A Circle of Friends

The development and presentation of ‘Eryldene’, firstly as a home and now as a museum, may be better understood through an examination of the artistic and academic circles in which Professor Waterhouse worked and acted.
The evidence for my research was diverse both geographically and as to type. My focus was on two distinct areas of artistic endeavour, namely the Burdekin House Exhibition in 1929 and Professor Waterhouse’s role as Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. As a result, my initial enquiries sought to uncover material that was directly relevant to these two areas and searched the following:
1. The Caroline Simpson Library of Sydney Living Museums
2. The Art Gallery of New South Wales
3. The archives of the University of Sydney and the Sydney Teachers’ College
4. The Macleay Museum of the University of Sydney
5. The personal records of Janet Waterhouse, now with the State Library of New South Wales, and
6. The archives kept by the Eryldene Trust itself.
Secondary sources include monographs of a number of artists who were part of Professor Waterhouse’s circle of friends, including Lionel Lindsay, Thea Proctor, Hera Roberts, Roy de Maistre and William Dobell as well as colleagues from the University of Sydney, namely Leslie Wilkinson and Arthur Sadler.
My aim in completing this project is to arm volunteer guides with little-known information concerning an area of the life of Professor Waterhouse and thus enable a fresh approach to their expositions. Beyond this initial phase, I intend to continue my research to determine whether an exhibition might be mounted on this theme to encourage a higher level of visitations to the property. From my time spent at open weekends this semester, it appears to me that local history, an interest in gardens and interest in the aesthetic connection with China and Japan are the principal reasons for visits to ‘Eryldene’. The ‘Circle of Friends’ theme would hopefully expand this group.
My review of a number of archives and specifically my research into the Burdekin House Exhibition have had significant results. Professor Waterhouse is chiefly remembered for his work in the cultivation of the species camellia and garden design generally: in this regard his work in fostering ties with China and Japan was of continuing significance. However this work was primarily carried out in his retirement, so that his earlier endeavours in education and his connections to the Sydney art scene in the early years of the twentieth century have largely been ignored. Bringing this aspect of his work to light will provide a more rounded view of his life and achievements for visitors to ‘Eryldene’ and generally.
Secondly, the provenance of a number of objects held within the ‘Eryldene’ collection has been altered. Three paintings held in the collection had been recorded as having been purchased at the Burdekin House Exhibition due to labels on the back of their frames. My research has found that items were not sold from this exhibition; rather that individuals such as Professor Waterhouse lent furniture and objects for display. My further research has found that a number of those items were purchased by Waterhouse at an auction of property owned by William Hardy Wilson in 1922. Proper attribution of objects is critical to understanding heritage and is of particular consequence at ‘Eryldene’ due to the inclusion of furnishings within the state government ‘Statement of Significance’.
The findings which have resulted from my research are a foundation for further work to be done in relation to the early life of Professor Waterhouse. It is my intention to utilize my research as the foundation for comprehensive guides to the history and assessment of the objects and furnishings in each room at ‘Eryldene’ and to work towards the presentation of an exhibition which has as its theme the ‘Circle of Friends’ at the heart of this project.

Stillness at ‘Eryldene’

‘Eryldene’: A Place for Stillness
The concept of a house museum, of freezing in time the domestic life enjoyed within a specific property, is one which gained traction in Australia in the late twentieth century. Significant homes in New South Wales were preserved and given protection by institutions such as the National Trust and the Historic Houses Trust, now Sydney Living Museums, to enable visitors to gain an enhanced understanding of different modes of domestic living over time. ‘Eryldene’, an historic house and garden at Gordon on Sydney’s North Shore, is an example of this impulse to interrogate history. The property is today owned and managed by the Eryldene Trust and is open to the public throughout the year.
‘Eryldene’ was the home of Professor E.G. Waterhouse and his family from its construction in 1914 until the death of Professor Waterhouse in 1977. The house, designed by William Hardy Wilson, is a fine example of colonial revival architectural style and is little altered from its original design. It retains much of its original furniture and art works and as such allows visitors an insight into the life of a privileged Sydney family in the first part of the twentieth century. The Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Sydney, Waterhouse was part of an educated elite which was central to the intellectual life of Sydney in the mid-twentieth century; as a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for over twenty years he was friendly with many artists, critics and patrons.
Beyond its cultural and architectural importance, it is the manner in which the house is integrated into its garden setting which imbues ‘Eryldene’ with its unique character. The design of the garden was a joint project between Waterhouse, Hardy Wilson and later members of that architect’s practice over a number of years and represents a fusion between the Arts and Craft movement and the Asian aesthetic that was at the heart of much of Hardy Wilson’s work. As a world authority on the propagation and cultivation of camellias, Professor Waterhouse developed the garden as a showcase for this species and today there are over 500 varieties throughout the ‘Eryldene’ garden. This very personal response to site evokes a sense of stillness, of timelessness, that is at the heart of ‘Eryldene’.
The significance of this property was recognized in 1979 through its purchase by the Eryldene Trust, an independent body formed by the local community which has as its aim the protection and preservation of this unique property. The work of the Trust to open ‘Eryldene’ to the public and provide modes of interpretation for visitors represents a cogent example of a community response to its connection with history.