Beryl McLaughlin (1888-1988) has been honoured with the first Blue Plaque for the Blue Mountains. Nominated by the Blue Mountains Historical Society, the new historical plaque will be installed, in coming months, at the front gate of Tarella, the Society’s property on 99 Blaxland Road, Wentworth Falls. State Member for the Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, said “Beryl McLaughlin dedicated her life to the service of others and the preservation of our shared history. Her generosity echoes through time, leaving an indelible mark on the Blue Mountains Historical Society”. Read further to learn more about Beryl, her connection to the Blue Mountains Historical Society, and why she was awarded the Blue Plaque.
Beryl McLaughlin’s Mountains Legacy
The youngest of the children of John and Ada McLaughlin, Beryl Mary was born in Sydney on August 29, 1888. Although she grew up in the city, Beryl holidayed in Wentworth Falls after her father built their holiday house, Tarella, there in 1890.
In Sydney, Beryl and her family lived in Evans Street, Waverley. Their home, Yanko, had tennis courts, stables and a chicken run.
High school was spent at Claremont College in Randwick. She successfully matriculated to Sydney University, entering in March 1907 and received passing grades in English, Latin, Mathematic, higher French, Science (Physics) and modern history.
At university, Beryl focused on her science degree but she also represented the university in the Intervarsity Women’s Tennis team. She graduated in 1909 with a BA in Science (there being no separate Science degree at that time), with a second class honours in physiology.
From 1909 until 1916, she taught science at Ravenswood for some of this time and enjoyed an active social life – mentioned in various social pages as one of the hostesses at dances and parties. She enrolled in a pottery course at Sydney Technical College between 1913 and 1917. Some of her pots can still be seen in Tarella today.
World War 1 affected Beryl adversely. Her brother Geoffrey served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He was fatally wounded at Passchendaele on November 2, 1917. Later in her life Beryl mentioned she also lost her sweetheart in the war.
Then, on February 4, 1918, John McLaughlin himself died. The oldest son, John Harley (1883-1953) inherited his father’s estate, but Geoffrey had left most of his estate to be divided amongst his mother and sisters.
Beryl enrolled in the new architecture course at Sydney University. Jobs in science for women at that time were virtually non-existent. There are tales of women being turned down for lab assistant jobs because they were “too pretty” and would be “too distracting”. As well, married women could not work. This was life in the early 20th century.
Beryl registered with the NSW Board of Architects in 1923 and began to work for Henry White, a famous architect with offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In 1987, Beryl remembered working on a large chemical factory in the east of Sydney, possibly Bunnerong Power Station, but she did not remember other buildings. Henry White was, however, a busy architect, with the St James Theatre and the State Theatre among his designs. The Depression closed the business in 1933.
Because the family home, Yanko, was sold by 1925, Beryl moved to Tarella with mother and sister, travelling to work by train. By 1930, she moved back to Sydney but, with the closure of White’s and the loss of her job, she returned permanently with Ada and Ida to Wentworth Falls.
Whilst at Tarella, Beryl enjoyed painting lessons with Joshua Smith. Few of her paintings can be found now. Beryl claims she “tore the up, but she often donated them to fundraisers for the Association for Crippled Children. Her mother died in 1927 and, shortly after that, Ida and Harold Lane married. In 1933 Beryl designed Koolewong in Leura for them, with a small flat for herself. They left Tarella, but Beryl bought it from Harley in 1937. She later claimed that Harley inheriting everything was unfair”.
World War 11 saw Beryl very much involved in the Volunteer Air Observers Coups, devised by the RAAF Directorate of Intelligence late in 1941, to sight and report enemy aircraft. She was also involved in making camouflage nets at Wentworth Falls Golf Club, often on a Saturday.
After Harold’s death the women ended up living out much of the rest of their lives at Tarella and other homes she designed.
Ida died at the Burlington Nursing Home in Katoomba in 1980, aged 95, and Beryl died at Martin Claver Nursing Home at Leura in July 1988, two months short of her 100th birthday.
Why do we remember Beryl? The answer is to be found in the Blue Mountains Historical Society. On August 21, 1946, the inaugural meeting of the Society was held in the Blue Mountains Council Headquarters. By 1949, Council was providing the Society with a room for meetings, materials, a museum and a library, for nominal rent. But, by 1954, this room was inadequate.
Beryl offered Tarella as a site for a possible museum and, in 1955, meetings were taking place there. Planning for the museum met with problems faced by many who build in heritage areas, especially as they wanted to build in a residential-zoned area, but eventually all objections were met and it opened, in spite of bushfires, on November 30. 1968.
Shortly before her death Beryl transferred to the society the other part of the property on which Tarella was situated, as well as enough money to renovate Tarella and extend the museum building, helping to create a research centre.
A cottage, built in the 1890’s, still stands today because of her vision. Children and adults are able to venture into a time-warp when they visit the Tarella Cottage Museum. The past comes vividly alive as we wander along the corridor, looking at the artefacts and thinking of how they lived in the past.