Airlie House, Burnside Homes, North Parramatta

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Airlie House, Burnside Homes, North Parramatta

Airlie House, initially known as the 'Administrative Block', was the administrative building and one of eight orphanage houses within the complex of Burnside Homes, established at North Parramatta by Sir James Burns in 1911. Construction on Airlie House began on 18 October 1913, and it was officially opened on 30 December 1914 by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson. The architects were AL McCredie and Anderson. The total cost of construction was £5,017. [1]

A legacy of one of James Burns's most important acts as a businessman and philanthropist, the orphanage became a place representing forward thinking about understanding and implementing care and discipline for orphans and troubled children in society. One of the major influencing factors which led to James Burns establishing Burnside was his experience travelling from the Blue Mountains to Sydney and noticing the orphanages and institutions run by the Catholic Church. [2] It was his desire that the Presbyterian Church, of which he was a member, should establish its own institutions.

Airlie House, along with the other homes of Burnside, was modelled on Quarrier's Village homes in Scotland. [3] Each building housed around 30 children, in the hope of forming smaller self-sufficient communities for children and young adults and providing a more intimate learning, upbringing and discipline environment. This was a very different approach from the more institutionalised and overcrowded structures being utilised by other Sydney children's institutions of the time.

Airlie House, a brick building upon a rusticated sandstone podium, had an architectural style which emulated the neo-classical style throughout the design, suited to its role as the administrative centre for Burnside Homes.

The building has undergone many variations in use, adjusting and maintaining significance as a pivotal focal point and leader in the community. From 1917 to 1922 it was a residence for the Superintendent of Burnside Homes. It acted then as an administration office and kindergarten until 1932 when it was officially recognised as an orphanage home. Airlie House’s occupants were evacuated during World War II from 1942 to 1944, and during this time the building housed the General Officer Commanding (GOC) and Brigadier General’s staff. [4] It was part of the Eastern Command Base. [5] Following the return of the children and staff from their temporary homes in the Blue Mountains early in 1945, Airlie House was used temporarily as a toddlers' centre. In 1977 its present use as a kindergarten began. [6]

Life at Airlie

While the orphanage was a building established under Sir James Burns’s philosophy to provide protection and a sense of wellbeing and community, its imposing architectural style provided a symbolic irony and for many occupants, life there was not so pleasant.

David Lang, born in 1925 and an orphan at Airlie House from 1932, described his experience in an interview.

The homes differed – sometimes you would get into a home where the kids and the matron seemed to get on reasonably well. But Airlie was one where it was not quite like that. The sub-matron had a reputation as being a real hard woman. Punishing kids, I’d hardly call it punishing, bashing kids for practically no reason. There were one or two other homes that were similar. Anyway that was what happened. [7]

David recalled the building,

It was a good solid home built of sandstone. Rough on the outside. Cut on the inside and the outside, but these blocks looked nice. It had stairs at the front that you’d walk up. There was a longish verandah made of cement that was polished. In fact we had to polish it from time to time with polish on our hands and knees and rubbing the thing. The other end of the verandah went into the dormitory.

We had about thirty kids altogether in Airlie and we slept in this dormitory. Rows of thirty beds, the younger kids slept on the end of the dormitory where the matrons came in. So that if there was any problem with the younger kids who had just come into Burnside and wasn’t used to it and might have been sobbing a bit, the matron would come in and tell them to shut up or else. They’d get belted or if it was the senior matron Miss Field who was much kinder. She might come in and try to get him to be quiet by talking to him a bit. So the older kids would be down the far end of the dormitory. There was a loo off to one side of the dormitory and a bathroom where you’d have your evening bath. [8]

Airlie House has been reused and transformed from an orphanage into a preschool or early childhood learning centre. This demonstrates the architecture's continuing relevance with the changing sociological aspects of authority, education, discipline and welfare of children.

The entrance staircase could be described as a threshold symbolising conformity and marginalisation, and in the building’s reuse the steps still hold symbolic significance. However they now represent the positive first steps in a child's development for the future.

References

Lynette Clark, Airlie, Aftercare and Museum Burnside, 2012

D Nixon and B Horton, 'Burnside Homes History', Hills Voices Online website, The Hills Shire Council, http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/BurnsideFactSheet.htm, viewed 11 March 2012

Notes

[1] Lynette Clark, Airlie, Aftercare and Museum Burnside, 2012

[2] D Nixon and B Horton, 'Burnside Homes History', Hills Voices Online website, The Hills Shire Council, http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/BurnsideFactSheet.htm ,viewed 11 March 2012

[3] 'Quarrier's Village Inverclyde', Gazetteer for Scotland website, http://www.scottish-places.info/towns/townfirst344.html, viewed 11 March 2012

[4] D Nixon and B Horton, 'Burnside Homes History', Hills Voices Online website, The Hills Shire Council, http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/BurnsideFactSheet.htm ,viewed 11 March 2012

[5] D Nixon and B Horton, 'Burnside Homes History', Hills Voices Online website, The Hills Shire Council, http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/BurnsideFactSheet.htm ,viewed 11 March 2012

[6] Lynette Clark, Airlie, Aftercare and Museum Burnside, 2012

[7] David Lang, Burnside Homes Interview 5, January 2010, http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/burnside05.htm, viewed 31 October 20

[8] David Lang, Burnside Homes Interview 5, January 2010, http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/burnside05.htm, viewed 31 October 2012

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