Flashback Friday | A pet bat was among attractions in the private zoo at historic Fernleigh House

Count Yorga, a pet bat which grew to have a wing span of nearly a metre, was one of the attractions in Ivy Alcott's private zoo at historic Fernleigh House in Caringbah South.

The zoo also housed Mitzi the monkey, Tarzan the orangutan, Bambi the deer, foxes, rats, mice, birds, Shetland ponies, kangaroos, calves, sheep, emus and a Mexican walking fish.

Children in the neighbourhood were able to visit the zoo and retain fond memories.

"Count Yorga was only two inches long when I got him and now he's grown into this little monstrosity", Mrs Alcott said in 1972.

The Leader's archives also contain photos from a year earlier of a bat called Satan, which was was only a few weeks old when he was found clinging to the body of his mother, who had been electrocuted on a power line.

The tiny bat was given to Mrs Alcott, who used an eye dropper to feed it a mixture of milk, vitamin drops and mashed banana.

When the photo of Mrs Alcott and the Shetland ponies was taken outside the house in 1972, she said they preferred to be inside.

The interior of the house was also a treat, with a 100-year-old skeleton they called Billy Bones occupying the attic.

Billy Bones, believed to be more than 100 years old, was discovered during excavation for a tennis court.

Fernleigh House, in Fernleigh Road, was built between 1858-1860, and is one of the oldest homes in the shire.

Ivy and her husband Errol bought the house in about 1948 and lived there for more than 35 years. Errol died in 1985 and Ivy in 1987.

Errol operated the Three Pines Boatshed, where Burraneer Bay Marina stands, on the waterfront below the house.

Writing in the Leader in 2014, Ivy's godson Bob Piper revealed some fascinating insights.

"The Alcocks [the couple later changed their surname to Alcott] were often in the media and some episodes of the old television series Skippy were filmed there. Ivy provided the kangaroos...while Errol drove the Rolls Royce in some episodes," Mr Piper wrote.

"Their animals also appeared on the cover of Women's Weekly on December 18, 1957.

"Ivy would always carry spare pet food in her little Fiat car and stop whenever she saw a stray dog or cat. On one occasion she was pulled up by the local police for driving around with her huge ex-circus Great Dane leaning far out an open side window and nearly tilting the mini vehicle over in the process.

"It is known that Ivy and Errol were also great friends of Rolf Harris and his famous song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport was launched on their front lawn in 1960."


In 1968, Ivy showed Leader reporter Kevin Killey over the property.

"The Alcocks, who have lived at Fernleigh for 20 years, have retained much of its old world charm," Killey wrote.

"They have also added a few 'mod cons' - such as a miniature TV set hanging from the top of the Queen Anne four-poster in the master bedroom.

"There is also a private zoo with monkey, foxes, rats, birds, a Shetland pony, emus and a Mexican walking fish.

"Mrs Alcock, her large Dane Caesar and a miniature Dachshund, conducted me on a guided tour last week.

"Our first stop was the 'rigor mortis' bar, an oasis of a kind carved out of solid rock.

"Feeling stronger we continued our tour, Mrs Alcock providing a running commentary on items of interest.

"A carved model of Will Shakespeare took pride of place on the side verandah.

"There was also a genuine skeleton in the attic.

"The skeleton, introduced to me as "Billy Bones", is believed to be more than 100 years old.

"The Alcocks discovered it while excavating the site of their tennis court.

"We inspected the five bedrooms including the master bedroom, once belonging to Margaret Connell [who lived there originally].

"It included a magnificent antique cedar suite, complete with four poster bed - and the TV set.

I was told the legs of the bed had secret panels.

"The panels were designed as a hiding place for jewellery if bushrangers raided the property.

In another room was the wedding gift given to Margaret Connell by her husband John - a set of delicately engraved silver knives and forks.

"Other antique pieces included a carved horn dated 1857, a 174-year-old sword and a rare Budapest set of fruit bowls and two vases utilised as lamps.

"The furniture was wonderfully preserved.

"Indeed, shire resident with a leaning for local history owe the Alcocks a considerable debt for their effort to preserve one of the few remaining 'pieces' of genuine Australia in the shire."

Send in your photos

Do you have any old photos taken at Fernleigh House in Caringbah South that you would like to share?

Feel free to send them in via email to leadernews@fairfaxmedia.com.au