Ferguson's Cottage | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Ferguson's Cottage

Item details

Name of item: Ferguson's Cottage
Other name/s: Fergusons
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Aboriginal
Category: Place of significance
Location: Lat: -30.3108252910 Long: 153.1399799580
Primary address: 1 Breakwater Road, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450
Local govt. area: Coffs Harbour
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Coffs Harbour
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT21 DP850150
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1 Breakwater RoadCoffs HarbourCoffs Harbour   Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA)State Government 

Statement of significance:

Ferguson's Cottage, as the home of Nanny Ferguson and the heart of her community work, is of historic, social and cultural significance for the local Coffs Harbour Aboriginal community and also for many Aboriginal people in the North coast region and beyond as it symbolises a legacy of reconciliation and the deepening of Aboriginal European understanding that was brought about by the tireless efforts of Evelyn "Nanny" and Andrew Ferguson during the 1950s and the 1960s.

The Fergusons' work in dealing with the social pressures and racism impacting on the Aboriginal community of Coffs Harbour and the north coast; their position as role models for employment within the Aboriginal community and their work mediating with local and state government authorities, was integral to the acceptance of cultural relationships between Aboriginal and white people during a time when Aboriginal people were not widely accepted within the European community. The Fergusons' achievements in cross cultural relations, was acknowledged and accepted throughout the region and is one 'symbolic' example of similar improvements (albeit small and slow) in community relations in NSW.

Ferguson's Cottage was seen as a safe haven for many Aboriginal people either from the community or on those passing through Coffs Harbour while travelling up and down the coast. Nanny Ferguson was a fighter for law and order among her own people and insisted that the Welfare protect the Aboriginal children and defend their rights.

Today Ferguson's Cottage is held in high regard by the Aboriginal and white community as it represents the 'place' where reconciliation began for Coffs Harbour. Generations of the Ferguson's continue to reside in the cottage, and today the legacy is still carried on by members of the Ferguson family.

The building was originally constructed as a site office for the staged construction and maintenance of a major piece of Public Works Department (PWD) infrastructure, the South Coffs Harbour breakwater initiated by prominent Public Works Engineer, EM de Burgh. As PWD construction buildings such as Ferguson's Cottage were usually demolished or relocated at completion of works it is notable that the cottage, due to its use by the Ferguson family, still sits on its original sleeper sub-structure and is thus significant as a rare surviving example of a temporary site office constructed by the Department of Public Works.
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Date significance updated: 26 Jun 07
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: Department of Public Works
Builder/Maker: Department of Public Works
Physical description: The cottage is a small weatherboard building, with additions to the rear and an iron roof with a front veranda approximately 5m by 2m. The house structure sits on the original sleepers while the back section has some areas of added concrete flooring approximately 50 metre areas timber on ground (sand).

The front section of the house consists of the original 2 rooms, the original kitchen. The lining of the walls are made of old horse hair.

There have been some modifications to the kitchen area for safety reasons including new electrical wiring. The back section has been modified slightly with an additional room added, were the toilet and wash area is.

Further modifications to the back section include the connection of coldwater to the back laundry area via the old copper piping that existed. The original roofing has been replaced with the same fabric of corrugated iron.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building is in extremely poor condition. The structure is built from hard wood, and remains on the original sleepers which are in need of replacement. The front roof section replaced second hand iron. The area where the cottage is located has potential for further archaeological research due to its significant location on the headland which was a ceremonial site. Previous archaeological studies have identified many sites within close vicinity of the cottage.age.
Date condition updated:22 Dec 04
Modifications and dates: 1970s additional rooms at rear section of house built .

There have been some modifications to the kitchen area for safety reasons including new electrical wiring. The back section has been modified slightly with an additional room added, were the toilet and wash area is.

Further modifications to the back section include the connection of coldwater to the back laundry area via the old copper piping that existed. The original roofing has been replaced with the same fabric of corrugated iron.

