Municipality of Blackheath, so it was poorly serviced with rates and focused on rural issues—it tended to be slow in catching up with costly modern developments such as water conservation and electricity generation. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1920’s it was able to supply basic electric lighting to sections of the Highway, and households that could afford connection.

Sometime in the early 1920’s the ‘Warrimoo Progress Association’ was formed to make representations to the Council on behalf of local residents. A ‘Mr. Neal’ represented Warrimoo at the launch of Lower Mountains electrification at Glenbrook in 1928, and at a subsequent meeting there the President of the Warrimoo Progress Association, Mr. H.C. Lewis, proposed a vote of thanks to the Blue Mountains Shire Council…

I feel sure that we as residents of this lower end of the mountains are under a debt of gratitude to the Shire Council and what they have accomplished, he said. (Applause)[5]

Lawrence William Way 1920--?

Lawrence was to become one of the truly unique characters of Warrimoo’s history. Much of what we understand about the infant township in the 1920’s is drawn from the recollections in his amazing autobiography, My Story, which he donated to Warrimoo PS Library in 2011…


Photo/portrait of Lawrence Way on the cover of his autobiography, My Story
Lawrence was the son of a World War I veteran of the AIF, Walter William Worsley Way, avowed athiest. Shot in the jaw on the Western Front in France Walter met his bride-to-be, Ellen Gertrude Chatteris while convalescing in a London hospital. Gertrude was fifteen years younger than Walter, and she already had a two year-old son named Harold.

Ellen Gertrude and Walter Way on their wedding day during World War I in England. Walter had been shot in the  jaw and met Ellen while recuperating in hospital. Believe it or not, the child in the centre of the picture is Lawrence's older half-brother, Harold.
It was a whirlwind romance. Immediately after discharge the couple were married in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, then sailed for Sydney where they rented homes first in Broadway, then West Ryde. Walter worked as a cook in the Australia Hotel. Lawrence was born in Paddington Hospital in April 1920, just as the ‘Warrimoo Estate’ was being opened up. As an ex-serviceman, Lawrence’s dad was able to purchase land at Warrimoo at significantly reduced rates: he bought two blocks in Florabella Street and one in Albert Street. The story is best in Lawrence’s words…

When we moved from West Ryde to Warrimoo in 1922, we lived in a rented house (a returned soldier’s house) in Florabella Street for a while. Dad built a two-room humpy on Lot 5 Florabella Street covering the wooden frame and roof with a roll of tarred ruberoid. We lived in this until a small house was built on the Albert Street block…

While we were still living in this humpy, news came that my mother, who was in hospital, had just had a stillborn baby…

We moved to our house in Albert Street later in 1923. Around this time I had…a trauma…I had jumped off the verandah and had ripped part of my rear end. This time (the doctor) did not use the knife but stitched me up but I did not appreciate it as much as I should have. I screamed loudly as in those days we did not receive an injection to relieve the pain. I remember twelve years later the pain I experienced when the dentist hit the tooth nerve a couple of times when filling a tooth. How different things are today!

Things were changing in 1920’s and weekenders were popping up here and there. Many people were buying blocks of land. By 1923, Warrimoo could boast of at least twenty houses. At our Albert Street house we had used some bricks which we collected from the first shop in Warrimoo. This shop was the front of a small house and had burnt down around 1925. It was near the corner of The Boulevarde and the Highway.

Harry Todd lived in the house (No. 3) on the corner of Florabella Street. He collected bottles and built a beautiful glass garden with the words at the top “Moms regime meaning mountain queen”. …We came to know the couple who lived there well. Another house was built shortly after on the opposite corner and a family whose surname was Watts lived there. They were Church of England and shortly after settling there, Mrs Watts came to see my mother. I remember as she looked at me she remarked about my fair skin and I hid behind mum. Mrs Watts was looking for people who would be interested in a Church of England meeting. The Church of England minister came from Springwood and a meeting was held on their back verandah.

Warrimoo had a small corner shop and we used to get our bread delivered by horse and cart. It wasn’t uncommon for the bread deliverer to stop and talk, leaving the person’s bread on the horse’s rump before the buyer took possession of it. The meat was delivered in a motor bike sidecar in all kinds of weather. In later years, the meat was sent from Penrith by rail and picked up from the railway station…[6]

The astounding thing about Lawrence’s account is the ‘normalcy’ of his perception. To most of us, what he was experiencing in Warrimoo was little more than ‘hardship’, but to the young boy Lawrence it was just what life was like. There were positives, too…

One day when we were going to Springwood my mother told me she had left her glasses at home. She told me when the train comes tell the driver I will be back in a moment. I did this and the train driver held up the train for about one minute until Mum arrived. It was an early morning train consisting of a tank engine and three box carriages. I marvel as I look back on this incident with many others how people went out of their way to help in any way they could…

…Dad worked in the mid-1920’s as a cook in the northern cane fields. He often obtained clothing from a Queensland warehouse and during the depression days he would still send for clothes from there. I remember going to Parramatta with Mum and, as Dad had returned from the cane fields, he had given her five pounds for shopping to buy clothes etc. Trousers were only a few shillings. In fact, ten years later, I bought myself good quality long trousers for ten shillings at Lithgow.

