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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Margaret Shumack (1875-1945)

Born: 1875; Died: 1945; Married: Did not marry

Margaret Shumack, the young girl who stitched the sampler while a student at the Stone Hut School in 1887, was a descendant of one of Canberra's early pioneer families. The sampler is now in the collection of the Hall School Museum and Heritage Centre.

John (Snr) Shumack, Margaret's grandfather, arrived in the area in 1842, when he and his wife Margaret became the first tenants of the St John's Glebe on the Molonglo River. John built a three roomed slab house, took an active part in church affairs, and helped cart the stone used in the building of St John's church. Margaret's father Peter 'Big Pete' Shumack was born at St John's Glebe in 1844 and grew up locally.

Parish maps show that Peter Shumack began acquiring land in the present day area of North Canberra in 1863, on which he built a home - his property becoming known as 'