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A doctor in the house: 315 Illawarra Road

It is an unusual sight in the busy commercial area of Illawarra Road, down from Marrickville Road and close to the corner of Calvert Street. A house, with a wide frontage and until recently a red light at the gate. The red light signified a doctor’s surgery, not the type of service that may spring to mind.

This house at 315 Illawarra Road was once called ‘Darahwee’. There is a development application to demolish it to create an apartment block and shops. The demolition will end a unique building with a strong social history.

315 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, previously known as ‘Darahwee’.
Image: Google Maps.

The story begins as all stories about the Marrickville area do. Gadigal land was taken by the British.

It was granted to people who were deemed helpful to the colonial government. In this case it was Thomas Moore, the colonial boat builder. The land was then purchased and absorbed into the great estate created by Robert Wardell and sold off after his death a few years later.

In 1868 the land was bought by Robert Pilgrim who, like so many in Marrickville, created a market garden, which he operated for nearly 40 years. (See also ‘The Three Eras of Otaki”) The house is on the last of the land Pilgrim subdivided and sold in 1911. Lots 14, 15 and 16 of this subdivision were bought by Matilda Sara Murphy (described in the official documents as “wife of Joseph Murphy of Dulwich Hill, gentleman”).

The length of Illawarra Road from Marrickville Rd. (Gannon’s Rd.) to Warren Rd.(Creek Rd.) in 1866. The creek is now the railway line. The reserve road is now Schwebel Street (Adam Schwebel purchased the 19 acres below it in 1869. The 36 acres was purchased by a number of buyers including Robert Pilgrim.
Note the prominent family names: Meek (misspelt Meeks), Cavey and Clapin (misspelt Claphan).
Image: Certificate of Title Vol 29 Folio 199. hlrv.nswlrs.com.au

Matilda, or Joseph, built this house on some of the land and named it ‘Darahwee’. At the time its street address was 463 Illawarra Road. The family including son Joseph Francis and daughter Aileen Delia, moved in the next year. Aileen married and moved out almost immediately.

Joseph junior, or J. Francis, as he wished to be known, had graduated as a dentist and received his official registration in 1911. But he did not easily settle into a practice. In 1914 we find him in Bourke offering his dental services out of the Post Office Hotel, known as Fitzgerald’s after the family who owned it from 1890 until 1957. While Francis described himself as “Murphy the Marvel” and “Australia’s leading dental expert” it is difficult to find much about him and his activities until his engagement notice appears in the newspapers in 1915.

Francis Murphy of Darahwee, Illawarra Road, Marrickville, guarantees “absolute painless extractions” at only 2s and 6d.
Image: The Western Herald (Bourke) 25/3/14, Page 3. trove.nla.gov.au

We do know that Francis was in ‘Darahwee’ on his own by August 1914 and operating as a dentist because he advertised for general help in keeping the house clean. His mother and father had moved on to manage the Imperial Hotel in Inverell and later the Light Brigade Hotel in Paddington.

In 1917 Matilda transferred the house title to Francis and he settled down to life as a suburban dentist. He married fiancé Mabel Bateman and in early 1918 they had a daughter named Elma Frances. However, this life did not play out as expected. In June of 1919, during the third wave of the pneumonic influenza pandemic, Mabel died aged 27. We do not know if the ‘flu was responsible for Mabel’s death.

Francis sold the house in 1920 but stayed until 1921 before moving on. It is hard to say whether he needed to leave Marrickville and ‘Darahwee’ because of its memories or whether he sought the limelight again, but he moved to lower George Street, near Campbell Street, and continued working throughout the 1930s and 40s.

From dentist to doctors

Francis had sold ‘Darahwee’ to Doctor William Thomas Nelson (Tom) who had only recently graduated.

Tom’s intentions are unclear as he leased the property to another doctor as soon as Francis left. Then in 1922 with the lease expiring, that doctor, Gerald Goddard, purchased the surgery/house.

