The three eras of Otaki

It is an eye-catching Victorian villa, bright yellow and set well back from Marrickville Road on the corner with South Street. A frontage not often seen along the road from Marrickville to Dulwich Hill. 

‘Otaki’ 436-438 Marrickville Road, Marrickville.
Photo: Devine Real Estate.

It has been admired by passers-by for many years and is remembered by older residents as the home of Dr. Shortland. Now this house is under threat. It is to be demolished for the sake of five three storeyed town houses.

What is the story of this house and the people who have occupied it?

The house has links to 4 politicians (2 local and 2 state), a celebrity doctor, and a medical/legal case referenced in books. 

The house sits on Gadigal land, taken by the crown and granted by Governor King to Englishman Thomas Moore, official boat builder to the colony, in 1803. The land was later purchased by Robert Wardell and then sold by his heirs to a German immigrant called Robert Pfoeffer.

The political era of 436 Marrickville Road

Like many others, Robert had arrived in NSW in search of gold in the 1850s. After failing to become rich, Robert turned to market gardening in Marrickville, just like Joseph Graham down the road at Lilydale. Robert’s gardens were extensive and it appears he may have leased land out.  John Henry Teege, another German, was listed as living and working in the South Street area of Robert’s holding on gardens called ‘Orange Grove’.  Germans were a significant immigrant group in Australia in the mid 1800s and Marrickville has had a German immigrant population since its founding.

Part of Robert Pfoeffer’s holding. Norton Street is now known as Marrickville Road (Dulwich Hill end) and New Cooks River Road is now Livingstone Road.
From Certificate of Title Volume 283 Folio 59 Dated 30/4/1877.hlrv.nswlrs.com.au

Robert did very well from his garden and became an alderman on Marrickville Council at the same time as Joseph Graham. Both were to be mayors of Marrickville in the time they were on council.

John Henry Teege did not stand for council. He retired and moved into Keil Cottage; Keil is the capital of his home state Schleswig-Holstein.  ‘Orange Grove‘ was then farmed by Ah Say, a Chinese man who came from Canton (Guangdong). Chinese immigrants have also played a role in the early development of Marrickville, particularly in the market garden industry.

The 1890s were a time of depression in Sydney but it didn’t stop a flurry of activity around this land. In 1891, John Henry Teege purchased the land along Marrickville Road and subdivided it. 

The area we are interested in was purchased from Teege by Sydney Holland Cabban in 1891. Sydney was a plumber and builder and is the number one candidate as builder of the house we now know at 436-438 Marrickville Road. (For clarity I shall now refer to the house number as 436). Sydney was also a member of the Marrickville Council and knew Robert Pfoeffer and Joseph Graham. Sydney built properties all over the city, moving to the Richmond area in 1894 and then to Mosman by 1897. At both places he stood for council and took a keen interest in local affairs.

In Mosman Sydney teamed up with William Smith, another builder. Smith and Cabban went on to build a house called ‘Ardagh’ in Mosman in 1905. This property is currently (September 2020) for sale with a price range of $17-18 million dollars.

Sydney only owned the land in Marrickville for 5 months, which supports the case for him building the house and selling it on. However, he sold it to Mary Jane Wise and Mary’s husband John Henry Wise was also a builder. Perhaps he built the house after Sydney decided not to bother. The Wises lived in the house for 7 years and called it ‘Glendinning’ after the family name of John Henry’s mother. He was to move on and eventually became a Liberal member of the NSW Legislative Council from 1917 until 1934.

John McFarlane 1854-1915.
Photo; Port of Yamba Historical Society. www.pyhsmuseum.org.au

In 1903, another state politician arrived at 436 Marrickville Road, which was now named ‘Albermarle’. John McFarlane was the Liberal  (Liberal Reform Party)  member for Clarence from 1887 until his death at home in 1915. McFarlane was hugely influential in Clarence politics, as you would expect from someone in the job for over 28 years. He wrote “A history of the Clarence River district, 1837-1915”. According to the National Library of Australia summary of the book McFarlane condemned the treatment of Aboriginal people and talked of the Myall Creek massacre, unusual at that time.

Why the Member for Clarence decided to reside in Marrickville is a question we may never be able to answer. It should be noted, however, that at this time another regional politician was living at 2 Woodcourt Street, only a few hundred metres from 436 Marrickville Road. This was the home of Edward Davis Millen, which was also built by Sydney Holland Cabban. An excellent story of Millen and 2 Woodcourt Street can be read on the Marrickville Unearthed website of MHS member Gabby Richards.

