YESTERDAY’S official opening of Emmaville Cottage had all the makings of a modern day Banjo Paterson poem.
The early controversy surrounding the restoration of the bard’s alleged birthplace was compared to that of the Sydney Opera House, the crowd sang Waltzing Matilda, and someone jokingly suggested it would be appropriate to charge forward and upstage the ribbon cutting - recreating the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s opening.
But all in all the slightly soggy event went off without a hitch.
About 100 people huddled under umbrellas to witness the restoration team hand over the keys of the cottage to Orange mayor John Davis, capping off more than two years of work.
The Rotary Club of Orange’s former president Mick Doyle said volunteers spent more than 2000 hours on the project, worth an estimated $100,000, since the idea of relocating the cottage from Waratah Sportsground to its current home was floated in November 2011.
Councillor Reg Kidd told the crowd the journey was not smooth sailing, with some members of the community baulking at suggestions of locating the cottage inside the botanic gardens.
“I know a lot of people have been sceptical about this project ... the same thing happened with the [Sydney] Opera House,” he said.
“[But] in five years time they’ll be saying they had something to do with it.”
Development services director David Waddell was one of few speakers to mention the debate surrounding the cottage’s status as Paterson’s birthplace.
“Whether he was born here is really quite irrelevant today, it’s an important slice of Orange’s history preserved,” he said.
Siblings of the Farrell family reflected on their 13 years living in the house from 1955 to 1968 when the family of eight left behind the “primitive” conditions, lack of running water or electricity, minimal heating and outhouse to move into town.
“Raising so many children in those conditions would have been difficult,” Helen Farrell said of her mother Alma’s life in the house.
“She laughs about it now, but she didn’t laugh then.”
The siblings’ cousin Keiren McLeonard joked that her father had little vision for the cottage, next to her family’s brick home, after her cousins left.
“He used to say the best thing for it would be for a match to be put to it on a windy day,” she said.
“Memories are really important, but you need imagination and, looking into the future, you need someone with vision.”
The cottage is expected to be opened on a regular basis and used by the council for educational purposes similar to the management of the Wentworth Mine at Lucknow.