Iron roof front section of house replaced 2 years ago (c.2002?) with same style corrugated iron, Electrical wiring front section of house up graded.

October 2004, veranda boards port and front replaced and painted.
Further information: The family have requested to repaint the roof with the Aboriginal flag as the original roof once had.
Current use: Residence for members of the Ferguson family generation
Former use: Occupied by the Ferguson family

History

Historical notes: The building was originally associated with the construction or maintenance of the South Coffs breakwater by the Public Works Department - probably as a temporary construction office.

Coffs Harbour was constructed in stages. Work began in 1912 on a causeway from the mainland to South Coffs Island, where a quarry was opened on the headland, a railway laid and plant installed.

Whilst work on the exposed eastern breakwater (extending out from South Coffs Island) begun in 1918, numerous wash-aways resulted in the wall not being completed until October 1939, with the finishing work of concreting the core of the wall completed in 1943. The inadequate size of the rock available from the quarry on South Coffs Island was a major cause of the breakwater's instability. The casting and tipping of 100 ton concrete blocks to armour the seaward face helped solve the problem.

As construction buildings including offices were generally built by carpenters often without plans and demolished on completion of the work, or moved to another site if transportable, the building is likely to be a rare surviving example of such a structure. The fact that the cottage is sitting on the original sleeper substructure, suggests it was probably not intended to serve for a long term.

Association of the building with the Ferguson Family started with Mr Andrew Ferguson who was a ganger and works supervisor for the Department of Public works on the breakwater construction in the late '40s, '50s and '60s.

The Public Works' Coffs Harbour District Engineer at the time, Mr Hugh Bailey, entered into an arrangement with Mr Ferguson to allow his family to occupy the 'office' as a family home during the early 1950s. Prior to this arrangement the family lived on the nearby block of Dung Hill. Repair dumping to the Harbour was needed in 1953 and whilst it is possible that the building was an office associated with that work, it could have been built when earlier works were underway, as Ferguson's occupation was justified on the basis that no construction work was taking place.

Allowing the family to occupy the 'office' as a cottage was an exceptional step for a Government official at the time. In the 1950's, the status of Aboriginal people was quite different from the present day. The decision was based on two reasons, one explicit and the other implicit.

The explicit reason was in exchange for Andrew Ferguson providing oversight of the harbours southern headland and construction areas in the periods when no construction work was taking place. This is the formal justification cited by offices of the Department of Public Works. In the succeeding years the arrangement with the Ferguson family was endorsed by successive district Engineer's of the Department, including Len Harper in the '60s and Ron Colley in the '70s. (They acknowledged the arrangement to the members of our community and to officers of the Department of Lands.)

Repair dumping to the Harbour was needed in 1953 and whilst it is possible that the building was an office was associated with that work, it could have been built when earlier works were underway, as Ferguson's occupation was justified on the basis that no construction work was taking place.

The implicit reason that the Fergusons were allowed to make their home in the cottage was the high regard that the Public Work's District Engineer held for the good works and social contribution made by Andrew Ferguson's wife, Evelyn Ferguson, or "old Mrs Ferguson" as she was known in the Public Works Office at Coffs Harbour. (This can be attested to by a retired officer of the Department who still resides in Coffs Harbour.)

At the Departments Head Office in Sydney, successive Principle Engineers of the then Harbours and Rivers Branch, (subsequently Rivers and Ports Branch, and Coastal Branch), including John Kerle, Glan Evans, Michael Clarke and John Malone acknowledged the arrangement in their dealings on the harbour.

When the Department was considering conceptual plans for a large tourist development on the southern foreshore in the early 1980's under the then Minister Laurie Brereton, it specifically excluded any intrusion on the Ferguson dwelling because their valid occupation of site was not disputed.