My sister Helen (who became known as Nell) was born in January 1925 and our verandah sleeping quarters ceased to exist. My brother Harold and I were assigned to a tent just near the kitchen door.

There are two things I recall about this time. One being that in 1926, Dad took us to the zoo.[7]A photo was taken of me sitting on a small column. It was a day of absolute wonder to see so many animals. The other thing was that on Christmas Day 1926, there was a little wooden boat in a Christmas stocking which I was thrilled with…

Lawrence William Way photographed at Taronga Park Zoo, when he visited there in 1926--he was six years old.
…Dad took to digging wells for watering gardens as we grew most of our vegetables. One day I was playing near a well full of water about 12 feet by fifteen feet and fell in. Dad dived in and rescued me.

Another house was built around 1926 on the fourth corner of Florabella crossroad (No. 3 Florabella Street). There were hardly any children in the area and I took up playing with a girl also named Laurie spelt the same as my name and also my age. The four corners of the crossroad were now built out as a weekender existed at No.2 which was the first house backing off Florabella Street. The Watts’ house fronted The Mall, which was the continuation of The Avenue. Also at the back of the Todd’s place, people by the name of Newton were clearing the land in preparation for building next year. It was the last block of two acres in The Avenue and joined onto our two acre block, Lot 5, which was to be 11 Florabella Street

Springwood Public in 1927--somewhere Harold and Lawrence Way are lurking...

…My brother Harold travelled to Springwood school from Warrimoo and at the age of six, the beginning of 1927, I started school (also)…We used to walk nearly a kilometre to the railway station to catch the train just before 8.00am across the dusty highway with an occasional car appearing. One day a lady stopped and asked where we were going. She travelled to Springwood to work and offered to take us to school. It was an almost new model T Ford and we thought this was wonderful. Those days the school was near Springwood station…

Model T Ford--the most affordable automobile in the world--and the most commonly seen vehicle travelling through Warrimoo in the 1920's. Lawrence seems to have hitched many a lift in model T's just like this.
…One day when Harold and I were on Warrimoo station two fire balls came from the highway direction across the eastern end of the station near the overhead bridge near the middle of the station. We saw them moving side by side down the valley towards Long Angle Gully. We would often meet trains to pick up parcels of our meat from the butcher at Penrith (“West” by name). This would mostly be on a weekend and my little sister Helen would come with us. When she was not there it was not uncommon for the guard to ask “Where is your little sister?” or similar questions…

 (Shortly Lawrence came to be enrolled at the newly built ‘Blaxland Public School’ on the Highway)…About the end of the first year at Blaxland School, a school picnic was arranged at the swimming pool in Long Angle Gully about one kilometre down from Warrimoo station where there was a creek from the flat at Valley Heights.  These flats were originally a crater of a very large volcano. It was where Arthur Rickard or someone was influenced to build this swimming pool. It had a concrete wall with a spillway.

On one occasion we had actually been playing across the pool at the other end and I and a boy around the age of five from a family near us were walking across a tree trunk when he slipped. He was holding my hand and pulled me into the water. We were quickly pulled out by a couple of swimmers. Circumstances of this nature are seldom forgotten…

Warrimoo pool photographed in the 1920's--you can see the concrete weir and spillway in the foreground. Where Lawrence fell in is open to question.
…It was around 1926 when electric lights were added to streets. They were very poor lights, perhaps 60 watt, and it was quite dark between the lights. If we were not home by dark we would run between the lights…

 …One time I was down at the house in The Boulevarde at the bottom of our street. It was dark and I was afraid to go home by myself. One of my friends said, “I will go to your house with you,” which he did. But no way was he going back on his own! So I then had to take him back and make a dash back the second time on my own. I did not think I would live to tell the tale.

Another time we were at the tennis court opposite the shop when a friend decided to run across the road before he realised a car was coming. He just made it but lost a shoe. We were not sure if the car clipped his shoe or if it just came off. It was certainly close.

