Bushrangers on Our Local Roads?

On the first day of the school holidays we gathered together
and brainstormed a few ideas for family outings.
“There must be lots of places close by we’ve never visited,”
I said.
“Like Harper’s Mansion,” suggested Imogen.
Every Saturday morning we drive right past this historical home on our way to singing lessons. We’ve seen it hundreds of times and somehow, we’ve never stopped to visit it.
So it was decided: We were going to Harper’s Mansion.
Andy, the girls and I piled into the van, and soon we were
on our way to the impressive triple-bricked house, perched on a hill in a village on the other side of town.
Just through the garden gate of Harper’s Mansion there is a
notice: Please go around to the back door.
That made us smile. No formal front door for us. We were made to feel even more at home by a man with a big welcoming smile. “A family ticket?” he asked.

I wondered what he meant by ‘a family’. Two adults and three children? Two adults and two children? Surely he didn’t mean two adults and all our children? But that’s exactly what he meant. Don’t you just love those rare places
where ‘a family’ really does mean a family?
“I’ll get Kathy to give you a guided tour,” the man said as
he took our money.
Kathy was very happy to tell us all about the house. We followed her through the back door and into the ground floor parlour. Soon
we were listening enthralled while she told us the story of James Harper, the
first owner of the house. James was the son of a convict, and he married Mary
who was also a convict. I don’t suppose James minded marrying a convict. It wasn’t only because his parents themselves were transported to Australia. Women were in short supply in his day. He was one
of the lucky men who found themselves a wife. I guess he didn’t care Mary was a little older than him either.
The house, although not big by
modern standards, was the best house in the village in its day. It was built in
1834. It was originally called Harper’s Hill. It must have seemed like a mansion compared to the slab cottages of the other residents of the village.

James died at the relatively young age of 39 (did he gamble away his fortune?) and the house was bought by the Catholic Church. At first it
was used as a presbytery for the local priest. Then it became a
convent for nuns belonging to the order of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. One of
the bedrooms was converted to a chapel. Later the nuns returned to the bigger mother convent in a nearby town, and the Church rented out the house
to various tenants.
Harper’s Mansion fell into disrepair and by the time the National Trust acquired it in 1978, it was in a very poor state. The house has been restored to its original
condition and filled with furniture that is representative of the period.
“The furniture is probably a bit too grand for the Harpers,”
said Kathy. “I don’t think they were very refined people. Mary probably just
hammered her curtains to the window frames.” We turned to admire the exquisite handmade
curtains adorning the windows. Would a transported convict and former factory worker have had the skills to make something so beautiful? Kathy didn’t seem to think so.
After Kathy had finished her story, we roamed the house at
our leisure taking photos. There were six bedrooms and several parlours but no
bathroom or kitchen. The kitchen was long gone. In those days people cooked
outside, maybe in an outhouse(?) The bathroom or ‘privy’ was also located at a
distance from the house. The small brick building is presently being used to
store gardening equipment, but it is hoped that one day the privy will be
restored to its former glory, complete with its triple seat. A three seater
privy? I have a hard time getting my head around such a thought!

Gemma-Rose standing between the maze and the privy
Harper’s Mansion sits in two acres of garden. The main
feature of the garden is a maze. Of course the girls wanted to see if they
could get lost between the rows of hedges. It was a fun walk but the maze isn’t really large
enough to get lost in for more than a moment.
Once we’d finished walking around the garden the girls wanted
to see the house again, so we did another tour of the old building.
“Wasn’t that a great afternoon out?” asked Sophie when we were back at home. Her eyes were glowing. 
We’ve read a lot of books and seen a lot of DVDs about Australian history.
The girls know all about transportation and convicts, bushrangers and stage coaches, squatters and free selectors, indigenous peoples and white settlers.
That day at Harper’s Mansion we experienced history first-hand. We stepped through the door of the house and we could feel history all around us.
We didn’t travel very far for this field trip. We didn’t spend a lot of money. Maybe some of the best field trips are right on our own doorstep waiting for us. We just need to pretend we are tourists and take the time to stop and explore, instead of whizzing right on by, thinking we’ll get around to visiting them ‘one day’. 
“Do you know why the road to Harper’s Mansion is such a good road?” asks Imogen. We are sitting around the dinner table. We are still talking about our afternoon outing.
“It was built for stage coaches. The engineer who designed it believed wide, straight roads were safer for stage coaches. They reduced the danger of being held up by bushrangers.” Bushrangers? On our local roads? The girls’ eyes are glowing once again.
Now we know who to thank for the great road we travel along every Saturday morning on our way to singing lessons: The bushrangers… and of course the engineer who wanted to keep the stage coach passengers safe.
History has an effect on all our lives. It lives on. Isn’t history fascinating?

If you’d like to experience a little bit of Australian history you could watch the old TV series Five Mile Creek. It’s full of exciting stage coach rides, bushrangers, gold diggers, selectors and squatters… We’ve been watching the series online. Here’s the link list we’ve been using to find episodes for the first series.

