Thank you to the National Library of Australia for permission to publish this 1845  [View of Tempe on Cook's River, near Sydney, N.S.W] watercolour by  Martens, Conrad, 1801-1878.  See -http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/32299232

Thank you to the National Library of Australia for permission to publish this 1845                         [View of Tempe on Cook’s River, near Sydney, N.S.W] watercolour by
Martens, Conrad, 1801-1878. See -http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/32299232

Tempe House - a wonderful piece of local history that has been retained.

Tempe House – a wonderful piece of local history that has been retained.

 

Tempe House as seen from the Mount Olympus Heritage Gardens

Tempe House as seen from the Mount Olympus Heritage Gardens

The very special Mount Olympus Heritage Gardens

The very special Mount Olympus Heritage Gardens & part of Mount Olympus.

I see the high-rise buildings of Discovery Point often, as they are visible from so many areas where I either drive or cycle, but I have not been to look at Tempe House in all this time.  I’ve missed two Open Day events & never quite got myself to take the turn into the new suburb to have a look.  That is, until recently.  What a nice surprise this was.

It wasn’t an Open Day, just a nice sunny day before Christmas.  We rode over & had a look through the grounds of Discovery Point.  Then we had a good look around Tempe House from the outside, including the rather wonderful garden.

One of the interesting things about the Discovery Point development is that they have kept a substantial chunk of land in front of the Cooks River free of buildings.  3.5-acres of the original 12-acres has been left as open space behind, beside & in front of Tempe House leading to the Cooks River foreshore.

Looking up on the porch of Tempe House

Looking up on the porch of Tempe House

Development of this area started in 2002 & the Wolli Creek Railway Station was built.  The development targets housing for 6,500 residents & 7000 workers.

With most high-rise housing built right to the footpath, even on the Princes Highway, it is great to see a large area of open green space with gardens as part of a housing development.  To me this means more livable housing & a community that will be happier & healthier for this ability to look at, as well as physically access such a large area of green space.

Alexander Brodie Spark purchased the land in 1826 for 100-pounds.  Architect John Verge, who also designed Elizabeth Bay House, was commissioned to build Tempe House & it was completed in 1836.  St Magdalene’s Chapel, which stands behind Tempe House, was built in 1888.  It is in the style of Victorian Gothic architecture.  Both these buildings were assessed as high historical & archaeological significance in 2001.

The estate was named after the ‘Vale of Tempe’ in Ancient Greece.  Mount Olympus is a rock hill between the house & the Princes Highway.  This is closed to the public, I assume to protect the remnant trees & plants.  A wharf was built in 1838, as the house was only accessible by boat across the Cooks River.  The gardens also contained 50 varieties of French grape vines.

The Heritage Council of NSW says the following –

“The grounds are of exceptional importance for their ability to demonstrate close adherence to early nineteenth century design principles, including the modified natural element Mt Olympus – an unusual example of a detached shrubbery, and for surviving early fabric – walling, gateposts and sundial. They are important for their association for one hundred years with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and for their framework of mature plantings, particularly the early Olea europaea subsp. europaea.  The group of eucalypts on Mount Olympus has value in providing evidence of the natural vegetation on the site. Mount Olympus and the group of eucalypts which, as a group, are rare on a local level. These are an identifiable natural landmark on the Princes Highway.”

Heritage steps up to Mount Olympus.

Heritage steps up to Mount Olympus.

A dam using stone from local cliffs was built in the river in front of Tempe House between 1839 & 1841.  This has not survived.

Alexander Brodie Spark lived at Tempe House with his wife & children until his death in 1856.  After this, the estate was subdivided & sold off.  Caroline Chisholm from Northampton, England, a widely traveled philanthropist, who worked tirelessly for newly arrived girls in Australia amongst many other compassionate welfare works, came to live at Tempe House between 1863 to 1865.  Here she ran an educational establishment for young women.