So ends some excerpts from Lawrence Way’s vivid account of a young boy’s life in 1920’s Warrimoo. By the end of the decade new settlers were coming to live in this brave new settlement on the edge of Mountain bushland. Most led happy, interesting lives, but some were not so fortunate…


[1] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011.. Warrimoo Historians are indebted to Lawrence Way for the timely account of his experiences in Warrimoo. His book is available at Warrimoo PS Library, and it provides most of the observations for this chapter of our history.
[2] Ibid., p.9
[3] More information on Henry Varlow is available in another chapter in this section titled :’Arson in Warrimoo?’
[4] RICHARDSON, E., and MATTHEW, K Warrimoo History Project, Library Records
[5] TROVE, Nepean Times
[6] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011. pp 9-15
[7] Taronga Park Zoo had opened just ten years earlier, in October of 1916

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Mysterious Name of 'Warrimoo'

The Mysterious Name of ‘Warrimoo’

We already know that Arthur Rickard had the political clout to have ‘Karabar’ renamed ‘Warrimoo’--he was often seen in the company of illustrious conservative politicians throughout his career--, but we do not quite know exactly how this was possible. Renaming a place is a major bureaucratic operation, although during World War I quite a large number of German-sounding place names had been altered to become more ‘British’ and thus patriotic (eg ‘Germanton’ to ‘Holbrook’).

Thus, in the Warrimoo Historians’ quest to establish the origins of the name ‘Warrimoo’, the year 1918 looms as significant, for reasons that shall become clear later. One thing is for sure, after consultation with local people, ‘Warrimoo’ is not a Darug or Gundangarra word. After perusal of the available literature[1], it may well be an Aboriginal word, but from another district.

To be fair, it is even unclear (at this point) whether Arthur Rickard actually proffered ‘Place of the Eagle’ or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ as the definition of the word ‘Warrimoo’. In his initial promotion extolling Warrimoo as ‘the box seat’, the phrase ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ is simply bracketed underneath.[2] The intention may feasibly have been that Warrimoo was the name of a place where eagles frequent—which was indeed the case for some time, owing to the amount of dead stock and road-kill along the sides of the Highway and the prevalence of carrion eaters at various points along the way. In other words, the place name and the existence of eagles there may have been coincidental.

Regardless, a simple Google search reveals another possible source of the name: a ship called the ‘SS Warrimoo’. This vessel appeared as one of the first iron-hulled steamships to arrive in Australasian waters when in 1892 it sailed from Newcastle on Tyne--where it was built--to Sydney in a miraculous 37 days. It was a beautiful state-of-the-art 5,000 tonne passenger/cargo vessel that surely caused a stir when it cruised into Sydney, then Melbourne, and finally Auckland harbours.[3] Arthur Rickard, with his interests in immigration and regional trade, would certainly have taken careful note.

Painting of the 'S.S. Warrimoo', one of the earliest iron-hulled steamships to grace the trans-Tasman run between the eastern seaboard of Australia and New Zealand. It's chequered career as a passenger-cargo vessel saw it carry Mark Twain from the U.S. on a speaking tour.

It is true that the first association of 'Warrimoo' and 'Eagle' occurred in reference to the name of this ship, when the South Australian Register mentioned that the vessel's name was a Victorian Aboriginal word for 'eagle'.[4] An observant reader has informed Warrimoo Historians that the word has been found in a small dictionary of the Ladjiladji people, whose country can be found in the Mildura region of borderland NSW and Victoria. This is the best proof of the actual origins of the word to date...

The ‘SS Warrimoo’ was owned by the 'New Zealand and Australasian Steamship Co.', an Australian--or at least an Australasian-- company that also carried the ‘Warrimoo’s’ sister ship, the ‘SS Miowera’, though the interesting thing was both these vessels’ ‘home base’ was to be Auckland, where they would carry on the Trans-Tasman run.[5] After a few years ownership, however, possession passed to the 'Canadian-Australian Royal Mail Steamship Co.' and its duties stretched to cargo/passenger voyages to Canada and the United States. Mark Twain sailed to Australia for a speaking tour on the ‘SS Warrimoo’ in 1895 during which voyage the vessel famously crossed  the international timeline and the equator diagonally on New Year's Eve/Day 1899, thus leaving the passengers in two hemispheres, timezones and centuries all at once.

The ship soon passed to the '‘Union Steamship Company of New Zealand[6], to carry cargo and passengers to a variety of routes between Australasia and South East Asia.[7] The ‘SS Warrimoo’ remained in New Zealand hands until 1916. Indeed, it was the troopship that took the first Maori ‘Pioneer’ military contingents to Gallipoli in 1915.[8] Logically, given the long-serving New Zealand connection, Warrimoo Historians considered that ‘Warrimoo’ might also, conceivably, have been a Maori word, since many of the other ships in the shipping lines there had Maori-inspired names. Unfortunately a search of all available Maori dictionaries and place-names could not verify such an assumption…

The only connection to New Zealand that could be found was a reference to the home of Joseph Kinsey, high-profile owner of the Kinsey Shipping Line which had assisted Scott and Shackleton in their voyages to Antarctica. Kinsey lived in a magnificent residence in Papanui which he had named ‘Warrimoo’. Given the fact that Papanui was a noted Maori site in New Zealand, it is feasible that Kinsey named his house after a person or place from the area—this may well have been the original source of the name ‘SS Warrimoo’, since Kinsey was a well-known shipping magnate who had moved to New Zealand in 1880 (twelve years prior to the launch of the Steam Ship) and had named his mansion ‘Warrimoo’.[9]

Nevertheless, Kinsey may also have picked up the word from its Australian source: the Ladjiladji people, and this may even have been conveyed to him by an Australian (such as Rickard!), since at that time (the 1890's) Australia and New Zealand maintained very close ties indeed and were considering 'Federating' together as one nation.

