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A convivial day

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Russell Barton (1830-1916) rose from humble beginnings to become a pastoralist, mine-owner and politician.

In the late 1870s he built Russell Lea Manor on 24 hectares of land at Five Dock. The property was subdivided in 1913 to become the suburb of Russell Lea.

Barton was the eldest of thirteen children and with his wife Jane McCulloch Davie had a large family of eleven children. The photograph shows a family gathering at Russell Lea which may well be the occasion of Russell Barton’s 80th Birthday. A newspaper report from September 1910 described him as ‘one of the busiest of business men in Sydney… After a convivial day… when family members met to wish him ‘many happy returns of the day’ he was in his office on the following morning attending to urgent important matters’.

More photographs of Russell Lea Manor can be seen on flickr.

Russell Lea Nerve Hospital


In 1918 the Department of Defence purchased Russell Lea Manor to be used as a convalescent home for soldiers returning from the First World War who suffered from shell-shock and other nervous conditions. At the request of the Department of Defence, the Red Cross operated the hospital. Generous donations were made from Red Cross branches to create a modern facility for up to 60 patients.

At the instigation of Eadith Walker, owner of Yaralla and a great supporter of the Red Cross, the ‘colour cure’ was adopted. Avant-garde artist Roy de Maistre was commissioned to devise a colour scheme for the wards which gave special attention to the therapeutic value of colour.

A contemporary newspaper described a ward as ‘painted in colours which are supposed to suggest a day in spring… The ceiling is of sky-blue, the frieze being repeated in a slightly lighter shade. A picture rail of delicate green acts as a gentle break to the peculiar shade of yellow which covers the walls – suggestive of sunlight. The floor is covered with a dark green covering and grass-green mats… the furniture and woodwork are of a pale primrose colour. The lamp shades and bed spreads are, also, of primrose, while the curtains are of a soothing shade of deep violet.’

The hospital closed in 1923 and the building was demolished two years later.

The Red Cross also operated another convalescent hospital at Five Dock called ‘Novar’ (see comments below).