The site of Awaba House forms part of land at Teralba originally granted to Captain James Ranclaud. Ranclaud was granted 2560 acres of land on August 13 1829, and a further 914 acres on February 9 1830. This land extended along the shores of Lake Macquarie northwards from Marmong Creek to the Five Islands and inland for some distance.
The land was transferred to James Mitchell on March 12 1842, consolidating property which Mitchell already possessed, extending southwards from Marmong Point almost to Bolton Point. Following the deaths of Mitchell and his wife (on February 1 1869 and May 8 1870 respectively), both estates were left to Mitchell's daughter, Margaret. Margaret married William Quigley (who was reputed to be Mitchell's former coachman) in 1870.
A residence for the Quigleys was constructed on the site during 1878, adjacent to the existing Lake Macquarie High School, but was only inhabited by William Quigley for a few months before his death on March 18 1879. His wife and three children continued to live in the house, until it was burned down during 1886. Unfortunately, Margaret Quigley received severe burns whilst attempting to rescue family valuables, and subsequently died on November 4 1886.
In 1887 a new house was erected on the site and named 'Awaba House'. It was occupied initially by William Quigley's brother, Daniel Bannister Quigley, and then by Thomas Alfred Braye in 1913.
In poor condition, the house was demolished in 1927 and replaced by the current Awaba House. This was occupied by the Brayes until the late 1950s. Thomas Braye died on 27 June 1950, survived by his wife, five daughters and two sons.
The site was purchased by the Health Commission in 1958 with plans to build a hospital, although this never eventuated. Awaba House was occupied between 1960 and 1970 by Bill Abbott, a teacher at Booragul School, who also acted as caretaker for the school and grounds. Tenants between 1970 -1990 are unknown, although the site was considered for the construction of housing for adults with developmental disabilities in 1985 - 86. A proposal for Awaba House to be adapted as a group home for developmentally disabled children or a psychiatric unit was also considered at the same time. However, these proposals did not eventuate.
Lake Macquarie City Council acquired the property in November 1995 from the Hunter Area Health Service,as a temporary home for the city's art gallery. The gallery originally occupied Awaba House on this site from 1996 to 2000 when a decision was made to construct the new state-of-the-art facility. Designed by Colin Still of Cox Richardson, the new art gallery building was launched in May 2001. Lake Macquarie City Council confirmed its commitment to culture and education with the addition of an art seminar room in 2008. Designed again by Colin Still, the room features facilities and equipment for a wide range of purposes from art classes, lectures and residencies by visiting artists and academics, to community and corporate events.
History and use of the Awaba House orchard
It is not known when the orchard located on Awaba Estate was originally planted or by whom. None of the historical sources consulted mention it, although it is noted in an interview with George Kildey about the early settlers of Booragul. Mr Kildey remembers an orchard in the grounds of Awaba Park at the time of its occupance by Thomas Braye. Other sources conjecture that it may have been planted originally by the Brayes, although whether this occurred after the construction of the new house in 1928 is not known. Lake Macquarie City Council's tree assessment officer, estimates the trees to be 70 - 80 years old. This indicates that the orchard was not planted until after the construction of the new house. It appears that fruit from the orchard was for personal consumption, rather than for any commercial purpose. Numbers of fruit trees or small orchards were cultivated quite widely in Australia during the first half of the 20th century. This was particularly common in outlying areas or on isolated estates such as Awaba Park, as fruit-growing provided a measure of self-sufficiency.
A Braye descendant remembers her grandmother preserving fruit and making jam from the orchard's produce. During the Depression years, children from Marmong Point and Booragul would 'raid' the orchard. However, by the late 1950s the orchard was overgrown by long grass and was considered out of bounds. The lack of maintenance was evident by the 1960s because, as Bill Abbott notes during his tenancy, the trees were no longer bearing fruit. This is indicative of the times - as townships and commercial centres developed, as transport improved and as eating habits and lifestyles changed, people became less dependent on their own produce and less interested in devoting time to its maintenance. The orchard originally contained a variety of trees, including loquats, plums, apricots, apples and peaches. Currently, there are approximately a dozen trees of the same type growing in the orchard remnant, estimated to be 15 - 20 square metres in area. A conservation study conducted in 1993 for the NSW Health Department recommended preservation of the remaining orchard as desirable, but not critical to the significance of Awaba House, or its setting. The study notes that the orchard remnant does provide evidence of the historic relationship of Awaba House to its site as a self-sufficient building and garden in an isolated setting. The orchard is significant in the interpretation of the past use of the site in showing the supportive relationship between farming activities and residential functions.
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