Walker, Eadith

2010
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Walker, Eadith

Eadith Campbell Walker was born in September 1861, in Campbell's Way, Sydney to Thomas Walker and his wife Jane, née Hart. She first travelled overseas with her parents in 1862, when she was a young infant. Family letters mentioned the little toddler taking her first steps across St Peter's Square in Rome, when her parents visited the Vatican. The Walkers were on their way to Edinburgh, Scotland, to show Eadith to the family.

An early photograph, taken when she was five years old, shows her posing in a pretty dress, standing on a chair. This was taken before her mother died. Aunt Joanna, Thomas Walker's youngest sister, travelled from Edinburgh to look after Eadith, and adopted a young girl, named Annie Masefield, as a companion for Eadith. The girls were educated by private tutors, and travelled each week into Sydney for dancing lessons at Mr Needham's Academy.

Other photographs, received recently from distant relatives in Norway, show the family in their garden at Yaralla. Eadith is playing with her dolls and pram, Thomas is using his watering can, Aunt Joanna is reading on a rug, under a shady tree, and Annie is seated on a small stool. Others show the girls near the old windmill, demolished years later, and the family in a horse-drawn carriage in the grounds.

Pictures of her 21st birthday party exist, taken at Tenterfield, where the family had gathered with her father's cousins, William Henry Walker and James T Walker and their families.

In 1882, an outbreak of smallpox in Sydney sent the Walkers travelling overseas in search of a better climate. Photos of that overseas trip appear in The Walkers of Yaralla.

Heiress and patron of the arts

In 1886, Thomas died and left Eadith a rich woman. Eadith supported the arts in Sydney, paying for a large collection of works to be sent to Britain in 1897. She travelled to England for the opening exhibition in the Grafton Gallery, hailed as a triumph in introducing the world to the quality of light in Australian paintings. She supported Tom Roberts with £750 sponsorship, and purchased many Australian artists' paintings which were displayed at Yaralla. She was made a life member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.

Eadith was featured in Ruby Madden's book, A Season in India, when Miss Walker met up with Ruby at Delhi in 1903, to celebrate the Coronation Durbar of Edward VII. While there, Eadith went on safari with Lord Kitchener, shooting a Bengal tiger, and being photographed with the official party at their camp. One of her photograph albums, still held by relatives in England, is full of snaps of the Durbar, the Procession of Princes, and Lord and Lady Curzon on the great Elephants of State.

Eadith continued her trip to Britain and Europe, where she purchased a Norwegian log cabin later erected in the grounds of her house Yaralla. Unfortunately the cabin was demolished during the 1970s. She had returned during 1905, as she was photographed at Yaralla in September of that year, and invited the Premier to dine with her on Christmas Eve at Coolatai, one of her Tenterfield estates. Their signatures are recorded in the old guest register. Her last trip overseas was in 1932.

Philanthropist and fundraiser

Eadith belonged to the Red Cross Executive Committee, raising funds for and otherwise supporting many worthy causes. Eadith and Thomas Walker are listed as the first Life Governor and Governess of the Ashfield Infants' (Foundling) Home. Soldiers suffering from tuberculosis were cared for at Yaralla in a tent hospital complex after World War I. Doctors and nurses were provided. Many men also obtained financial assistance from the great Dame.

During World War I, Eadith paid an American film producer, Mr Hugh Ward, to come to Australian and make a film, using her Yaralla estate as a base and a backdrop. That film, titled Cupid Camouflaged, was shown all over Australia and raised over £45,000 for the Red Cross. The storyboard survives in the Perpetual Trustee's Walker collection.

Her philanthropic works earned her the imperial honours of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1918 and Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1928. Many other citations and medals are also listed, including the Coronation Medal (King George V) and King's Silver Jubilee medal.

Dame Eadith died in 1937 and her ashes were interred in the family plot at St John's church, Ashfield. Her estate was subject to the biggest auction ever held in Sydney.

References

Ruby Madden, A Season In India, Fontana Collins, Sydney, 1982

Patricia Skehan, The Walkers of Yaralla, Centatime Press, Sydney, 2000

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