Why 'Waite' for history
One of South Australia's most generous benefactors-pastoralist and businessman Peter Waite-has been brought to life in an innovative children's program at the University of Adelaide.
More than 400 children from primary schools around the State have enjoyed a school excursion of a different kind in the past 18 months, sampling a taste of life in 1892 at Urrbrae House, once home to the Waite family.
The magnificent bluestone mansion and its surrounds were bequeathed to the University in 1922 on Peter Waite's death and subsequently established as the Waite Agricultural Research Institute.
Today, the historic precinct is giving school children a valuable insight into South Australia's wealthy families who lived in the Adelaide foothills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Their life, in contrast to the vast masses, was characterised by activities such as fox hunts, croquet, parlour games, dinner parties and polite conversation.
Visiting school groups to Urrbrae House are introduced to that life via a series of entertaining activities over a couple of hours.
Curator Yvonne Routledge and a group of University volunteers clothed in period costume engage the children in a typical day at Urrbrae House in 1892.
"The children are divided into three groups with roles and characters. Some are adult members of the Waite family and their guests, a second group are servants and a third group are Waite children and their friends," Ms Routledge said.
Each child is assigned a suitable Victorian name-'Cuthbert' is a favourite-and given a role to play in their respective groups.
Ladies may engage in some simple sewing, while gentlemen may play a board game such as dominoes or chess, or a parlour game like charades.
Students who take the role as servants spend most of their time in the kitchen, preparing afternoon tea. This consists of cucumber sandwiches, shortbread biscuits and sponge cake with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
The third group-emulating the Waite children and their friends-receive instruction from their governess, followed by a period of games. Signalman (similar to musical chairs) is a popular one. Outdoor games include chasey, croquet and skipping rope.
"The whole experience is both fun and educational, leaving the children with a positive impression of the University and hopefully a deeper understanding of life in that era," Ms Routledge said.
Since its introduction in early 2006 the program has been an unqualified success, with schools throughout the state booking every available weekly time slot.
"The key is the interaction," Ms Routledge said. "Children get so immersed in the activities that the two hours fly past and they're reluctant to leave."
It's also a rewarding experience for the volunteers, all of whom have a passion for history and a willingness to work with children.
All volunteers-sourced from a group of 80 people-are given training and undergo police checks as part of the selection process for the program.
"A condition of the Waite family's bequest was that Urrbrae House and its surrounds remain accessible to the public. All our programs, including the tours, adhere to this request."
Any adults interested in volunteering for the schools program at Urrbrae House are asked to contact Yvonne Routledge on (08) 8303 7425 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
STORY CANDY GIBSON
For more information about the Urrbrae House Historic Precinct guided tours (for adults), contact Peggy Rowe on (08) 8303 7497 or email@example.com