THE future of an old Gymea house, largely hidden by trees and tangled vines, was resolved in 1995.
Sutherland Shire Council decided, after a period of public consultation, the property named Hazelhurst would become a regional art gallery and arts and craft centre.
The council announced 80 per cent of the land would be kept as open space, the old house refurbished, and new structures built.
In 2000, Hazelhurst was reborn with the promised art facilities and cafe, set in beautiful grounds.
Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre has developed into a priceless asset for Sutherland Shire residents and visitors.
The council’s long-time general manager John Rayner revealed on his retirement in 2015 an arts centre had always been the preferred option, but there had been dissent.
Mr Rayner said some councillors were worried about funding a new service, and some people in the community wanted it used for playing fields and other purposes.
‘‘It was a little bit contentious, but, now, I think the community loves it,’’ he said.
Ben and Hazel Broadhurst bequeathed the property to the council for use as a community facility and place of culture.
They had bought it in 1945 and built the house, which brought a £300 ($600) fine from the Housing Commission for breaking post-war austerity rules.
To thwart the government and developers, they registered the property as a farm and brought in goats, chickens, a pony and cow.
By the late 1970s, when the couple were unable to maintain the grounds and unpaid rates were accumulating, an arrangement was reached for the council to take over maintenance of the property on the basis Hazelhurst would be used for community purposes after their deaths.
The history of Hazelhurst, which can be found on the centre’s website, reveals the Broadhursts as a fascinating couple.
Ben and Hazel (his second wife) adopted three children, orphaned during a bombing raid on London.
Denise and Ralph lived at Hazelhurst, while their sister was brought up by Hazel’s mother.
Dix Hawk, a Canadian cousin of the adopted orphans, also came to live at Hazelhurst and became part of the family.
Ben, a vegetarian who practiced recycling and organic farming, was a “greenie” long before it was fashionable.
Because he used compost to nourish the many flowers and vegetables he grew, the grounds were always beautifully landscaped with a wild profusion of colours and scents.
They kept goats, horses, a cow and 200 chooks. They also had a mini dairy making cheeses and butter, and an orchard of pears, peaches, apples and strawberries.
Hazelhurst also boasted the first indoor dunny in the shire thanks to the septic tank he installed.
The Broadhursts were successful business people, with a shirt-making factory in Rockdale and Sutherland for more than 40 years, and were involved with charities and worthy causes.
Ben was the long-time president of Sutherland Spastic Centre.
He also had a strong interest in the doctrine of communism, and he and Hazel were heavily into numerology, astrology, extra-sensory perception and other psychic phenomena.
This led to the rumour Hazel was a witch (untrue) and the house was haunted (possibly true).
Ben, who was president of the Sydney Centre for Psychic Research in the 1950s, revealed in newspaper articles that seances were often held at Hazelhurst, and regular contact was made with the spirit world.
Dix’s German shepherd was also said to be able to use psychic intuition to find lost items, sometimes miles from where they were last seen.
Dix said of the rumours:
“We heard a lot of stories about the house that were a lot more interesting than the truth, that it was: a brothel; a sly grog joint (when grog joints were still around); and a gambling den.
“There were rumours about how the people who lived there had died - a little premature as at that time we were still living in it.
“It was rumoured to be a hundred years old - some rumours placed the age of the house so old that it would have had to be built by Aborigines.
“It had a reputation for being haunted. There were a couple of ghosts but these were of people who had a connection with the family [rather than a connection with the house]. They weren’t unfriendly ghosts.”
When Ben died in 1990 and Hazel in 1994, the land and property was estimated to be worth $4-5 million.
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