Part two of a two-part series
A PORTION of the Mt Gibraltar property owned by the Beer family from 1866 was officially gifted to the Sydney City Mission on June 23, 1930.
The Southern Mail report on the ceremony explained that "Mr and Mrs Eli Beer had six children, two of whom (William and Daniel) were formerly associated with the Bowral Free Press. Both are now dead, the surviving members of the family being Henry (associated with this gift), Robert (Nambucca) and the two Misses Beer, Emily and Miriam."
The paper's report continued that some of Sydney's most prominent charity and benevolence workers journeyed to Mt Gibraltar to witness the setting of the new building's foundation stone and the unveiling of a tablet recording in bronze the appreciation of the Beer family's magnificent contribution. The Rev C P Campbell, president of the City Mission, presided over a large gathering drawn from all parts of the district and including many city visitors. Mr W G Layton, OBE, Town Clerk of Sydney, set the foundation stone, and Mrs Garlick, wife of the Chief Civic Commissioner, unveiled the tablet.
The Mayors of Bowral and Mittagong joined in wishing the Home every success.
It was not long after this ceremony that the building of a two-storey home commenced on the Mt Gibraltar property and on November 8, 1930 it was officially opened by the NSW Governor Sir Phillip Game.
Its purpose was to house under-nourished girls and it provided accommodation for twenty in one large airy dormitory. While initially only girls under 12 years of age were accepted, it soon became a priority to provide care and nourishment for adolescent girls during their years of rapid growth. In April 1937 the foundation stone for an extension wing was unveiled by the Hon W Hughes.
The new two-storey block, consisting of a dormitory, large laundry and extra bathrooms, opened later that year. The girl's average length of stay was 13 to 18 weeks and they attended local schools.
Although this and other Sydney City Mission children's homes were set up for under-nourished children - it being the time of the Great Depression - some other children who needed care were admitted also. The staff gave loving care, and moral and religious training. A resident caretaker maintained a small farm, with poultry, eggs, milk, vegetables and fruits produced in abundance. Jams and pickles were made in the kitchen and, along with excess products from the farm, supplied to another Mission home at Shoalhaven.
IN 1943 Miriam Beer, the last survivor of the family who donated the Mt Gibraltar property, died. She was nearly 79 years old and had lived her entire life on the estate.
Upon her death, the Mission could not take over the whole estate immediately because part of the grounds and several huts were in use by the Air Force, and a life tenancy had been left by the Beers to a nephew and his wife.
Because the girl's home-matron could no longer cope with the stairs at Mt Gibraltar, in 1951 the girls were moved to the one-storey Haddon Hall, a Mission establishment at Hazelbrook that catered for boys. These boys were switched to Mt Gibraltar where they quickly adapted to enjoying the possibilities presented by the larger grounds. Mr and Mrs Barclay, who had been in charge of the property since 1946, were retained as home-parents to take charge of the boys.
The boys helped Barclay build cement paths and a fish pond. These skills were then put to use in digging and building a swimming pool and the Bowral Rotary Club stepped in with expert advice and assistance.
Most boys stayed only months, but some spent a significant part of their boyhood years there. The Barclays, who retired in 1974, were popular as home parents. Some boys are said to have returned again after their stay to thank the Barclays for looking after them so well.
By the 1970s, however, ideas on child care had changed. As the emphasis was on keeping children with their families, in 1974 the Mission closed down the Mt Gibraltar home. It had been in operation for 44 years.
The property was kept for a time as a hostel, rehabilitation centre and for staff training, and sold in 1988.
The Sydney City Mission merged with other missions in 1996 to form Mission Australia and continues to operate group homes.
Several subsequent owners refurbished and extended the Mt Gibraltar building and created new gardens. The property is presently being developed as Gibraltar Park, a luxury retirement village.
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.
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