Lost – Elizabeth Bay Mansions. Found – the artwork of Gladys Owen

View from Darling Pt across Rushcutters Bay to Elizabeth Bay

View from Darling Point across Rushcutters Bay to the Elizabeth Bay mansions 1879 – source City of Sydney Image Library

Yep! This photo above has caused me a lot of grief. But let me start at the beginning. I am currently researching high society in Sydney during the 1920s. Until recently I thought (naively as it turns out) that I could simply read up about the wealthy and then fashion up a house and lifestyle for my main characters. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? How wrong was I!

This is a black hole in our history. Our novelists were not writing a Sydney Great Gatsby – they were, for the most part, writing about life in the bush. Later, the subject has hardly been touched on, which has impacted on the amount of research I now have to do. I was just realising all this a few weeks back when I decided I might have to look into the history of houses in the area to pinpoint and research the lifestyles and choices of the people (particularly the daughters) that lived in them.

Tantalisingly all these high society people are floating around in Trove in gay abandon. They are having farewell parties (off to the Continent, San Francisco, Hawaii). Hosting charity functions, balls, afternoon tea parties, enjoying the sea breeze at Hotel Cecil, Cronulla and all manner of other social activities. I swear they travelled and partied more than we do but what did they do day after day? How were the hours in their day actually filled when you were wealthy (you weren’t travelling on the Continent) and you didn’t need to work? Enter the picture above.

I chose five houses in the Elizabeth Bay area to research, working mainly on the images. It was late at night, I found this photo and reference to a short history of Ellizabeth Bay Mansions and being tired, I didn’t write the reference down – simply saved the photo. I thought I’d go back the next day and look into the reference. Could I find it the next day? OF COURSE NOT! The photo was there but no reference.

A few days later I visited the Mitchell Library and experienced first hand the very misguided changes that have been made to this historic library. Because of staff cuts, there were only two staff members on to help with people wanting to access the special collections. I was requesting maps of Darlinghurst Road in the 1920s and also looking for those notes on Elizabeth Bay Mansions. With the new changes to the Library I was told to put my requests in at the State only to find that what I wanted was at the Mitchell. I ended up going backwards and forwards between the two libraries four times.

I was very frazzled – almost as much as when I was Waiting for Eleanor Dark.Β In the confusion I missed requesting a book that I did come upon about Elizabeth Bay mansions. Another trip down to Sydney! But I did find the wonderful woodcuts and etchings of Gladys Owen. I was given an enormous folio tied with a ribbon and I was mesmerised going through images of Spain, Italy and England created between 1919 and 1960. This is what the Mitchell should be for. To look at special collections in the building where these collections are housed. It is with relief I heard that the recent changes and staff cuts are going to be reversed!


16 thoughts on “Lost – Elizabeth Bay Mansions. Found – the artwork of Gladys Owen

    • Thank you. I’ve just finished writing a 9,000 word romance, and am thinking of combining it with the three other novellas and very long short stories that I’ve written, to make a quartet. Something different. πŸ™‚


  1. Well, Debbie, you’ve actually read and reviewed one: ‘Amelia’s Call’. The other three are more or less sweet romance. Although they aren’t all exactly the same theme, in each there is a potential for readers to interpret the outcome as being positive.


  2. Pingback: Neil’s personal decades: 15 – 1895 — Whitfields | Neil's Commonplace Book

  3. Debbie Robson, I came across this story of yours by chance. Gladys Owen was the second wife of my grandfather, John D Moore. I have recently taken over a few of her prints, which I have been cleaning and reframing. I had never really taken much notice of her work before, but I see that she was in fact quite an accomplished artist in her own right.
    I’m now looking to see if any of her works may be available from auction, or other sales.
    It was good to hear of someone else discovering her work.
    Thanks, Ralph Moore

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ralph, Lovely to hear from you. I still remember the sketches. Im not sure where you are but you should try and get to the Mitchell in Sydney to check out her portfolio to see if they match with any of the prints you have. I do hope you find more of her work. Keep me updated! Debbie


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