Port Stephens Family History Society corrects history of Tanilba House with new book

LAUNCH: Author Denise Gaudion with Cr Paul Le Mottee at the book launch held at Tanilba House.
LAUNCH: Author Denise Gaudion with Cr Paul Le Mottee at the book launch held at Tanilba House.

To the people of Port Stephens it is simply known as 'the house on the hill', but to anyone interested in Australian and Aboriginal history, Tanilba House is an iconic landmark deserving of its heritage significance.

Built by convict labour in the 1830s, the grand old house has a history rich in intrigue and mystery with stories that it could even be haunted by a ghost.

In nearly 200 years Tanilba House has been passed on through a series of owners, starting with the original Caswell family to more recent dwellers Helen Taylor, who died in 2015, and its current owners Glenn Short and Deidre Hall.

Ms Taylor's mother, Helena Oberland, held the lease from the mid-1950s, using the sprawling property as a guest house and eventually saving it from demolition. Today it is listed as state heritage significance.

When she was alive, Ms Taylor would regularly stage exhibitions, plays, poetry readings, afternoon teas and concerts at the house and published a small book detailing the property's history.

However, according to Port Stephens Family History Society collaborator/author Denise Gaudion, some of the information in the original publication was in need of correcting and it was decided to produced an updated, more factual version.

Titled History and Heritage of Tanilba House, the new book was launched last Thursday at the Tanilba Bay property in front of 50 people.

"When I first set out to write this book I was expecting a couple of months work to put together an 80-90 page publication, but the more I researched the bigger the project grew," Mrs Gaudion said.

"It tripled in size and cost and it took 10 months to complete. There were hours upon hours of researching, interviewing, transcribing microfilm data and talking to families.

"I would never have been able to complete the work without the help and support of so many people, most notably editors Helen Roberts and Geoff Walker."

Author Denise Gaudion with helpers Sue Jeffreys, Helen Roberts, Kathy Davidson and Pauline Peltoft.

Author Denise Gaudion with helpers Sue Jeffreys, Helen Roberts, Kathy Davidson and Pauline Peltoft.

History and Heritage of Tanilba House was launched by Cr Paul Le Mottee, who spoke of his passion for all things historical and revealed during the ceremony it was his first ever ribbon-cutting exercise as a councillor.

"I have a fascination with history in Port Stephens and the settlement of Australia, which must have rubbed off on my daughter Danielle, who has elected to study both modern and ancient history at school," he said.

Port Stephens Council provided $1430 for the project, while central ward's Steve Tucker chipped in with a further $500 grant.

At $30 a copy, the book is available at Tanilba Post Office or by visiting psfhsi@gmail.com.

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