By Verlie Fowler

[This story about the Barnes family of “Osboldeston”, Kentlyn is based largely upon a tape-recording made by Fred Esche, interviewing Eva and Mary Barnes in 1971 and a taped interview of Mary Barnes talking with Hugh Bairnsfather in August 1976, as well as reminiscences by the late Syd Percival. We acknowledge the assistance of Hugh Bairnsfather, who provided the tapes.]

Surrounded by quiet virgin bush in Georges River Road, East Minto [Kentlyn] stood “Osboldeston”, the stone cottage of the late Tom and Eva Barnes.

Fred Esche was a keen bushwalker and poet who often camped near the Georges River and, over many years, became close friends of Tom and Eva Barnes. Fred later recalled how Eva took delight in the simplest of ordinary things and was always bubbling over with infectious laughter.

Tom Barnes was born in a little village named Osboldeston in Lancashire, England. He learnt the piano, was organist at the local Methodist Church there and also began teaching music.

After serving his country during the 1914-18 War, Tom and his family moved to New Zealand, living there for eleven years. Tom was a musician in a theatre while silent movies were all the go. He eventually lost that job when “talkies” were introduced to cinemas.

After coming to Australia in about 1930, Tom managed a shop at Guildford for two years, but lost it as a result of the depression.

The Barnes family then took up 52 acres of land which stretched from Georges River Road down to the river. They cleared some of the land and planted an orchard and vegetable garden. Sheer poverty forced Tom to accept the dole for a time.

At first the family (including children Mary, Trevor and Dennis) lived in a tent. A family friend later recalled those years and the circumstances under which he had first met the Barnes family.

He had been trying to sell lipstick and other beauty aids to earn a living during the depression. Eva came out from the tent and when she learnt the nature of his business, laughed good-naturedly.

“We haven’t got any money to buy anything from you, but we CAN make you a cup of tea if you’d like to come in.” So into the tent they went and, because there was no furniture, sat on the ground and enjoyed a cuppa.

Tom Barnes later built a hut of bark, saplings from the bush and bags. The youngest son Trevor was still of school age, so off he trecked through the bush to East Minto School each day.

Water was collected in kerosene tins dragged from the river and was carried 200 to 300 feet up a precipitous ravine and then half a mile to the hut. Neighbours later helped out by letting the Barnes family draw water from their wells. Much later, after Tom built a house, it was possible to install a water tank.

Kerosene lamps provided lighting right up until 1949 when electricity was switched on.

Years afterwards Tom Barnes began to slowly build his stone cottage which he named Osboldeston after his birthplace.

He formed a track down to a sandstone quarry and carried slabs of stone – some individually up the steep track and some in a wheelbarrow. A wider track was later formed so that a truck could get down to the quarry.

The beams across the roof were hewn from the bush and shaped by Tom and a friend using an adze. Internal walls were added later when the building was subdivided using sisalcraft. Walls were painted with ochre.

Eva and her daughter obtained sheet iron and fashioned awnings for the windows. They were painted red and white and the bottoms were cut in scalloped fashion. The bathroom was a fibro annex.

Osboldeston had open fireplaces with a fuel stove in the kitchen where Mrs Barnes and her daughter Mary baked their own bread. Kitchen cupboards were of stone with wooden doors.

A bath and wash basin were carefully chiselled out of stone, which was then smoothed with cement. For added comfort Tom began to tile the bath, bringing home a small bundle of tiles each Friday.

The “open air” laundry had tubs and a copper, all chiselled from stone. The laundry area was paved with sandstone. Even the wood box was made of stone!

Altogether, many tons of stone were neatly quarried and carried up to the house, but the building process took place over many years. It was done in easy stages.

Tom augmented the household income by teaching music. He would do some building in the morning and then cycle into Campbelltown to teach music.

Tom also played the organ at St Peter’s Church, which necessitated two trips there and back on Sundays, cycling a total of twenty miles – rain or shine. Of course Tom did not own a car. The children walked into Campbelltown, unless carried on the handlebars of their father’s bike.

Syd Percival remembers doing rotary hoeing for Tom Barnes. He remembers the charming cottage, rustic garden furniture, paths – always swept neat as a pin, and the pretty garden – ablaze with gazanias and other golden flowers.

Fred Esche, the bushwalker, later recalled how he had first me the Barnes family in about 1953. Eva, ever generous, had invited him into Osboldeston for a cup of tea when she saw him plodding through the bush one hot day.

Over a period of years Fred came to value the friendship of the Barnes family. The material comforts may have been modest, but Osboldeston was a home filled with warn love and happiness.

Tom Barnes passed away on 9 December 1961. Eva was 86 when she died in May 1973 and was buried in St Peter’s Cemetery.

[Osboldeston was heritage listed by Campbelltown City Council in the 1990s and, although much altered, still stands in Georges River Road.]

Copyright © 2005 Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society Inc. All rights reserved.
(published in “Grist Mills” Vol. 2 No. 1, 1984)