Pull up a seat!
I first joined the HHT as a guide at Elizabeth Bay House and Vaucluse House – once home to rival colonial families – which between them boast sprawling cellars, a rare surviving colonial kitchen and service rooms. A decade later, I’m the Curator for Meroogal, Elizabeth Farm and Rouse Hill House & Farm, three remarkable properties with their own distinct stories and collections.
Though I work in these astonishing museum environments every day, I still use the principles I learned 20 years ago when I studied architecture. The means to fully understand a house or a landscape is exactly the same as the way I comprehend a suite of furniture or a historic menu: it is a process of ‘reverse designing’, of paring back and revealing the factors that went into its final design. I also draw on my past experience with styling, where objects are combined and arranged to tell a story.
From a curatorial point of view, any object or document contains multiple stories, and those that involve food and dining are among the most engaging. A table setting says as much about production methods, fashion and style as it does about evolving customs and social change. An account of sitting down to dinner after sunset in 1830 gives clues about a family’s work life and economic status but, in reality, may owe as much to the invention of an ‘improved’ lamp wick. A note for a tasty vegetable dish also tells a story of social aspiration and a desire to impress your guests with the produce of a well-managed kitchen garden and the skills of its gardeners. The division of a grand villa into bedsits goes hand in hand with the rise of inner-city takeaways and cafes where the villa’s residents will eat.
And in all of this we have the personal. While a simple recipe for melon jam carries a backstory of migration and trade, it might also simply remind us that ‘Great Aunt Edith’ had a taste for ginger and always made extra jars to give away to visitors.
In this blog we’ll tease out these multi-layered stories – and hear yours in return. So pass the gravy and tuck in – but pace yourself, there are many courses to come!