Mrs Evelyn Ferguson, also known as Nanny Ferguson, was an exceptional lady. Her life had lasting significance to both the Aboriginal and white communities of Coffs Harbour, the north coast region and beyond.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the status of Aboriginal people was low and relationships with the broader community were strained. Housing was poor, education was minimal and health conditions were unacceptable. Evelyn Ferguson was a strong Aboriginal woman who confronted all of these issues head-on over her life, and in doing so provided a bridge between the Aboriginal and white communities and was a pioneer in many aspects of Aboriginal life that are now accepted as conventional.

Evelyn Ferguson had the ability to function equally in both Aboriginal and white communities because of her wisdom, her communication skills and the respect in which she was held. She was an active member of the Seven Day Adventist Church and encouraged her family to attend services, facilitating cross-cultural mixing and friendships at a time when it was rare. She was held in high regard by the police, who knew her as "Granny Ferg". On many occasions during the 1950s and 1960s they brought the communities' and individual's problems to her for mediation and resolution because of her wisdom, respect and authority.

She was also a well regarded and integral contact point between "the Welfare" and the local and regional Aboriginal communities. In the early days, "the Welfare" constantly intervened between kids and their families, and the families from the local area and further afield looked to Nanny Ferguson for advice and protection. Her battles with welfare and social service authorities were many. She stood up for the kids, saw that their rights were observed, gave assurances on their behalf and then ensured that the assurances were honoured. In the role of an Elder, she took it upon herself to protect the communities' children and defend their rights. Her strength of character meant that her words carried authority and were accepted by both "the Welfare" and the Aboriginal community.

She was also respected by the business community of Coffs Harbour. She was a personal friend of the Symmonds family who operated a large department store, and went fishing with them on many occasions. She was known and respected by Hugh Bailey, the Public Works District Engineer- the person responsible for allocating the dwelling to her family. Such relationships during that time were extraordinary and provided an exemplary model of cross cultural acceptance for both the Aboriginal European people in the Coffs Harbour and wider community.

The "bridge" that Nanny Ferguson forged between the Aboriginal community and local and wider community and servises was vital to the lives and history of inter ccommunity relations for the local Aboriginal people, those in the coastal region and beyond.

In the 1950s and 1960s, education amongst Aboriginal children was merely something one did to avoid "the Welfare". Nanny Ferguson did much to change this by example, insisting that all her children, grandchildren and extended family gain the best possible education. She recognised that education was the key to future employment and community advancement and endeavoured to convince others of this. Despite the burdens of her own family, Nanny Ferguson held down a job as a laundress at the District Hospital and later the Sunny Side Maternity Hospital. In doing so provided a role model for her community. Such influence has continued, and today education remains a core value of the community.

Nanny Ferguson is remembered by the local and wider European and Aboriginal community as a lady brimming with love and care. As well as her own children, she took in nephews and nieces, grandchildren, members of the extended family and anyone who needed help from the local and wider Aboriginal community. No-one was ever denied a bed or a meal. Sometimes the little cottage accommodated up to 15 children and half a dozen adults who were in need of shelter and assistance. It was for this reason that the extension to the family home was made in the early 1970s. Later a number of small sheds or 'bunkers' were built for more room. If there was not enough food, she would simply go fishing herself and catch a meal. The cottage was a "home", a safe place, in its truest sense to several generations of the family, the extended family and anyone in need.

The cottage is the symbol of Nanny Ferguson and her legacy which continues to be held in high esteem within the community of Coffs Harbour and Aboriginal people from wider afield who were embraced by Nanny Ferguson's generosity. Today, the good relations and respect nurtured by Nanny Ferguson continues within the community of Coffs Harbour. Her legacy remains in the values that Nanny Ferguson instilled in her family and extended family and demonstrated to the community at large. It remains in the cohesiveness of the Aboriginal community in Coffs Harbour.

