Miss Carey’s Little Park
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© Jim Low 2016
While caring for her mother at their Katoomba residence, Gladys made a garden on a steep, neighbouring embankment. In 1936 her efforts caught the attention of the local council. The mayoral minute of Alderman Soper was quoted as follows in the Katoomba Daily:
'It is with pleasure that I have to report that Miss Carey, of Walgett Street, has exhibited a particularly fine civic spirit in constructing a rockery and gardens at the end of Walgett Street, where it leads to the lower road level. The work has been well done and is a credit to Miss Carey's industry and enthusiasm. I recommend that a letter be addressed to Miss Carey conveying this Council's sincere thanks and appreciation for the improvements effected by her in beautifying this area.'
On 24 September of the following year, a month after her mother's death, another reference to the garden, under the heading A Labour of Love, again appeared in the Katoomba Daily. It was contributed to the newspaper by an appreciative resident and read as follows:
'As I was taking a quiet walk along Walgett Street, Katoomba, the other day, I came upon an embankment of various plants of shrubs of every conceivable name, from the pretty little Forget-Me-Not upwards, interspersed with wild ferns from the bush, and divided by walks between the numerous bordered ironstone beds. I was told on making enquiries that the landscape gardener of this magnificent piece of beauty was a lady living on the brow of the hill by the name of' Miss Carey. It is a veritable feast for the eyesight to gaze on an embankment turned into a beauty spot by an indefatigable effort on the part of a lady in her spare time, for which she is deserving of the highest praise by the residents and visitors alike of the Blue Mountains.'
After her mother's death, Gladys moved to 129 High Street to live. Hilda had already been living there since 1931. Gladys later purchased the property and the two sisters resided there for the rest of their lives.
It was during the Second World War that The Miss Gladys Carey Reserve was born. The war had resulted in a shortage of labour in many local communities. People living in North Sydney were asked by their local council to look after the appearance of their part of the street. Miss Carey acted upon this request, keeping not only the footpath in front of her home tidy, but other neighbours' home fronts as well. Close to Miss Carey's house was a walkway down to Milson Park. Most of this walkway was a steep staircase which passed by an area of land that had been left to run wild. As in Katoomba, another opportunity to beautify an overgrown, unloved area of land presented itself to Gladys Carey. Over the next twenty years she changed this over grown space into a small, attractive park.
When I first met Miss Gladys Carey in the 1950s she was in her mid to late seventies. I can still remember her quite clearly. Her pale, tissue paper skin was creased by her life of care and usefulness. A kindly sparkle in her eyes shone from under a mop of white hair.
I remember her always in a long dress when working in the park. Bad weather never stopped her gardening and she could be seen toiling away on the most miserable of days. All the plants she grew came from cuttings from her own garden, her neighbours' and even those which people had discarded. The stones that formed the rockeries were all manoeuvred into place by her.
During my early childhood, bread was delivered to homes in our district by horse and cart. The baker's cart would stop each day opposite Ulleswater. At my mother's suggestion, I would shovel up the horse manure that was deposited most days on the road after the baker's delivery. With my bucket of hot manure, I would then walk the short distance to Miss Carey's park and leave the contents there. She was a very friendly lady and always thankful for the gift. I remember once, after she had tended her gardens and rockeries, that she went home and returned with some slides and a viewer. Seating herself in Milson Park, she proceeded to show my friends and me slides of far away places from around the world. There is a newspaper reference to her sister Hilda having travelled to Greece after the Second World War . I wonder if Gladys accompanied her and that the slides she showed us that day were of some of the countries the sisters visited.
Early in 1967 the local council recognised the work of Miss Carey by naming the park The Miss Gladys Carey Reserve. The Australian Women's Weekly on 1 March that year included a feature story with the heading The Park Miss Gladys Made. It included some large, coloured photographs of Miss Carey, her park and the new wooden sign bearing her name. That same year she was also featured in a Cinesound Review newsreel about the park. She was described as 'a remarkable lady with a sense of civic pride'.
On Australia Day 26 January 1972 Miss Gladys Carey died at the Neutral Bay Convalescent Hospital, after a short stay there. She was 90 years old. Her sister Hilda had died in March the previous year.
In 1989 I composed a song which I called Miss Carey's Little Park. It was a way of documenting a significant childhood memory. Over the years I have performed the song many times and have had people tell me that they visited the park after hearing my song. Earlier this year I recorded the song with Chloe and Jason Roweth. It was my way of again celebrating Miss Carey's life, especially since 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of the naming of the park.
I still return to North Sydney and stroll its streets. Whenever I do so, I try to make time to visit Miss Carey's Park. It is there I happily spend time reflecting on this unassuming lady who believed in the value of living a useful life.