Did you know ‘the most significant, suburban Edwardian estate in NSW’ is in Concord West, on the banks of the Parramatta River? Yaralla Estate, sometimes referred to as ‘Sydney’s best kept secret’, was once at the centre of this city’s social scene as local historian, Patricia Skehan, writes in the Dictionary of Sydney.
The Yaralla estate covered over 100 acres and originally formed part of a very early land grant to the convict, Isaac Nichols, in the 1790s. In the 1840s the land was acquired by the Scottish banker and philanthropist, Thomas Walker and in the 1850s he commissioned the well known architect, Edmund Blacket, to design the beautiful Italianate-style Yaralla mansion.
The Walker family lived there from 1870, but the family’s first Christmas was marred by tragedy when Thomas’s wife, Jane, died from tuberculosis on 26 December. He asked his sister, Joanna, to care for their only child, Eadith Campbell Walker.
After his death in 1886, Thomas Walker left £100,000 to be used to establish a free convalescent hospital at Yaralla, which was opened in 1893. The building now houses the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit, a mental health facility for young people.
Eadith Walker became one of Sydney’s most prominent philanthropists in her own right. She held fundraising and social events for the Kindergarten Association and the Deaf and Blind Society, among others, and allowed the estate’s grounds to be used as a convalescent home for soldiers suffering from tuberculosis during World War I.
Yaralla also saw its fair share of famous guests. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, was a guest in 1920 and so too were Queen Elizabeth II’s parents in 1927.
Eadith Walker died in 1937 and her will, like her father’s, stipulated the estate continued to be used for benevolent purposes.
Over time, some of the buildings on the estate have fallen into disrepair but restoration efforts have been undertaken by the Canada Bay Heritage Society.
Their open days and tours raise money to help preserve this wonderful estate, so make sure to check out their website for details on the next open day. There’s also lots of additional information on their site about the Walker estates.
Canada Bay Heritage Society website: https://canadabayheritage.asn.au/the-walker-estates/
Canada Bay Connections, an excellent local history blog from the City of Canada Bay’s Library team https://canadabayconnections.wordpress.com/?s=yaralla
Nicole Cama is a professional historian, writer and curator, and the Executive Officer of the History Council of NSW. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.
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