Wf029 : Blue Mountains Grammar School | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Wf029 : Blue Mountains Grammar School

Item details

Name of item: Wf029 : Blue Mountains Grammar School
Other name/s: Coorah
Primary address: 221-271 Great Western Highway, Wentworth Falls, NSW 2782
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
221-271 Great Western HighwayWentworth FallsBlue Mountains   Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Coorah has very high local significance as the country retreat for half a century of Robert Matcham Pitt, the head of one of the great stock and station agencies in the state, who was also a notable local figure, patron with his wife of the School of Arts and a pioneer of daffodil-growing in the area. As a major private school for the last fifty years, Coorah has also high local significance, although there has been a price to pay in the redevelopment of the estate.
Date significance updated: 13 Mar 00
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Physical description: Single storey symmetrical verandahed house facing east, located on raised embankment, with M form hipped roof with encircling bullnosed verandah terminated by projecting gables at west end.
2 2 storey rear wings on west side are symmetrical to front (east) wing form a courtyard enclosed with a hipped corrugated steel roof with central roof lantern with pyramidal corrugated steel roof.
Slate roofs with lead flashings. Boxed eaves
Rendered chimneys with moulded corbels. Cowls to chimneys on front (east) wing, terracotta pots to rear wings
Bullnosed verandah with corrugated steel roof around front and sides of single storey wing with cast iron columns and paneled cast iron frieze.
Central entry on east side marked by bullnosed gabled breakfront to verandah approached by stone stairs in grass embankment.
Face brick walls, English bond under verandah, stretcher bond to rear wings.
3 bay front (east) elevation with central entry door with leadlight sidelights and fanlight flanked by french doors with arched top panels, toplights and three paneled timber shutters.
Side (north and south) elevations of front (east) wing with large double hung windows
Rear wings with 3 no. gabled dormers on each external elevation. Dormers have pointed arched double hung windows
Gables have simple fretwork barge boards and turned timber finials
Gables in east wing have pointed arch timber vents.

House is approached by curved drive lined with mature plantings
Substantial mature plantings to south of house
Surviving daffodils in garden beds on east side of house

Current use: Private School
Former use: Country Retreat; Children's Home


Historical notes: Mary Pitt and her four children came to the colony in 1801 after the death of her husband, a relative of Lord Nelson. Mary’s only son, Thomas, settled at North Richmond, married and had three sons. One of these three sons, George Matcham Pitt (1814 - 1896), established a stock and station agency in the 1860s and built this up into the major firm of Pitt, Son and Badgery Ltd over the next three decades (Walsh V 446-7).

George Matcham Pitt received a grant of 16 hectares (40 acres) in Wentworth Falls in 1882, encouraged by his surveyor son, George jr., and John McLaughlin who had established Tarella there around the same time. (Edwards and Burge 9-11)

In 1888 George Pitt sr. gave the still undeveloped land at Wentworth Falls to his son Robert (the Son in the stock and station company). Robert Matcham Pitt then built Coorah in 1889 and cleared and ploughed an adjacent paddock to establish an orchard and garden with ornamental trees, laid out by the Minnett family (one of whom, Michael, was later at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and head gardener at Admiralty House) (Edwards and Burge 11, 17-19).

The house name Coorah came from the original grazing property of nearly 30 000 hectares in the Gwydir district of northern New South Wales, acquired by George Pitt sr in 1848 (Walsh V 447).

Robert Matcham Pitt, his wife Marie and their eight children occupied Coorah intermittently as a mountain retreat from 1890 onwards until 1935. As with other substantial country retreats, there was a permanent caretaker: for the central part of the Pitt period this was Arnold Gorringe, who tended the grounds and water supply, while his wife Mary was housekeeper from 1905 until 1919. (Edwards and Burge 21,45, 75-6)

The Pitts did significant entertaining at Coorah, scoring their biggest social success by entertaining Melba in 1911 at the time Robert Pitt was involved in the spectacular season of grand opera mounted by J.C. Williamson and Melba. The other stars of this remarkable season, John McCormack, Amelita Gallicurci and Enrico Caruso also visited Coorah in 1911 and Melba, at least, performed in the drawing room. The stage at the Theatre Royal in Sydney was showered with Coorah daffodils every time Melba sang there. (Edwards and Burge 23-4)

Robert Pitt had pioneered daffodil-growing on a large scale at Coorah, experimenting with many different varieties. From 1905 onwards there was a Daffodil Fair in Wentworth Falls, dominated by blloms from the Pitts’ garden.

From the 1920s onwards, Robert and Marie Pitt spent less time at Coorah and their children do not seem to have warmed to the property. In 1934 Robert gave the 17 hectare (42 acre) estate to the Country Women’s Association, with a provision in his will (he died in 1935) that it should be used as a home for children. He chose the CWA because its founder, Grace Munro, was the wife of a colleague and friend who was on the board of Pitt, Son and Badgery. (Edwards and Burge 28,31)

The CWA did not carry out the terms of the will very vigorously and in 1938 passed the property to the Union Trustee Co. In 1939 Coorah was acquired by the Bush Church Aid Society of Australia, an Anglican body associated with country hospitals and children’s hostels. The BCAS had established hostels at Wilcannia in 1920 and at Mungindi in 1930: now in 1939 a third was added at Wentworth Falls, opening in April 1940.

In 1951, however, the Bush Church Aid Society decided to concentrate on Mungindi and its work at Broken Hill. The Society had already sub-divided the land at Coorah, selling off some 15 hectares (37 acres) in 1949. Now in 1951 the house with its surviving curtilage of 2 hectares (some 5 acres) was sold to the MacLaurin School at Leura and soon after transferred to the Council of [Anglican] Diocesan Church Schools. (Edwards and Burge 39-42)

The MacLaurin School came to an agreement with the Deanes’ Blue Mountains Grammar School at Springwood to combine resources at Coorah, under the name Blue Mountains Church of England Grammar School for Boys. The move took place in 1951 and Coorah house was renamed Pitt House. The school repurchased part of the original Matcham Pitt estate. The MacLaurin family, deeply involved with the University of Sydney, presented the gates originally at the City Road entrance to the University, but later at the MacLaurins’ Mamre estate at St Marys. These gates were re-erected at the Great Western Highway entrance to the school in memory of Archbishop Mowll.

New buildings were progressively erected around Pitt House, the Matcham Pitt out-buildings were largely demolished and the garden was much changed. The school became coeducational in 1974. Coorah house itself is now the school administrative offices. (Edwards and Burge 39-41,86-94)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Pastoralism-Activities associated with the breeding, raising, processing and distribution of livestock for human use (none)-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Coorah has very high local significance as the country retreat for half a century of Robert Matcham Pitt, the head of one of the great stock and station agencies in the state, who was also a notable local figure, patron with his wife of the School of Arts and a pioneer of daffodil-growing in the area. As a major private school for the last fifty years, Coorah has also high local significance, although there has been a price to pay in the redevelopment of the estate.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanLEP2005WF02907 Oct 05 122 
Heritage study WF029   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Blue Mountains Heritage Study1983WF029Croft & Associates Pty Ltd & Meredith Walker  Yes
Heritage Study Review, Blue Mountains1992WF029Tropman and Tropman  Yes
Blue Mountains Heritage Register Review1999WF029Jack, R. I. for University of SydneyPH Yes
Technical Audit BM Heritage Register2008WF029Blue Mountains City CouncilCity Planning Branch No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenEdwards, Joan, and Burge, Michael1989Coorah, The Life of Pitt House: A Centenary History, 1889-1989
WrittenWalsh, G. P.1974Pitt, George Matcham (1814-1896), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume V.

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1170045

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