For his efforts on behalf of the Clarence region, a bridge between Maclean and Woodford Island is named after McFarlane. After John’s death his widow Ellen remained at the house for another 6 years. With Ellen’s departure we see the end of the political era of the house. With a short interval we enter into its medical era.


The interval was taken up by Edith Jane and John W.A. (William Ashman) Adair. John’s father (same name) had moved from Tasmania to Wellington, New Zealand and operated a woodcarving business, John Adair and Sons, for 35 years. 

The younger John had gone off to the ‘Boer’ war in South Africa in 1902 and returned safely, then moved to Sydney. He had his own woodcarving business at the Broadway end of Abercrombie Street, Redfern and in 1920 moved into 436 Marrickville Road. Immediately, the Adairs changed its name to ‘Otaki.’ Otaki (pronounced aw-tah-kee) is a town about one hour north of Wellington, New Zealand, on the main highway. Its link to the Adairs is currently unknown, but their name change has stuck and the house is still called ‘Otaki’. 

The medical era of 436 Marrickville Road

In 1924 Dr Leslie John Shortland leased the house from its new owner John Henry Oliver (that’s John Henry number 3).  After 6 years, Dr Shortland purchased the property from Oliver and the family retained ownership until 1975.

Although Dr Shortland was associated with Lewisham Hospital, the house was very conveniently situated near Marrickville Cottage Hospital (later Marrickville District Hospital). Many doctors moved into large houses in the area to run as surgeries and households. This congregation of homes constitutes a ‘medical precinct’ around the hospital, which has been a feature of Marrickville and Livingstone Roads for over a century. Only one remains as a surgery today, with many converted for other business purposes.

‘Montrose’ the home of Dr Kennedy, a colleague of Dr Shortland, at 321 Marrickville Road is an example of such a surgery/home recently saved from developers by community action.

Leslie Shortland was a local man having grown up in Petersham and Stanmore. He married Euphemia Leonard, a Scot, in 1913 and graduated as a doctor in 1919. By the time the family moved to ‘Otaki’ there were 3 children, but Leslie and “Effie” had a very busy social life. 

Effie Shortland and sister-in-law Edith supporting the Mothercraft Society (Plunket).
Edith would later become Mayoress of Strathfield when barrister husband Percy was elected to Strathfield Council.
Photo: The Sun, Page 32, 25/11/1928. Trove.

During the 1920s and 1930s, newspaper pages – especially the social ones – mentioned the Shortlands often. They were involved in a number of organisations including the Marrickville Tennis Club, Boonie Doon Golf Club and, unsurprisingly, the Highland Society. Effie managed to incorporate her charity works into her social calendar by partaking in card events such as bridge afternoons, where proceeds were pledged to various charities. Leslie was a keen golfer, most often teeing off from the Bonnie Doon links in Pagewood. But it wasn’t all recreation. Leslie was involved in campaigns to prevent deaths at childbirth (with ex-PM Billy Hughes) and against insurance companies abusing the Worker’s Compensation Act. Both these campaigns were championed by the ‘Truth’ newspaper, which kept Leslie in the headlines.

The couple divorced in 1953 and Leslie died in 1962, but the family retained the house until 1975. Eldest son Leonard became a doctor like his father, and daughter Margaret Euphemia was to create a lot of interest in the legal world with a medical procedure.

Margaret was a strong-willed woman who left Woodcourt College (on Wardell Road, now demolished) to become a professional ice skater at the Ice Palais. At 18 she married her skating partner, Bill MacLennan, against her parents’ wishes. Bill joined the RAAF in 1941 and Margaret went to Los Angeles to perform in ice skating shows. Bill was killed in action in 1944.

Photo: The Daily Telegraph, Page 5, 11/1/1939. Trove.

 In 1952 Margaret married another MacLennan from Scotland, Ronald, but the marriage was not successful and they separated in 1955 when Margaret became a naturalised US citizen. Ronald sued for divorce soon after when he heard that Margaret was pregnant. The subsequent court case in Scotland caused headlines when Margaret defended herself against adultery charges by stating that the child (a daughter) was conceived by artificial insemination. Margaret won her argument but Ronald got his divorce. The case is still cited today.

What next?

The later years of the house are not known to me. It was converted to flats at one stage but if anyone has information to add to this amazing story we would love to hear from you. Surely a house with such a unique physical presence and a history so bound to the development of our suburb and the state is worth retaining? 

Rod Aanensen. September 2020

Read an update on the heritage status of ‘Otaki’.

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