Joseph Kinsey photographed with his special guest, George Bernard Shaw, probably outside Kinsey's home at Papanui, named 'Warrimoo'. Kinsey was a celebrated NZ shipping magnate who sponsored Scott and Shackleton's expeditions to Antarctica.
But the story does not end there. In 1916, as a troopship, the ‘SS Warrimoo’ was transferred to a Singaporean shipping company, which continued to use the vessel to transport troops and war materiel throughout the war-zone, and especially in the Mediterranean Sea and off the coast of Africa. On the 18th May 1918, six months before the end of hostilities, the ‘Warrimoo’ was sunk off Tunis when it collided with the French Destroyer Catapulte “…after depth charges exploded” (!)[10]

This whole incident—the sinking of the ‘Warrimoo’-- is shrouded in mystery. According to TROVE, all references to the ‘SS Warrimoo’ ceased when war was declared, so that even the sinking occurred without the Australian public being informed of the fact. ‘Official records’ give us no indication of the losses involved, or even the name of the Captain, and the report on exactly how and why the ‘collision’ occurred leaves more gaps than filler. Only one thing is certain: the ‘SS Warrimoo’ went down in May 1918, although we also know that the first advertisement for the 'Warrimoo Estate' occurred in March of the same year, two months before the ship went down. What is less clear is the amount Rickard knew about it and what connection it has to the christening of his estate.

In its later years the 'S.S. Warrimoo' operated as an ANZAC troopship and war cargo carrier in the Mediterranean Sea, where it met its end in May 1918. In an amazing coincidence, the 'Warrimoo Estate' had been announced two months earlier, in March of the very same year.
Arthur Rickard almost certainly would have known about the ship’s existence and its role during the war, but did he apply the ship's name to his new estate in that same year? Apparently he had run a 'Naming Competition' throughout Sydney via the 'Realty Review' and arrived at three name suggestions from the general public (WH are not aware of what these suggestions were). These suggestions were submitted to the Railway Commissioners to name the station, and thus the new subdivision. Allegedly the venerable Commissioners ignored the three suggestions and opted for the name 'Warrimoo', though it is hardly credible that they sought to overrule Arthur Rickard, given that he was subsidising the building of the new station with its surrounding estate...

We may never know why Kinsey called his Papanui residence ‘Warrimoo’, or why the Railway Commissioners chose this name and thus we may never know the source of the word which betokens our township. It would have been romantically satisfying for our home to have been the Aboriginal ‘Place of Eagles’, with due respect being paid to the language of one of our First Nation peoples, but considering Arthur Rickard’s own sympathies and the timing of events leading up to the release of his estate, it is far more likely that Warrimoo received its name from the high-profile steamship, months later suffering tragic loss in World War I. It was a coincidental, ironic,  muted and unintended tribute to those who would not return from that great conflagration.

[1] Macquarie Aboriginal Dictionary et al
[2] If any reader can supply some written example of Rickard’s clearly suggesting ‘Place of the Eagle’ as the meaning of the word ‘Warrimoo’, please let us know, because then we could accurately source the origins of such a belief to him—this is most likely the case, anyhow, but it is important to be accurate.
[3] (TROVE Hobart Mercury 10/11/1892)
[4] (TROVE South Australian Register 10/2/1892)
[5] op.cit (TROVE Hobart Mercury 10/11/1892)
[8] Op.cit:

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Sir Arthur Rickard's Contribution to Warrimoo

Arthur Rickard’s Contribution to Warrimoo


Arthur Rickard invites us to ride in his canoe. The 'Warrimoo Estate' was launched in 1918, the last year of World War I...

It is not difficult to assess Arthur Rickard’s contribution: without Arthur Rickard, there would certainly have not been a ‘Warrimoo’, for even the name was contrived by him. How he managed to change the area’s public assignation from ‘Karabar’ to ‘Warrimoo’, and why, is the subject of another entry in this blog.[1]

Even before World War I, Rickard had started buying land in the mountains. He had already set up his Real Estate business in 1904, and was primarily interested in land acquisition on the fringes of Sydney for future development. While busily campaigning for greater immigration and thus more home-buyers, he was surveying land purchases at Woy Woy on the Central Coast, Narrabeen, Bankstown and the Sutherland shire for future release.

