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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Mrs Rosanna Mary Blewitt

Died: 1914; Married: Patrick Francis Blewitt

Rosanna Mary McAlister was the daughter and only child of William McAlister and Rosanna McAlister (nee Murphy) of Gundaroo. Her mother was born in Ireland in 1844 and was a teacher in Dromderrig National School for a few years before coming to Australia in 1864. Soon after her arrival in Australia she was appointed to Myrtleville School in the Goulburn District then under the supervision of Mr Inspector McCann. In 1870 she married Mr William McAlister of Yalbraith who predeceased her by over 30 years.

Rosanna McAlister was appointed teacher at Tallagandra school in 1876, a position that she held for an extraordinary thirty years. On retirement in 1906, a widow, she moved to Ginninderra to live with her daughter and her growing family. Daughter Rosanna had just been awarded the contract to conduct the business of the Ginninderra post office.

The official status of a post office was largely determined by the level of business transacted. In 1905, Ginninderra PO was reduced to a semi-official ‘contract office’; for an agreed allowance a contractor provided premises and carried out the postal duties. In the case of Ginninderra the PMG estimated this would save them ₤78 p.a.

Mrs Rosanna Blewitt, mother of four, whose husband Patrick was an Agent and conducting a produce business in Queanbeyan, gained the support of her MP and beat a field of twelve to the position, despite the initial objections of the PMG Secretary:

“In my opinion no married woman whose husband is engaged in business should be appointed to a Contract Office. It is highly desirable that persons appointed to these offices should devote the whole of their time during office hours to the work of the Dept…………”

She was soon bidding (unsuccessfully) for an increase to her allowance of ₤100 p.a. Duties included operating three private phones lines.

Towards the end of her five-year contract – now a mother of six - she was advised that revenue justified payment of only ₤43, and asked if she had any other income; she replied ‘two cows and some chickens’. She gained support in high places (including a letter from the Ginninderra Farmer’s Union), resisting a cut to her allowance (it was actually increased to ₤110), and adding a stationery and newsagency business.

In 1910 her three eldest children, Frank, Gerald and Zeta, were attending the Ginninderra school a few hundred yards up the road. When it was closed at the end of 1910 in favour of the new school at Hall, her children, and others, were required to walk to the Hall school, which opened in 1911. Six months later, Rosanna Blewitt wrote to the Department of Public Instruction, seeking the re-opening of Ginninderra as there were children having to walk over two miles to Hall:

"There are fourteen children here of school age and I understand twelve is the number required to open a full-time school. If it was too far for the children of Hall to walk to Ginninderra, it does not mend matters much to put the positions vice versa and have the Ginninderra children walking to Hall"

A second letter on 24 July 1911 explained the danger to the children of having to cross Halls Creek during or after heavy rain. ('Although they could have braved the weather...on ringing Hall up was told that the creek was too high for them to cross'). These appeals were to no avail however.

After finally agreeing to a reduced allowance of ₤51, in late 1912 she accepted an appointment to Bulyeroi, in the Moree district, leaving the way clear for Charles Thompson, Hall school teacher, to install his daughter Bertha as postmistress, the education department agreeing to use of the Ginninderra school building. Ginninderra PO was then reduced in status again - from contract office to allowance office.

At a send off for her the Ginninderra residents presented Rosanna with an engraved tea and coffee set and a purse of sovereigns. Sadly, not long after taking up her duties at Bulyeroi Rosanna became very ill and died in Sydney in 1914. She was buried at Long Bay cemetery on 27th September 1914, to be joined four years later by her mother.

References

National Archives, Ginninderra Post Office file, NAA SP32/1, Part 5, 1910-1917

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