The White House by the Nepean River (cont.)© Jim Low 2014
From the arrival of Europeans to present times, the region where the white house ruins are appears to have been somewhat difficult to develop and manage. Originally part of the Colo Shire, since 2000 the area is now part of the 485 hectare Yellomundee Regional Park controlled by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
This area was first sighted by Europeans in late June 1789, the second year of their arrival in the colony they named New South Wales. Watkin Tench, a Captain Lieutenant in the marine corps, led a party from Rose Hill, exploring the land to the west. The group came upon an impressive river which Governor Phillip later named the Nepean. With considerable difficulty caused by the undergrowth, they followed it upstream. The capacity of this river to flood severely did not escape Tench's attention. Despite being some 12 metres above the river level, he noted that there was still definite signs that the land had recently been flooded. He also saw plenty of evidence of indigenous life around the river, including huts, cut marks on trees, two canoes and some animal traps. In his account of this short, exploratory trip, Tench concluded that the country was a lonely, intimidating and unfamiliar place, full perhaps of hidden dangers.
[view of the Nepean from the house ruins]
Over the years, this description has remained appropriate to much of the country along the mountain escarpment on the western side of the river. I wondered what it must have been like to live in a place that was isolated, inconvenient to access, subject to the summer threat of bushfire and the vicissitudes of the Nepean River and lacking any of the utility services we now take for granted. Was it possible to develop a sense of belonging when living in such a place? I wanted to know more about the people who lived on the western side of the Nepean River and their lives there. The white house seemed the obvious place to begin looking for answers.
The Windsor and Richmond Gazette (2 July 1910) reported that in June 1910 Thomas Galvin and his wife Mercy (nee Selby) appealed against the unimproved, assessed value of their two adjoining properties (40 and 36 1/4 acres) fronting the western side of the Nepean River at Castlereagh. Galvin was a carpenter and builder. He was one of the first builders to work on St Stephen's Church steeple at Newtown. Their 40 acre property happens to be the one where the white house ruins are.
Land value was based on the productivity and therefore profitability of each block. Galvin argued that there was a predominance of 'rocks, gullies and mountains' and insufficient grass land on both his blocks. Although the river flat could be cultivated, it was subject to flooding.
[remains of garden]
In 1902 he had purchased the white house block for fifty pounds and had erected a house costing about 200 pounds. Three times he had rented the house, which he had furnished, along with '4 or 5 cows, horses and ploughs'. Galvin used the experiences of his three tenants to demonstrate the unprofitability of this block. Despite the initial rent of 7/- only increasing to 7/6, none of his tenants was able to see out the duration of their tenancy. Galvin's appeal resulted in the assessed values being reduced on both blocks. The white house block was reduced from 160 to 100 pounds.