Calthorpes' House celebrates 90th birthday with cake, flowers and memories

Calthorpes' House celebrates 90th birthday with cake, flowers and memories

Calthorpes' House celebrates 90th birthday with cake, flowers and memories

Updated 1 September 2017, 12:00 AEST

Take a look inside Calthorpes' House with someone who grew up there, 93-year-old Dawn Waterhouse.

How would you feel if the house you grew up in was frozen in time and put on public display?

Dawn Waterhouse, nee Calthorpe, 93, knows only too well.

Her childhood home — Calthorpes' House — was built in 1927 on one of Canberra's best-known streets, Mugga Way, and has been open to curious visitors for more than 30 years.

"At first, I was embarrassed," Mrs Waterhouse said.

"People seemed to know more about me than I knew myself."

House in the garden city

Calthorpes' House was designed by Oakley and Parkes, the architectural firm that won the national competition to design the prime minister's residence, the Lodge, and other early homes in the national capital.

"All [of the houses] had many little things in common," Mrs Waterhouse said.

"Particularly the black and white bathrooms."

Calthorpes' House was built in line with the principles of the garden city movement as a free-standing cottage in a large garden at the base of Red Hill.

Today, it contains most of its original furnishings and appliances, reflecting the style and fashion of the time, as well as a collection of family photographs.

Memories of moving day

Mrs Waterhouse remembered the day she moved in with her father Harry (a Gallipoli veteran and stock and station agent), her mother Della, and her older sister Del.

"My mother had come early in the morning with the maid to take delivery of the chooks and to light the fires and put a casserole in the oven," she said.

"Then my father came out [from Queanbeyan] with my sister, our cat, our dog and our canary and me."

After the death of Mrs Waterhouse's mother in 1979, the house was purchased by the Commonwealth and later acquired by the ACT government as a way of preserving Canberra's domestic history.

It's open for guided tours on weekends and is a popular destination for local school groups.

Sophie Chessell, assistant director of access and learning at ACT Historic Places, said she loved "how intact" the house was.

"You ... get that insight into how the family lived," she said.

Special tours to mark anniversary

The 90th birthday of Calthorpes' House is being celebrated with extended opening hours during Floriade (September 16 to October 15) as well as special garden tours and cake and flower activities.

Mrs Waterhouse said she was very happy with the way the house had been presented in its original condition.

"Everything's in the same spot — I could put my finger on it [and] find it straight away."

She said she had 90 years "of very good memories".

"I loved this house, I was very, very proud of it.

"It just suited everything I needed."

That included what Mrs Waterhouse described as "the best cubby house in the street" — a former worker's hut furnished with a wood stove — and "the best swing".

"We had a lot of people at our place in the back garden," she said.

"And I think that saved the house a lot — not a lot of children playing in the house."