Mosman Voices - oral histories online

Miss Jessie Hutchinson and the Sydney Nursery School, Belmont Road Mosman

Interviewed by Trish Levido on 10 December 2009

Trish Levido. Robert, am I correct in saying that your great uncle was a Doctor Doak?

Robert Hall. Yes, my great grandfather.

Trish Levido. He was your great grandfather was he? Yes, ok.
The house called ‘Alma’ which is at 114 Belmont Road and subsequently became the Nursery School, was built as a residence by a Frederick Smith in 1896 and he had originally listed it as a residence in 1897. The builder (Frederick Smith) moved there from Blues Point as an old man. Frederick Smith was a Councilor on the North Sydney Council. He was with the Masons and he was also a JP. He had four sons and three daughters and in 1914 he sold the home to a Doctor Frank Doak. Doctor Doak had a lot of connections with Mosman. He was a doctor for Mosman, in other words his surgery was in Mosman and various location, which we will get into.

Robert Hall. They were tin gates I remember and there was also a separate one where you could walk through. You asked Helen what did we think of it – there were plenty of trees in there and I don’t if it was the effect of Enid Blyton’s books, but it was a bit of a mystery place because old people lived there, and we weren’t meant to actually go there. This might have been after I went on to Primary School. We were told that there were plenty of spiders in there. To young people I think it was a bit of a mystery.

Helen Taylor. It was really dark – you know when we lived in Glover Street and we used to go into ‘Warrender’ and climb the trees. We did all sorts of things, hiding etc. It was quite bushy. Some parts of it I didn’t like. I remember when Uncle Gordon lived upstairs. There was Jennifer, Carol, and John and Julie.

Trish Levido. ‘Warrender’ was the name that you knew as ‘Alma House’. And that was what the house was named by. Can you give me a profile of what Miss. Hutchinson was like as a person? She was very unusual wasn’t she?

Robert Hall. She was slim, and to me she was always grey. She often wore a smock. Even when we used to visit her she often wore that because she was always doing things in the garden. She was always kind. She didn’t have a big smile but she always had a smile for you. She’d often chuckle, a bit of trait I think, of the Doak’s and Hutchinson’s. She was a very kind person, and she’d listen to you. You could tell she was an intelligent person because she always wanted to hear what people had to say. She always let people say things. A very patient person, which is a great characteristic of anyone I think.

Trish Levido. When you two children went to the Nursery School how many other children would have been there at the time?

Robert Hall. 20 at the most, but I’m guessing.

Helen Taylor. I was going to say 20. There was a little table where we had our lunch. She converted – I don’t know what it had been – but into a bathroom and we all had our own towel and washer. (indistinct) was car. Instead of having name tags mine was a car.

Trish Levido. Helen, did she set the school up because she wanted to live there and run a business and have an income, or do you think she ran it because she just wanted to be a teacher?

Trish Levido. Ok, presumably she went to university as a young girl, and then she decided after she’d gone to university that she wanted to travel, but to give even more meat to the bones, as they say, she was an unusual woman in that she was – this was the suffragette movement and she also had an interest in woodworking. Do you remember anything about the wood working?
Helen Taylor. If she wanted something she’d find a way to do it, and she would build things.

Trish Levido. Give me an example of what she would make. Would she make chairs and tables?

Robert Hall. Yes, and I think she made a lot of the stuff at the Nursery School, not all of it. But she certainly could repair anything.

Trish Levido. And then she came back from the US and then she decided she wanted to build something like a Nursery School. And she approached – this is only from my readings – she approached some of the Baby Health Centers to get pupils. They thought it was a good idea to start up a Nursery School.
Helen Taylor. That’s the sort of woman she was. If you want something so you go to the Baby Health Center and find out things.

Helen Taylor. The parents of the people there were doctors, lawyers, etc, and had houses with water frontages, and there were the Wall’s, they were Communists. There were more alternate-type people who wanted a different education for their children. There were richer people who thought it was a good thing to do.

Trish Levido. What were your favourite things at the Nursery School? What do you remember doing?

Robert Hall. Play was always a great thing, so times haven’t changed. Our children have those things at primary school now.

Trish Levido. What was the best thing about the Nursery School?

Robert Hall. There was always something outside and we loved the Jungle Jim, which in those days was very close to the fence in Belmont Road. It couldn’t be seen from the house, and it would not be allowed today.

Helen Taylor. And the people that tumbled all the way down….

Trish Levido. …..there must have been lots of scrapings and scratches and people breaking bones and things like that.

Robert Hall. No one seemed to worry though.

Helen Taylor. You could run free, that’s what I remember when I was younger. When we got older we were going down to…..