Part Three of a three-part series
OVERLOOKING Bowral and Mittagong, a substantial two-storey residence was built in the 1880s at Kurkulla, a property located above The Gib railway tunnel.
J Lee Pulling, an English classical scholar, conducted a high-class school for boys there from 1891 until 1897. The house and surrounding 16 acres of gardens, orchards and paddocks were then leased as an exclusive summer residence until 1909 when the property was purchased by William Robert Evans of Edgecliff, a Sydney merchant.
He bought Kurkulla for his sister Ada Emily Evans. In 1902 she had become Australia's first female law graduate but was then refused admission to the NSW Bar on account of her gender.
She and her brother developed Kurkulla into a self-supporting farm for herself and her widowed sister Florence Kyngdon and Florence's children.
Ada Evans was born on May 17, 1872 at Wanstead in Essex, England, the youngest daughter of Henry Evans, a stoneworks foreman and later an architect, and his wife Louisa Cansdell. Ada received her early education at a private school.
Ada migrated with her family to Sydney in 1883 where she attended Sydney Girls High School.
She was proficient in music and art, and intended making teaching her career. With her sister she established a small private school, Cheltenham College at Summer Hill, but ill health forced her to abandon it.
She began her tertiary education at the University of Sydney, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1895.
Her mother came from a legal family, and Ada was convinced that there was a need for women trained in the law to counter the prejudices of an all-male legal system. Although aware, as the law then stood, she would not be permitted to practice, in 1899 she enrolled in the Sydney University Law School.
The Dean of the Law School was on leave at the time and her enrolment was accepted in his absence.
As was necessary in that period, Evans attempted registration as a student-at-law with the NSW Supreme Court. This was rejected. She persevered and completed her studies. In December 1902 she became the first woman in Australia awarded a Bachelor of Laws. Evans then applied for admission to the NSW Bar to practice as a barrister, but again her application was rejected on the basis of her gender.
Under the nom-de-plume 'ALB' in 1903 she edited a weekly page for women in the Australian Star newspaper and contributed articles ranging from the philosophical to the flippant, but always with an underlying theme that truth and kindness were essential ingredients for human happiness.
Never one to go quietly, she fought on with the support of women's organisations campaigning for legislative change, specifically the rights of women to practice law. Sixteen years after she received her LLB, the Parliament of NSW buckled and passed The Women's Legal Status Act 1918. Ada Evans could finally register as a student-at-law. On May 12, 1921, she became the first woman admitted to the NSW Bar.
Although immediately offered a brief, she declined it, being deterred by the lapse of time since her graduation, indifferent health and compelling family commitments.
Kurkulla at Bowral remained her home. Ada was a keen gardener, and with her brother and widowed sister and family, developed the 16-acre (6 ha) property into a self-supporting farm. Taught by a visiting English nephew, she also became an expert pistol shot. After moving to Bowral she retained, for a time, her flat at Potts Point, and was a member of the Royal Sydney Golf Club, Rose Bay.
In February 1936 the Sydney Morning Herald reported the following: "Miss Ada Evans, of Bowral, who is a barrister, and her niece, Miss June Kyngdon, with whom she toured the British Isles last year, returned by the Orion on Thursday. While in Edinburgh Miss Evans visited the Law Courts and was struck by the number of young women barristers whom she saw standing about in the lobbies and corridors. Miss Evans said that from inquiries she made, she gathered that these women barristers found the same obstacles confronting them in their profession as did Australian women barristers. They still had much prejudice to contend with."
Ada Evans died at Kurkulla on December 27, 1947. After her death, the property went to her niece Ida Joan Kyngdon who redecorated the house in the 1950s and took in lodgers to make ends meet. Kurkulla remained her home until 1996.
Since then, new owners have renovated and extended Kurkulla, creating a magnificent home and surroundings that retain grandeur and heritage.
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.