Warrimoo--the 'Box Seat'--accessible to the city of Sydney but not as 'rugged' as upper Mountains locations. This newspaper ad. announced the first estate release

The Subdivisions

The Karabar properties were bought in 1918, but Rickard went further than the Richardson and Wrench offering—he bought blocks on the northern side of the railway/highway as well. When releasing his estates, Rickard generally did much more than the average developer. He always had a ‘vision’ for his subdivisions that generally revolved around a combination of residency and primary industry: it seems he was keen to support some level of ‘self sufficiency’ or ‘sustainability’ not available in standard urban blocks at the time. For Warrimoo, it appeared to be poultry and orchards he sought to encourage.

An excerpt from the first Warrimoo Estate subdivision along Rickard Road and Railway Parade. You will note that all the Lots are roughly the same size and dimensions throughout.

Clearly anxious to 'move things along', Rickard altered the design of the Estate in 1922--now, every third or fourth Lot extended well beyond the 'normal' suburban block to enable some additional pursuit such as orchards or poultry farms. Some buyers attempted it, most did not.

When you examine the layout of the plan for the 1920 ‘Rickard Road’ development, you will notice that initially, the Lots were arranged in a standard suburban pattern of roughly equal ‘quarter acre’ size. These mustn’t have moved quickly enough for Rickard’s liking, so that a new, 1922 version of the Warrimoo Estate had every 3rd, 4th or 5th block in a much larger battleaxe, running back into bush at the rear of the properties—this is to allow the pursuit of some form of animal husbandry or small scale agriculture to supplement the resident’s diet or income.

A vision of Rickard's ideal: 'Fowlanthropy'. Settlement that engaged residents with their surrounding habitat and encouraged some form of rural pursuit

Blocks on Railway Parade, Cross Street and the Highway were arranged in similar manner, and remain so today.

On the southern side he redesigned the blocks so that the ones in The Avenue and The Boulevarde that had stood facing Victoria and Albert Streets, now faced continuously along the longer streets. The Boulevarde was “bent” a little instead of running straight, and the extensions to Victoria and Albert Streets were now cut off by blocks for sale. A special ‘display home’ was constructed on the corner of Victoria Street and The Boulevarde, most feasibly to profile the possibilities of building in the new township, and to encourage others to follow in the new, modern style.


A further road, ‘The Mall’ extended eastwards to a dead end, and ‘Florabella (meaning ‘beautiful flowers’) Street’ stretched southwards towards a Walking Track specifically cleared by Rickard to promote the ‘Mountains character’ of the development. It followed a small creek through to the back of Blaxland, which was itself developing apace at the time.

Plan of Warrimoo as it exists today--the extra large battle-axe blocks exist on both sides of the township

A Special Place in Rickard’s Heart?

The Railway Station

There is substantial evidence to indicate ‘Warrimoo’ held a special place in Arthur Rickard’s heart, despite the broadness of his holdings elsewhere. In Warrimoo he had arranged for the rebuilding of a rail platform and bridge. Already (in 1918) he had negotiated the renaming of ‘Karabar’ to ‘Warrimoo’, and moved the site of the platform 2-300 metres eastwards so that it stood opposite Rickard Road and the General Store, which was also constructed under his auspices.


Why the platform was moved is anyone’s guess. According to Lawrence Way[2] work did not really commence on the new platform till 1924, when he witnessed the blasting of a wider cutting further west to accommodate the dual track platform being built. Apparently Lawrence’s father worked on extensions to the platform to make it more adequate, “Horses were used pulling cartloads of earth to build up the station and widen the area for the rail to be on the other side of the platform as well.”[3] The wooden pedestrian bridge above the station existed from the outset, and linked both northern and southern sides of Warrimoo.



The General Store

As previously mentioned, Arthur Rickard had a special purpose two-storey General Store built on the highway, opposite the station, to service the future community. The owners or lessees of the shop could live upstairs. There is evidence that a smaller corner shop already existed at Warrimoo [4], but the larger one came to dominate. This was certainly the centrepiece of a dramatic fire and subsequent court case shortly after its completion in 1919.[5]

The 'General Store' as it appears today. This building has been the centre of many dramas since its erection in 1920, and is surely worthy of consideration as the building most eminent for heritage-listing throughout the township.

3 The Boulevarde

Another extant building already noted is the special ‘show-home’ at number 3 The Boulevarde to encourage more of the same. It was built in ‘modern’, ‘monumental style’, with two massive pillars at the front and covered with ‘ash plaster’[6]. This bungalow was offered for sale by auction on the opening day of the subdivision's launch. It remains an impressive building today and has an intriguing history all its own[7].