It seems Tom wanted more from his training than a suburban practice. He joined the Commonwealth Department of Health and then married another doctor, Edna Lillian Smith.

After working in Western Australia and Victoria both eventually set up practices in Macquarie Street, Sydney. Edna had a particularly significant career and has her own entry in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

With the arrival of Gerald Goddard, the surgery finally settled into its role as a community asset with a community doctor dedicated to the area.

Besides the role of GP, Gerald was also attached to Marrickville District Hospital as a surgeon and anaesthetist. As was usual for the time, Gerald’s wife, Doris, carried out any number of social activities expected of a good doctor’s wife.

As well as being a member of the Marrickville Tennis Club, which was almost obligatory, Doris was also on committees of the Tresillian Mothercraft Training Centre, 2 Shaw Street Petersham and the Marrickville District Hospital. 

Tresillian, 2 Shaw Street, Petersham. Home of Frederick Langdon (1885), Tresillian Mothercraft Centre (1921), and now (2020) apartments. A good example of adaptive re-use.
Image: Rod Aanensen

A medical community

Tresillian, on the corner with Addison Road, had been established in 1921 as a training centre for working class new mothers. Thousands of babies died each year from the hunger and disease associated with poverty. A society was established to tackle this problem using the ideas of New Zealander Dr Truby King and the ‘Plunket’ movement.  

The name Tresillian was taken from the house that was refurbished as a training centre for the new mothers. It is intriguing to think that an Australian social welfare movement should be named after a house, which had been named after a small village in Cornwall, England. For more information, see Tresillian organisation and Tresillian the babies home.

The Marrickville District Hospital had initially been established and built by the people of Marrickville. Its funding was also maintained by the people and the hospital’s social committee, of which Doris was an active member. They were regularly occupied with fundraising. The most popular method was running dances. These were often held just around the corner in the Town Hall on Marrickville Road. As many as 300 people would attend, even on week nights, and large numbers of the hospital staff would be involved in some form or other.

Doris died in 1931 at the age of 30 leaving four young children. Gerald retained the house for another 27 years until he sold it to another doctor.

Community doctors

Donald Quirk arrived from Condobolin with his family in 1949. He was the son of a doctor and so had taken the title ‘Dr. Don’ to distinguish himself from his father in the small town. He settled in to Marrickville and became associated with Lydham Private Hospital at 407 Marrickville Road.

Like Tresillian, Lydham was a converted house; named ‘Allerton’, it had belonged to George Hodgson. Hodgson died in 1922 and the house was bought and converted into a private hospital in 1924. It remained a hospital until 1960. It was then converted to a hostel called ‘Orana’. Many of its residents in the late 1960s were single British immigrants; the “ten pound Poms” who received a week’s free accommodation to help them get settled. Since the 1980s Orana has been a youth hostel, a drop-in centre and now a private hostel.

Both Tresillian and Allerton are prime examples of the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings. Allerton was re-imagined as far back as 1964, while Tresillian has been turned into residential apartments this year.

‘Dr. Don’ was to remain a Marrickville doctor for almost 40 years. When he retired and sold the property, Marrickville was markedly different from when he had arrived.

There had been successive waves of immigrants and they were no longer ‘ten pound Poms’. People from many countries, but predominantly Greece and Vietnam, had arrived and put down roots in Marrickville.

In 1978 a young medical student named Van Vinh Nguyen was interviewed by ‘The Bulletin’. It was a time when there were fewer Vietnamese restaurants in the whole of Sydney than there are today on Marrickville Road. In a cover story on what was happening to Australia’s Vietnamese population, the soon to be Doctor Nguyen tells the story of his family’s long journey to Australia. Like so many, the family boarded an overcrowded boat, ended up in Hong Kong and eventually made it to Australia.

After graduating from the University of New South Wales, Dr. Nguyen began practising in Marrickville and moved into ‘Darahwee’ in 1987. He has now become the second longest serving doctor and occupant of the house.

Rod Aanensen

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