After other owners, the Good Samaritan Order bought Tempe House in 1884.  Functioning as a prison for unmarried mothers & other women “at risk of sin” lived & worked in accommodation & laundries built onsite.  St Magdalene’s Chapel was built in 1888.  From 1944 onwards, the estate became a training centre of “delinquent girls,” essentially another prison.  The Good Samaritan Order sold Tempe Estate in 1989.

In 1990 Tempe Estate became protected by a conservation order that included the landscape.  Quite a history, though there is much more that I have not included in this brief summary.   There are a number of detailed posts about the history by the ‘Friends of Tempe House’ for those interested – http://friendsoftempehouse.blogspot.com.au

Work has been done to save this tree, rather than remove it.

Work has been done to save this tree, rather than remove it.

So what is it like now?  Beautiful.  Both buildings are lovely & I am glad they were saved & we got to keep this part of important local history.  From the outside, Tempe House appears very well kept & I certainly wouldn’t mind living there.  The view to the river is great & would have been even better when there were five islands to look at.  Now there is only the rapidly disappearing Fatima Island left.   I bet the bird life was fantastic.

The trees in the grounds are obviously quite old & substantial in size.  They are excellent for the units to look out on as they break up the vast expanse of lawn & we all know a view of trees is actually very good for your health.  Some have had recent Arborist intervention with reduction pruning to assist them to recover from whatever ailed them.  All the trees are free of grass & mulched.  It is great to see veteran trees obviously being looked after.

The Mount Olympus Heritage Gardens are fabulous & really worth a wander.  Many of the plants are old & are labeled by our own Marrickville Heritage Society, which is an excellent touch.  Australand looks after the gardens & they do an excellent job.

Mount Olympus is gated & locked.  I would have liked to have explored this area, but hopefully one can do this on one of the Open Days.  You get a good view of Mount Olympus from the ground.  In it I saw one of the tallest flower spikes of the Giant Cabuya (Furcraea foetida) I have ever seen.

Curved to look natural. It's a very nice place to sit & watch the river.

Curved to look natural. It’s a very nice place to sit & watch the river.

Nearer the riverbank, which has been curved to create a more natural look, is a barbeque area & children’s playground.  Although you can hear the cars of the highway whizzing past, the area is well below the road giving a feeling of privacy.  It is also relatively free of people & a good place to go if you are looking for a river experience.  There are patches of mangroves & also Sea Blight used in saltwater wetlands.  The sandstone walls at the bank create seating so one can watch the river.

Rockdale City Council, St George Historical Society & Australand have organized an Open Day during the upcoming Heritage Week in April.  This is the only open weekend planned for the year.

The St George Historical Society will be conducting talks & guided tours of Tempe House & St Magdalene’s Chapel.  To add to the experience, a café will be serving high tea.

WHEN:  Saturday 28th & Sunday 29th April 2014

WHERE:   Brodie Spark Drive,
Discovery Point, Wolli Creek.

COST:   Gold coin donation.

TIME:  10.00 am – 4.00 pm on both days.

For information see – http://bit.ly/1j1IgAF

Part of St Magdalene's Church

Part of St Magdalene’s Church with the housing behind.

Children's playground next to the riverbank.  The barbecue is close & out of view on the left.

Children’s playground next to the riverbank. The barbecue is close by on the left.

One the the beautiful veteran trees on the estate.  Behind is a heritage wall with white crosses at regular intervals.

One the the beautiful veteran trees on the estate. Behind is a heritage wall adorned with white brick crosses at regular intervals. St Magdalene’s Chapel is visible behind this tree with Tempe House on the left.

A wide-angle lens has flattened this image, but it shows how much green space has been left for people to use.  I think this is fantastic.

A wide-angle lens has flattened this image, but it shows how much green space has been left for people to use. I think this is fantastic.

Another veteran tree in the grounds

Another veteran tree in the grounds. There are quite a few. 

 

 

 

 

 

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