The famous bungalow at number 3 The Boulevarde. Offered at auction on the 'sale day' of the Warrimoo Estate, it stood as a beautiful testament to the stylish architecture of the period. Sketch courtesy of Warrimoo artist, Terry Dernee.

The ‘Big Signs’

There appears to be little alternative other than to attribute a famous six foot ‘WARRIMOO’ sign, standing where the present Antiques shop is, to the promotional enthusiasm of Arthur Rickard himself. A legendary picture of four young women seated within the ‘W’, testifies to the sign being in place in 1930, welcoming motor tourists driving westward along the Highway. Another subsequent sign implored visitors to ‘Be kind to yourself and live in Warrimoo’[8]

The now legendary pic of four girls perched on the 'W' of the huge 'Warrimoo' sign once situated where the current 'Antiques' shop on the 'Highway now stands. Another contribution of one Arthur Rickard

Of course, it is possible that the Warrimoo Progress Association or the Blue Mountains Shire Council had a hand in these spectacular gestures, but neither of these august institutions was renowned for their wealth, nor a tendency to spend lavishly, and other townships do not appear to have had such imposing advertisements.  No, the Big ‘Warrimoo’ Signs bear the mark of the inimitable Rickard imagination, employed in his customarily expensive yet memorable way.

Presumably both signs were later destroyed by bushfire, one of which swept through the township in the mid 1930’s. There is no trace of them now.

Widows and Veterans’ Homes

Being a proud and very public patriot who had avidly supported Australian involvement in the war, Rickard was keen to make Warrimoo a showpiece of Australian gratitude to returned servicemen and war widows after the Great War. Rickard donated one block to the ‘Rejected Volunteers Association’ and sold five others to them at half price.

The ‘Rejected Volunteers Association’ consisted of men who, for medical or other reasons, had been unable to fight in World War I. Clearly these men had suffered the social stigma of not wearing a uniform during the Great War, and were now anxious to repair their standing after the slaughter of the previous four years.

Badge of the 'Rejected Volunteers Association'. Rickard sought to encourage their work in the new settlement of Warrimoo

Formed in the latter years of the war, the Association’s President was Sir Edward John Cox, an executive of the NSW branch of the British Red Cross, and its aims were to construct homes for war widows and veterans using volunteer labour. It was thought that the widow’s pension could be supplemented by taking paying guests and the cottages were designed by Mr. Bates, honorary architect, with this in mind.  They had seven rooms and two large sleeping-out verandahs and the land (c60 x 200ft) was planted with 40 fruit trees.  War widows with children and no other means of support were invited to apply and the same conditions as those in the Voluntary Workers Homes were applied.[9]

A rather poor newspaper photo of the hand-over of a 'Rejected Volunteers Home' at Warrimoo to war widow, Mrs. Simpson. Precisely where this building is or was is open to debate, but most likely on Florabella St., The Avenue, or The Boulevarde

The quality of these architect-designed weatherboard ‘homes’ is open to question. Certainly there was much fanfare with the opening of the first one, built on Rickard’s donated land:

The first cottage was handed over on 14 December 1918 to war widow Mrs. Simpson, with speeches about the sacrifices of many brave women and men.  A return thanks on behalf of Mrs Simpson was made by the Rev. Mr Kellett.  Other rejected men were urged to link up with the Association.[10]

There is little proof that war widows lined up in droves to take up the offer of being boarding house concierges and orchardists in the middle of pretty rugged lower Blue Mountains bushland. Lawrence Way writes of “six wooden homes…built for returned soldiers to move into the area”[11], probably located in The Avenue, The Boulevarde and Florabella Street. Lawrence’s father, Walter, rented one of these homes in Florabella Street while he built his own home in Albert Street.

Leisure Facilities

The Tennis Court

Arthur Rickard certainly had his finger on the popular pulse. The 8-Hour Day and the 44-Hour week were being entrenched. He knew of the common demand for more leisure time on weekends, and was fully aware that Saturday afternoon was rapidly becoming an opportunity for working people to pursue healthy sporting and social activities that had previously been reserved for middle class relaxation.

Tennis was one such pursuit. In city suburbs wealthy families were able to afford the construction of a clay or lawn tennis court in their back yards—something denied working class people who generally lived in tenements or flats. Now, Rickard was offering a clay tennis court, just outside the southern side of Warrimoo Station and across the Highway to the General Store. Now, if the community was prepared to maintain and manage it, tennis would be available to anyone who lived in the estate. Brilliant!