This post is linked to the Field Trip Friday blog hop. Please visit to read stories of other families’ outings and field trips.

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  1. Reply

    It sounds like a great place! We have a place like that here. It's called Henry Kendall cottage because the poet stayed there for a while.

    We all love history, too. Henry Kendall Cottage had a few interesting stories associated with it. Some were really sad but somehow that was still interesting.

    The photos are lovely:)

    1. Reply


      I guess the past is just like the present: an interesting mix of stories, including the sad. I had a look at the cottage website. It looks like a good place to go for a inexpensive family outing!

      I borrowed some local history books from the library this morning. There are quite a few interesting historical places around here. I'm sure it's the same where you live. We are anticipating some more history field trips!

      Thank you for sharing my photos. Do I admit I am still in automatic mode???

  2. Reply

    What a fabulous trip! We also love little local museums. They seem to be less crowded and they give such a nice view of "what it was really like then." Plus, the docents love it when kids really are interested!

    How neat that the house had been a convent! I love the restoration job they did.

    I had to laugh: I didn't know what a "bushranger" was, but here, "rangers" are like traveling policemen, so I read on, presuming they were "good guys." Sounds like they are really what we call bandits, the ones our rangers catch! Also, our "outhouse" is a privy.

    Everything looks so lush and green there! I love the irises in the garden. Here our gum trees are changing to beautiful colors – I don't think they are related to your gum trees at all!

    1. Reply


      I was so interested in the fact the house used to be a convent too! Nice to think the Blessed Sacrament was once in the chapel, and the house was full of prayer.

      Yes, the restoration has been done very well. Apparently the house, though run down, was basically unaltered in its structure. Only a balcony had been added. This was removed during the restoration.

      Language is very funny at times. A bushranger is definitely one of the baddies, though they were good for us. They caused our wonderful straight wide road to be built! Privy… it's not a word we use here but the guide used it when she was telling the story of the house. I imagine it was a word used when the house was built, maybe a British settlers and convict word? Language changes over time. Dunny is a favourite Aussie slang word for your outhouse. I remember as a child, there were plenty of outside dunnies at the bottom of people's gardens. They were known as thunderboxes. Don't ask me why!

      I haven't heard of any deciduous gum trees. I must do some research!

      So nice chatting. It's not always very interesting experiencing other people's outings secondhand so thank you for sharing ours!

    2. Reply

      I really enjoy seeing your outings! I don't get to travel much, but I am curious about different places and cultures. I visited my sister for her final vows out in Colorado, and, after I left, the people I stayed with told her they couldn't believe how many questions I had about everything. Well, I was only asking every third question! I think my "kid brain" never shut down.

      You are special case because we are both so similar (how many Catholic unschoolers do you know) but you are "further along" in your parenting, and we live in such different places! You are also very open and approachable, so it's easy to ask you things! 🙂

      I don't think our gum trees are related, except maybe in how they were named. Our native people chewed the sap like gum. In fact, we have sweet gums and sour gums! I haven't chewed the sap, and I can't tell which is which (although a good tree person can tell just by looking). They both have prickly seed balls which we call gum balls, although, really, you wouldn't want to chew them! I'll take some pictures and post them on my blog. They are so lovely this time of year!

      Do you know why your gum trees are called that?

    3. Reply


      Your sister is a nun? What order does she belong to? My eldest daughter was a novice with the Benedictines for a couple of years but she came home, knowing she doesn't have a vocation to the religious life.

      I love how you ask questions! if we want our kids to be curious and fascinated by everything then I think we have to be too. Anyway, it's enjoyable! Like you, I love hearing about other bloggers' lives. All the differences are very interesting. But at the same time we do have lots in common. How many unschoolers do I know? None in 'real life'! I'm a quiet unschooler in a community of more traditional learners. At least I was quiet before I started blogging. Now everyone knows what we really do. Open? Yes, I suppose I don't keep much secret! By the way, I do enjoy sharing with you, so keep asking questions. I think I've been asking you some too!

      I think you're right about our gum trees being unrelated. Ours are eucalypts. Practically all are evergreen. I just found out there are a very few deciduous ones in tropical areas. They lose their leaves, not in winter, but when its very dry. The eucalypts are called gum trees because most (but not all) exude sap when their bark is cut or damaged. Your gum trees have prickly seed balls? Ours have 'gum nuts', small woody cup shaped structures which open to release the seeds.

      Do you have a scientific name for your gum trees? I bet they look so beautiful at the moment. I'm looking forward to sharing your photos!

      Thank you so much for your comment!

    • Lisa
    • October 10, 2013

    What a treasure you found! I just love history, as well. What an amazing place and so close to home and with a personal tour to boot. Thank you for sharing your adventures. I so enjoy reading them and look forward each week to what you will share with Field Trip Friday. 🙂

    1. Reply


      It is always such a pleasure linking up to the FTF blog hop. It's encouraging us to get out and about! Thank you for reading my story. Yes, history is wonderful. There is something very fascinating about standing in the same place as people from long ago, and imagining their lives.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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