Hawkesbury River tea meetings incredibly popular: ideal place for gatherings

Gazette tea meetings 28 June 2017

This article by me first appeared in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 28 June 2017.

Along the Hawkesbury River during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tea-meetings were a very popular form of entertainment and fund-raising for church and community groups. Church tea-meetings were held on various dates throughout the year and generally lasted all day and into the early evening. The Sackville Methodists (or Wesleyans) celebrated the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) birthday on 9 November, Lower Portland Church of England celebrated on 1 January, Leets Vale Wesleyans celebrated Empire Day on Queen Victoria’s birthday on 24 May and the churches at Wisemans Ferry, St Albans and Lower Hawkesbury each had an annual gathering. Ebenezer Uniting Church (originally known as Ebenezer Presbyterians) continues its tradition of an annual reunion on Anniversary Day in mid-June each year.

Local newspapers reported that people arrived at the tea-meetings ‘by vehicle, boat, steamer or on foot’. After the food was served, there were usually games such as cricket, rounders, twos and threes, Jolly Miller and Kiss-in-the-ring. The Lower Hawkesbury Wesleyans apparently excelled in providing ‘tasties’ at these functions and were ‘unsurpassed for giving a really first class spread’ that ‘would satisfy the taste of the most fastidious’. At their tea-meeting in 1899, the steamer Hawkesbury picked up about 230 passengers enroute to the event while the Surprise delivered a load of passengers from Sydney. In September 1900, the Hawkesbury left Sackville at 9.30am, picked up about 130 passengers at wharves along the river and arrived at the Lower Hawkesbury destination by 2.00pm. The Narara brought about 50 people from Sydney, while the Surprise from the Upper Hawkesbury and the Thistle from the Macdonald River, each arrived with about 60 passengers. A concert was held in the open air, followed by games and afternoon tea. However, some preferred to ‘trip the light fantastic’ in a nearby hall until the steamers whistled ‘all aboard’ at 7.15pm.

Eight Hour Day was also celebrated annually and an excellent example from 1909 is when the Sackville School of Arts Committee decorated the hall with ‘waratahs, evergreens, May and other flowers’, provided tables loaded with cakes, sweets, soft drinks and lollies for afternoon tea and a concert and dance in the evening. Other entertainments were scull races, throwing at the stump, bicycle races, tilting at the ring, blindfold striking at tin, a ladies’ race, quoit match, throwing the cricket ball, obstacle race and ladies’ nail driving competition.

In 1938, the Sackville Hall hosted a tea-meeting and celebration for the Centenary of Methodism in the Hawkesbury with a ‘Grand Concert by the Bondi O.K. Choir’. The Methodist newspaper reported that ‘Methodists from all over the river will be present, together with descendants of the old families’. The celebrations continued over the next two days at Lower Portland, followed later by St Albans, Lower Hawkesbury and Leets Vale.

Mud Island view 1

Hawkesbury River at Mud Island, photo Carol Roberts c2011

copyrightCopyright Carol Roberts, 2018.


Purtell, J. Hawkesbury River Boats and People, 2nd Edn., Deerubbin Press, Berowra Heights, 2011.

‘Sackville’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday, 20 November 1897, National Library of Australia Trove Article 72553526, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72553526, accessed 6 June 2016.

‘Sackville’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday, 7 October 1899, National Library of Australia Trove Article 66442135, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66442135, accessed 15 June 2017.

‘Tea meeting at Lower Hawkesbury’, Hawkesbury Advocate, Friday, 21 September 1900, National Library of Australia Trove Article 66370245, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66370245, accessed 15 June 2017.

‘Sackville’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday, 9 October 1909, National Library of Australia Trove Article 85863311, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85863311, accessed 15 June 2017.

‘River reminiscences, the golden nineties on the Hawkesbury’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 3 July 1936, National Library of Australia Trove Article 86049016, http:// nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86049016, accessed 6 June 2016.

First One Hundred Years of Lower Portland Public School

Lower Portland Public School History

Booklet ‘1867-1967 History of Lower Portland Public School’ courtesy of Colin Mitchell

The first Lower Portland school was opened in 1866 or 1867, after the severe flood of 1864 and about the time of the biggest flood ever experienced in the Hawkesbury, in 1867. Many families were left destitute after the 1867 flood with farms, homes and crops ruined, so it is not surprising that the school closed the following year after the school inspector reported ‘the discipline is feeble and the moral aspect unsatisfactory…the attainments are small’.

By 1869, Walter King was nominated as teacher for a new school situated ‘at the junction of the Colo and Hawkesbury Rivers’. A boat was provided for the teacher to row pupils from across the river and enrolments jumped to forty-seven: slightly over-crowding the one-room, slab and mortar building with a dusty earth floor, built to accommodate about forty pupils. King successfully led the school to Public School status by 1872.

James Cooke took over as teacher in 1873 and the next year the residents of Lower Portland contributed two-thirds of the cost for a new stone schoolroom and a very sparse teacher’s residence all under one roof, constructed on a one-acre site donated by John Smith. In 1879, King returned to the school for another eight years, until he was transferred to Ebenezer in 1887. He was replaced firstly by Mrs Sarah Sheehy and then William Broadfoot, a popular teacher who trained his pupils ‘to be vigorous, industrious and proficient in their work’.

There were nearly ninety major floods recorded in the years leading up to the school’s centenary in 1967. Local schools were frequently closed during flood times and during the flood in 1889, Broadfoot wrote that ‘The late flood swept away the school boat, the Government punt and boats belonging to many residents…the roads being impassable on account of the large deposits of mud and debris left on them by the flood’. Of course, the other problem was drought. In 1901, Brinsley Hall wrote that ‘Lower Portland Public School water supply has run out’.