The Swimming Pool

Playing on the stereotypical mountain image of trickling waterfalls and natural pools, Rickard arranged for the concrete blockage of a creek running from Sun Valley around below Terrymont Road and Cross Street—about a kilometre from the station, if one took the direct track downhill, cleared by the Estate. The concrete used in creating the weir is still in existence today, though in dilapidated condition.[12]

Costume of the woman by the pool suggests early 1920's. Note the pathway to the water and the 'Changing Shed' in the background

Over time, the ‘Warrimoo Pool’ became one of the most popular swimming spots for visitors to the Lower Blue Mountains throughout the 1920’s and 30’s. It came to possess seating and change rooms, and a site for picnics, although maintenance of the pool was to become a serious bone of contention throughout its effective life. Its popularity declined after the Second World War when maintenance was neglected and Olympic pools were constructed at Springwood and then Glenbrook.

Florabella Track

Bushwalking, too, had become a popular pursuit in the early decades of the 20th century. Rickard’s advertising ensured that Warrimoo was touted as a botanical treasure-trove, and Waratah Street was so named because at the time it was rich in abundance of the bright red native flower.

A page from Rickard's 'Realty Review', with Warrimoo being in pride of place compared to his other subdivisions. Overall prices for properties ranged from thirty pounds to several hundred pounds.

The name ‘Florabella’ suggested a wide preponderance of beautiful flowers and the Track, carved out at the behest of Rickard, was a convenient one, running down the end of Florabella Street, along a pretty watercourse to join Glenbrook Creek and Blaxland, and emerging at Ross Crescent.

Warrimoo schoolkids as well as tourists, used this route as a handy shortcut between the two townships, and to and from Blaxland PS prior to the construction of Warrimoo PS in the 1960’s.


The First Station Mistress


The final piece of circumstantial evidence revealing Arthur Rickard’s relationship with Warrimoo relates to Catherine Ann Youson (1881-1972), the first Station Mistress of the newly built trainstop.[13]


Catherine Ann Batkin had married a tailor, Thomas Youson, in 1913 at Newtown, although Thomas was soon diagnosed with the killer disease, tuberculosis, and needed fresh clean air if he was to have any chance of survival, so the couple moved to Lot 14 Rickard Road where they built a basic fibro house  called ‘Lilac’ and settled.


It is difficult to assess the prime motivating factor for Ann and Thomas’ move to Warrimoo, for we do know that it was Arthur Rickard who told Ann about the proposed new station and the forthcoming need for a Station Master/Mistress there. Apparently Mr. Rickard was aware of Ann’s mathematical adroitness and felt she could handle the role admirably.[14] Had she been a Rickard employee when the couple had learned of Thomas’ diagnosis, or had they already moved to Warrimoo when Ann was ‘tipped off’ about the railways job?


In the event, Ann Youson got the position as Warrimoo’s first Station Mistress, and Thomas died of his disease in 1925. Ann’s income from the railways would have been a useful supplement to the scant entitlement of a Widow’s Pension and her work enabled her to become a singular character in the infant township for years to come.


Ann’s niece, Leonie Campbell, remembers…


She was an extremely competent crochet worker and would even crochet her own dresses in her favourite lilac.  Ann was a great talker and one could hear her talking as she came up the path to the house!  In the 1950s there was a terrible bush fire which burnt the toilet and water tank stand, but the house was saved…


Ann was a tremendous walker, through the bush, down the roads etc.  Once she even became lost in the thick bush.  She had two cats at one stage – “Blackie”, who followed her around, would even make the long walk along Rickard Road over the railway line to the church in the park.  Blackie would curl up and have a sleep whilst the service was on, then follow her home again![15]


Ultimately---possibly soon after the 1953 fire---Catherine Ann Youson transferred to Muttama, near Gundagai, to continue her calling as Station Mistress. Warrimoo had lost an outstanding woman who had made her mark: she had become part of the fabric of the place and had seen it grow from a miniscule settlement to a developed community. Throughout, the township’s growth had been overseen by a woman proudly contributing in a Public Service dominated by men—not many (if any!) settlements can boast such a feat during the ‘male breadwinner’ era!




So, can we make any firm conclusion about Sir Arthur Rickard’s attitude towards Warrimoo? Without doubt he contributed a range of features to the township which made it unique and which largely framed its character from the outset. It is also true that Rickard possessed an impressive ‘family holiday house’ in Lawson called ‘Cadia’.[16] Every time he motored up the ‘Mountains in his impressive automobile from Sydney, or even took the train, he would have passed through Warrimoo, which must have spurred his creative imagination.