The building also has an important association with the maintenance of a significant public work, the Coffs Harbour, which was initiated under the eminent Public Works engineer E.M. de Burgh who as Chief Engineer for Harbours and Water Supply (1909 - 1927), was in charge of the Coffs Harbour Improvement Works.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. All nations - places of battle or other early interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Community Safe House-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working on public infrastructure projects-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building and using prefabricated structures-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with the National Trust of Australia (NSW)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Ferguson's cottage is of heritage historic significance as it was the home of Evelyn Nanny Ferguson and the heart of the community welfare work. Nanny Ferguson's and her husband Andrew's achievements form a long term legacy of reconciliation and the deepening of Aboriginal European understanding during the 1950s and the 1960s in Coffs Harbour, the coastal region and beyond. The cottage itself is a symbol to Aboriginal people as a safe house and place where many could find refuge or guidance.

The current generation of the Ferguson family who still occupy the cottage continue to maintain Nanny Ferguson's legacy.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Ferguson's cottage is significant for it was associated with Evelyn "Nanny" Ferguson who was an exceptional lady within the Aboriginal and white community both locally, regionally and beyond. During the 1950's and 60's Nanny Ferguson was the voice for Aboriginal people on issues relating to the social pressures and racism impacting on the Aboriginal Community of Coffs Harbour and the North coast. Nanny Ferguson tirelessly dealt with the Welfare and other state and local government departments on the unnecessary removal of children from their families and defended children's rights. Nanny Ferguson was a pioneer in encouraging Aboriginal people to gain the best possible education and engaged in facilitating cross-cultural mixing through the church and her broader social and work network. The Fergusons' achievements in cross cultural relations, was acknowledged and accepted throughout the region and is one 'symbolic' example of similar improvements in community's in NSW.

The heritage significance of the cottage is also enhanced through its association with the staged construction and maintenance of an important piece of PWD infrastructure, the South Coffs Harbour breakwater which was originally designed by eminent Public Works engineer EM de Burgh.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The cottage is socially significant to the Coffs Harbour Aboriginal community, Gumbular Julip Elders organisation and many other individuals in the coastal region and throughout the State, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who have fond memories of the cottage.
The house is important to the local, regional and wider Aboriginal community's sense of place as Ferguson's Cottage was a place of security, a safe house, a place where a bed, a meal and assistance for Aboriginal people dealing with the European beau racy was assured in difficult times. What happened at Ferguson's Cottage while it was Nanny Ferguson's home, was an ongoing expression of the cultural and social values held by Aboriginal people for many years.

Today Ferguson's Cottage is held in high regard by the Aboriginal and white community as it represents the 'place' where reconciliation began for Coffs Harbour.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The cottage is significant as a rare surviving example of 'temporary' construction office built by the Department of Public Works.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The cottage represents the typical way of life of living for Aboriginal people. A small 2 bedroom cottage, which during the 50's and 60's had no electricity or lighting and yet housed up to 15 children and half a dozen adults or more including family, extended family members, other family members or anyone who needed shelter. Ferguson's cottage is outstanding because it retains its high integrity within the community as a safe house and it represents the tireless efforts of Nanny Ferguson who brought salvation for Aboriginal people and closed the gap between the Aboriginal and white communities.
The cottage is also a representative and rare surviving example of a temporary site office constructed by the Department of Public Works.
Integrity/Intactness: As a building, it is small and unpretentious. But as a symbol to the Aboriginal community and many individuals it is beyond price because of the life a a very special person who lived there and the legacy she left for both the Aboriginal and white communities.
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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentReview of Ferguson's Cottage Conservation Management Strategy Apr 28 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0180227 Nov 09 1845856

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenCoffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council2004Correspondence
WrittenCoffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council2004Timeline of Events re Coffs Harbour and Cottage
WrittenJamison Architects Jamison Architects2009Ferguson's cottage 1 Breakwater Road Coffs Harbour :conservation management strategy
WrittenLeonie Coltheart1997Between Wind and Water
WrittenLeonie Coltheart A Guide to the History of the Public Works Department
WrittenMarie Craig Tarplee2004My Great-Aunt Evelyn Victoria Ferguson

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5056233


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