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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Tea Gardens

Catherine (nee Curtis) and Anthony Rolfe emigrated to Australia in February 1849 on the Harbinger together with their five children. A sixth child was born in Australia.

In 1857 Anthony secured a bank loan to purchase 320 acres at a land sale at Queanbeyan – Portion 123, Parish of Goorooyarroo. He established a home there and named the property Tea Gardens. The Rolfes quickly settled in at Tea Gardens, engaging in farming and grazing activities. He subsequently bought adjoining Portions 1, 36 and 37, increasing his holding to 580 acres. He established a garden and a small orchard thus providing most of his family's needs from his own property. This was the foundation of Gold Creek station which became one of the largest and most successful farming enterprises in the district.

The homestead was on a rise facing the Ginninderra creek. The Tea Gardens homestead site is now at 10 Yirawala Street Ngunnawal ACT.

The homestead residence (circa 1860) was essentially two separate buildings constructed as such to lessen the danger of household fire. The first and older or more northerly of the two buildings became the dining and living area. The second building housing a formal lounge and bedrooms was made of brick.

A cluster of nearby sheds housed sulkies, drays, etc. while cattleyards were located a bit further away from the house. About 200 metres south east of these sheds stood the remaining walls of the original dwelling of Anthony and Catherine Rolfe, now noted by a plaque at 12 Mura Close, Ngunnawal, ACT.

In 1868 Anthony and Catherine's fourth child, Martha (1843 - 1911), married John Ryan (1842 - 1916) the first son of William Ryan and Margaret Byrne of nearby Mulligans Flat. In about 1876 John and Martha Ryan became the owners of Tea Gardens. In Yemen's Directory of the Landholders of NSW 1900, John Ryan of Tea Gardens is reported as growing wheat, maize, barley and other crops, dairy farming and grazing.

The Ginninderra region was the early focal point for the area, with the school and store/post office being there, but it was not long before Hall (proclaimed in 1882) took over as the focus, two decades before Canberra was declared as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the focus for the region changed completely. From the early heyday of Ginninderra through to the early decades of the FCT, the Tea Gardens homestead was one of the local social focal points, with the Rolfes and then the Ryans being actively involved in the community and supporting local causes, particularly fund-raising activities on behalf of the catholic church. Before St Francis church was built at Ginninderra (1872), Tea Gardens was a mass station serving catholics in the locality. 'Twice a year Monsignor Haydon would come out to Ryans at Tea Gardens and the local Catholics would gather there for Mass in the lounge room. After Mass a substantial breakfast was provided for up to 20 worshippers, with no-one ever being asked by the Ryans, or even expected, to contribute to the meal in any way' [Canberra Times]

The children of Martha and John Ryan were Margaret, William, Martha, John, Anthony, Sarah, George, and Edmund. Tea Gardens passed to the youngest son Edmund ('Ted') Ryan who died in 1953, ending the Rolfe/Ryan era.

Norman Coulton had arranged to purchase Tea Gardens homestead before Edward died in 1953. Norman's wife Zena passed on the following details to Lyall Gillespie: "[The homestead] consisted of a sitting room with fireplace in the north wall, hallway, three bedrooms and open verandahs back and front. A laundry had been added at the side of the house. The building was of bricks and the inside halls were plastered. Ceilings were wide boards and skirting boards were also wide. A separate slab building at the rear of the main house had the kitchen and dining room and another bedroom and there were back and front verandahs. A later addition had been a bathroom. Norman Coulton bought Tea Gardens either before or soon after Edward Ryan died but the new house which he had built, incorporating the old brick house was not completed until 1958. Bert Hall and his son did the carpentering work in the new building and Doug Pennington did the brickwork. The original house had panel doors and one of these was used as the back door of the remodeled house. There was also a slab dairy and meat house near the homestead. In the interim period after Norman bought Tea Gardens and before the new house was completed William Ryan and others lived there". [Information provided by Zena Coulton to Lyall Gillespie]

The property passed from the Coultons in 1964 when it was purchased by Finlay MacDiarmid and become known as Ginninderra Park. In 1978 it was leased to T&M Thoroughbreds. In 1981 it was taken over by Smith and Whittaker who named it Baden Lodge and ran a riding school before the development of the suburb of Ngunnawal in the early 1990s resulted in its current configuration.