Sir Arthur stands between W. M. Hughes (Prime Minister in 1920) on his left, and John Harrington, the owner of the impressive 'Chandler' automobile to his right. These were the kind of vehicles Rickard would've used on his tours through the 'Mountains to 'Cadia', his retreat in Lawson

However it is important to remember that Sir Arthur Rickard operated at ‘the bottom line’—selling land for profit. His advertisements for the ‘Warrimoo Estate’ offered properties from ten shillings per foot up to three pounds ten shillings per foot. The bottom end price, if the frontage of the property was sixty feet, would amount to six hundred shillings or thirty pounds. At the time—1920—the working man’s ‘Basic Wage’ (deemed by the Arbitration Commission to be the amount of weekly pay required to sustain a man, his wife and two children) was four pounds, so that it would not have been a difficult thing, on ‘Rickard’s Easy Terms’, to pay off the block in reasonable time—four to five years at two shillings per week or two to three years at four shillings per week. Of course, those more preferred blocks at three pounds ten per foot would’ve been a different proposition, probably amounting to hundreds of pounds.

Rickard was supremely confident that real estate investment was the surest thing since sunrise. ‘Rickard’s Realty Review’ explains…

…Land that was bought but a few years ago at shillings per acre is now being sold at pounds per foot. Fortunes, great and small, are being made on all sides. Money that has been returning 3 per cent in banks for years is being withdrawn to earn 100, 200, or even 300 percent for the prudent investor in real estate. Given the exercise of a little common sense, or the acceptance of advice from experienced men, an investor can hardly go wrong in Sydney. There is no boom-- just a big, steady increase in value. Desirable property anywhere, up to twenty miles from the city, cannot fail to receive added value from Sydney’s wonderful growth…[17]

Rickard provides his economic philosophy in the 'Realty Review'. His optimism did not prove accurate in the short run

The 1920’s was truly Arthur Rickard’s heyday. From the award of his knighthood in 1920 to the collapse of the market in 1930, Sir Arthur Rickard rode the Real Estate Express and shone like a beacon over Sydney society. Yet in Warrimoo the advance was not spectacular. The various schemes to attract ex-servicemen and war widows had limited success. He tinkered with the Lots on sale to make them more attractive, and that’s where the ‘fowlanthropy’ came in--although the larger lots did not create masses of orchards or a major poultry hub, some newcomers did at least try. Businesses simply didn’t find Warrimoo attractive enough to set up—the Highway blocks became residential or remained vacant. The main industry appeared to be logging in gullies nearby.


In 1930, burdened with increasing debt upon properties that demanded rates but could not be sold, Rickard’s Company on the Stock Exchange collapsed and went insolvent. Rickard himself remained a high-profile dealer in real estate, but the lustre had gone. No amount of largesse from right-wing politicians nor celebrated appearances could restore the status of those halcyon years.

Sir Arthur Rickard as KBE--'Knight of the British Empire'. He received his award in 1920 for 'services toward the war effort', no doubt in purchasing and promoting war bonds.

Throughout these years circumstantial evidence would seem to point to a special attachment of some kind to Warrimoo, but he was without doubt an enthusiastic promoter wherever he instituted new developments. His estates, whether in Woy Woy, Narrabeen, Bankstown or the ‘Mountains, were always characterised by original publicity and a unique approach. Without any clear statement from the subject himself, it would require a comprehensive comparison with the measures taken at other projects to fully ascertain the ‘special’ features of those taken at Warrimoo.


It is to be hoped future ‘Warrimoo Historians’ will be able to undertake such a task.

[1] ‘The Mysterious Name of Warrimoo
[2] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011, p.11
[3] Ibid, p.11
[4] Ibid, p.11
[5] Cf. Chapter in this blog entitled Arson at Warrimoo?
[6] Op Cit., My Story, pp 10-11
[7] Cf., Chapter in this blog entitled The Big House on The Boulevarde
[8] LUPTON, Maisie et al, Warrimoo Public School, The First Twenty-Five Years, magazine published by Warrimoo Public School Anniversary Committee, 1987, p.11
[9] Evans, Shirley & Smith, Pamela - REMEMBRANCE: Springwood District Honor Roll 1914-1919, p.14
[10] Ibid, p.14
[11] Op Cit., My Story, p.9
[12] Exactly who constructed the Warrimoo Pool is the subject of some contention, since Maisie Lupton had suggested her family had ‘built the pool’ in the 1930’s. Yet the chronological evidence and Rickard’s own advertising relating to a pool on the estate in the early 20’s is pretty incontestable… Feasibly, Maisie’s family had repaired the pool to make it operable again—something that was repeatedly required in sustaining a ‘natural’ swimming hole such as the one at Warrimoo.
[13] RICHARDSON, E. and MATTHEW, K, Warrimoo History Project, 2010—this whole section was researched and compiled by Evelyn Richardson and Kate Matthew. Their references will be duplicated below as footnotes to their work
[14] Ibid., biography of Ann Yousen
[15] Quoted from Leonie Campbell’s account as provided to RICHARDSON, E. and MATTHEW, K, Warrimoo History Project, 2010—this whole section was researched and written by Evelyn Richardson and Kate Matthew.
[17] Rickard’s Realty Review, Vol 1., No. 1., George Wilson Ed, Sydney Nov. 10, 1909