Blog Archives

Backyard innovator

The Second World War was a time for individual resourcefulness.

Locally, Kenneth Beames turned his passion for astronomy and building his own telescopes to making optical equipment for the war effort. In the backyard of his home at Russell Lea he made rifle sites, periscopes, reflectors, sighting telescopes and munitions. He constructed his own grinding and testing machinery and even built his own furnace to make his own glass when supplies of lens-making glass ran out due to war restrictions.

After the war he created the largest privately owned telescope in Australia and went on to build his own observatory at Linden in the Blue Mountains which still survives as a testament to his ingenuity. It is believed that he created at least 450 telescopes during his lifetime.

The tear-sheet from Smith’s Weekly in 1941, rightly ranks him among the ‘important people’ who contributed to the war effort in Australia.

A convivial day

SCAN01041 (Small)

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.

Signs of war


Streets throughout the nation have names which commemorate First World War battles and events.

When the Liryclea Estate at Russell Lea was subdivided in 1915, planners were clearly conscious of the recent battles of Mons, Reims and Liège when the streets were named. Tait Street, in the same subdivision, was named after William Smiley Tait, a well-known Sydney businessman who owned Liryclea at the time. His son William Goth Tait served in the 12 Light Horse in the First World War. The photograph, taken prior to subdivision, shows the view from the back verandah of Liryclea house, looking towards Parramatta River.

The City of Canada Bay has installed commemorative plaques at Mons, Reims, Liège and Tait Streets explaining the background of the names. The plaques were unveiled last Saturday by City of Canada Bay Mayor, Angelo Tsirekas in the presence of members of the Tait family.

There are many other street names in the City of Canada Bay with First World War associations, including Argonne, Lemnos, Mena, Warsaw, Lloyd George, Kitchener, Jellicoe, Empire and, of course, Gallipoli Street.

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).

Our daily bread

0000381 (Small)

Golden Crust Bakery which operated in the first half of last century was quite literally a family business. It was operated by Walter and Mary Johnson at the rear of their home on Parkview Road, Russell Lea. The Johnsons had six boys and three girls to help with baking and delivering the bread.

A wonderful series of photographs show the change in transport methods from horse drawn to motor vehicles.

One of their competitors would have been E. S. Percival Limited of Concord which was established by James Tinch in 1883 and passed through various hands before being purchased by Percival in 1917.

Russell Lea turns 100

Hardie  Gorman's pamphlet advertising auction sale of the first subdivision of the Russell Lea Estate 15th Dec  1913

The suburb of Russell Lea came into being one hundred years ago with the the first auction of land from the Russell Lea Estate on the 15 November 1913.

Russell Barton (1830-1916) built his house, called Russell Lea Manor, on 24 hectares of land in the late 1870s. The first sales of land were made in 1913, 1914 and 1915 with further releases of land through the 1920s. The auctioneers Hardie & Gorman promoted Russell Lea as a convenient location ‘between two trams’ – ‘The Five Dock-Abbotsford tram is one minute from the estate; the Drummoyne tram within easy walking distance’.

After the First World War Russell Lea Manor was used by the Red Cross as a Nerve Hospital. It was demolished in 1925. Some images of Russell Lea Manor can be seen on flickr.

Russell Lea


Russell Lea Manor, also known as Russell Lea House, was the home of Russell Barton (1830-1916), and was situated north of Lyons Road between Sibbick Street and Lyons Road.

The house was built between 1878 and 1882. Between 1918 and 1923 it was used by the Red Cross as a Nerve Hospital for soldiers before being demolished in 1925.

The painting by Val Delawarr shows Russell Lea in its heyday in the 1880s when the area was still semi-rural.

The suburb of Russell Lea takes its name from this grand home. More images can be seen on flickr.