[Above is based on information and photos contributed by Richard Colgan, great great grandson of Anthony and Catherine Rolfe]

A Blessed Life. (Patricia Mary Burke AM, 2024. pp. 5-9) An edited extract with kind permission of Patricia Burke.

(Earlier pages relate her ancestral history, including the following:

My mother's maternal great grandparents, Rolfe and Curtis. Anthony and Catherine Rolfe nee Curtis arrived in Australia from Oxburgh Hall , Norfolk. England on February 17th 1849 with their five children. A year later they had another son.

History of 'Tea Gardens'

The 'Tea Gardens' property was established in the 1850's by my maternal great, great, grandparents, Anthony and Catherine Rolfe. Their daughter Martha Rolfe married John Ryan, and went on to run the farm. The family were staunch Catholics and 'Tea Gardens' was used as a Mass station, With Federation the Commonwealth resumed all land in the Federal Capital territory (now the ACT). John Ryan was able to lease the property back for a 99-year terms. On John Ryan's death in 1916 his sones Tony (Anthony), Ted (Edmund) and John inherited the property. Two sons, William and George had predeceased him and in 1923 John, A bachelor, died.

My grandmother Martha Moran Nee Ryan and her sisters Margaret Sullivan (kate) and Sarah Lynch (Sally) could not inherit under the laws at that time. However, Martha remained an integral part of life on the 'Tea Gardens' property. A connection Martha passed on to her daughter, Catherine (Kitty) who passed it on to me and my brothers John and Richard. Tony Ryan married May Minnis and had four children, and they moved into town for work. Uncle Ted bought Uncle Tony out and continued to run the property until his death.

Childhood at 'Tea Gardens'

'Tea Gardens' played an important role in my family's history. We spent every holiday at 'Tea Gardens' and we had lots of holidays. We always had a car. Our mother would catch up with her family and numerous relatives and visit the cemetery at Queanbeyan and tend the family grave.

At 'Tea Gardens' our Uncle Ted had sheep, horses, dogs, cows, chooks, turkeys and geese. My brother John and I would walk the paddocks to catch rabbits and gather wood. We would often wander around in the evening with a lantern feeding the dogs. A long task was washing the separator, and an irksome tqack was plucking poultry. John learned to milk the cows, I watched.

John and I loved to walk the paddocks with a dog and have a dip in the creek (ugh for leeches). The 'Tea Gardens' home paddock had three main dwellings. One was the cookhouse, a weatherboard building with a huge kitchen, a large dining room replete with an imposing fireplace and, to the side, a bedroom for help.

The reason for separate building was in case of fire.

The main building was constructed in brick and housed the bedrooms and a sitting room with a piano. Uncle Ted and our mother would play the piano.

The third building was a dairy where the separating was done, and meat hung. IT was also the place where John and I had a bath in a large tub. The toilet was quite a walk away, a long scrubbed wooden bench with a hole. When John was older he had to dig a hole somewhere to bury the effluent. Eventually a shower room was built and the dairy demolished.

Going to Sunday mass required preparation, shoes cleaned, and cakes baked. It was traditional for morning tea to follow Mass, which was an opportunity for one to socialise. For John and me it seemed to take all day.

We visited neighbouring properties, had quaint trips into town to buy ice and visit more relations. Uncle Ted's brother Uncle Tony Ryan and his wife Auntie May lived at Acton. They were great to visit and I often stayed with them. Auntie May taught me to knit. Their daughter Gwen took me to the snow. They had a chip heater that scared the sock off me, but it was better than the tin tub at 'Tea Gardens'. Uncle Tony and Aunty Mays three sons – Ted, George and Vincent – all went to the war and thankfully returned.

...During our childhood, my mother and father regularly welcomed family and friends into our home – the Hibbersons, Ryans, Morans, and Colgans - and very often Uncle Ted Ryan......Uncle Ted (Edmund Joseph Ryan) died unexpectedly on April 7th 1953, at 'Tea Gardens', a very sad time for our family. At that time children did not attend funerals, so although I was 22 years old, I had to stay home to be with Richard, aged 10.

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