John James took over as teacher in 1891, then Henry Watts in 1908 and William Campbell in 1915. Mary Nash took over in 1917 when Campbell enlisted in the AIF and remained until his return in 1920. Additions and alterations were made to the school and residence over the years, including the addition of the wooden school building from Upper Half Moon Reach when that school closed in 1905. White ants were always a problem and in 1930 urgent repairs were carried out when it was reported that ‘the residence is not habitable…and the W.C. is positively dangerous [and] likely to collapse into the pit’.

The list of teachers up to 1967 includes Salter, Frape, Waterhouse, Harris, Gill, Bridge, O’Rourke, Carter, Earley, Schafer, Oakley, Bousie and Tony Fogarty, bringing to an end the first one hundred years of Lower Portland Public School.

copyrightCopyright Carol Roberts 2018

Lower Portland School

This article by me first appeared in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 5 July 2017.


History of Lower Portland Public School 1867-1967, published by Hawkesbury Press, Windsor, 1967, courtesy Colin Mitchell.





One Voice on the Hawkesbury: Una Voce at Lower Portland

Bruce King’s Una Voce Tourist Resort at Lower Portland was one of the most renowned guest houses on the Hawkesbury River from the 1920s right through to the 1960s. King purchased the property from George Gosper in about 1915, and in 1947 King comments that he ‘bought property on the Hawkesbury at Lower Portland over thirty years ago’ and it is recorded ‘that Mr George Gosper has sold his property, the buyer being Mr Bruce King of Ashfield’.

Una Voce launch c1930s

Photo of Bruce King’s Una Voce launch c1930s, courtesy of Juniors on Hawkesbury Resort at Lower Portland.

Ted Lawler, a former licensee manager, comments that Bruce King and Frederick Robert McKinlay bought the property in partnership. Bruce King married Jessie May Dunstan in 1908 and Fred McKinlay married Elizabeth Jane Dunstan in 1910: both were daughters of William Dunstan and Mary Lamb and granddaughters of John Lamb and Alice Wall from Lower Portland, so they had connections with pioneer families on the Hawkesbury.

Lawler records that ‘disagreements arose, so King purchased McKinlay’s share – and aptly named the guest-house ‘Una Voce’, meaning ‘One Voice’. King’s 28-foot boat, the Signet, equipped with a steam engine, was sailed out from England – and used for ferrying guests across the Hawkesbury’. Extensive renovations were carried out on the guest house in 1937 and by 1945, guests had access to ’60 acres fruit trees, bush trees, recreation hall, tennis, riding, boating, swimming, Greens and Putting Greens’ all for fourteen shillings per day and sixteen shillings a day over Christmas and Easter holidays. The entrepreneurial Bruce King ran a bus from Sydney to Una Voce for people staying at the guest house.

Bruce and Jessie and their two daughters, Phyllis Dunstan King and Elva Dunstan King took an active role in community life on the river and there were many concerts, receptions and tennis parties held at Una Voce. Bruce King was active on various committees, such as President of the Lower Portland Agricultural Bureau, Secretary of the Hawkesbury River Cooperative Transport Company, Vice-Commodore of the Sackville Motor Boat and Water Ski-ing Club, Hawkesbury delegate to the Fruitgrowers’ Association and on the Hawkesbury-Nepean Tourist Region Association.

Always generous, Bruce King supplied citrus fruit to many local families during the Great Depression and through the war years and the family collected nearly $2,000 from holiday-makers at Una Voce for the Prisoners of War and Patriotic funds through World War II. Bruce King died in 1965 aged 79 and is buried in Lower Portland Cemetery. Nearby, a plaque commemorates Jessie, his wife, who died in 1971. Una Voce was then bought by South Sydney Juniors Rugby League Club. The guest house was demolished in 1972 and the 33-room Souths Juniors Tourist Hotel was built at a cost of $500,000. Now known as Juniors on Hawkesbury, the resort continues to operate as a guest house and is popular with groups of all ages.

copyright Carol Roberts


Carol Roberts, ‘River Guesthouse Thrived’, Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 6 July 2016.

New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriages, https://familyhistory.bdm.nsw.gov.au, accessed 23 June 2016.

Ryerson Index http://ryersonindex.net/search.php, accessed 28 March 2015.

Information and photograph from Juniors on Hawkesbury, 251 Greens Road, Lower Portland NSW 2756.

Ian Heads, The Juniors: The Best for the Best, Playright Publishing, PO Box 548, Caringbah NSW 2229.

‘Lower Portland’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 26 February 1915, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 85860498, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85860498, accessed 28 March 2015.

‘The Hawkesbury River Cooperative Transport Co., Ltd.’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 1 June 1923, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 85873976, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85873976, accessed 22 June 2016.

‘Fruitgrowers’ Apathy’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 12 June 1925, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 85903302, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85903302, accessed 23 June 2016.

‘River News’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 22 October 1937, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 86049281, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/86049281, accessed 6 June 2016.

‘Una Voce’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Wednesday, 28 February 1945, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 86025777, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/86025777, accessed 28 March 2015.

‘Bus Routes’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Wednesday, 15 October 1947, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 85792783, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85792783, accessed 23 June 2016.

‘Bus Routes’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Wednesday, 29 October 1947, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 85793513, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85793513, accessed 22 June 2016.

‘Macquarie Memorial’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Wednesday, 13 June 1951, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper, Article 86058512, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/86058512, accessed 23 June 2016.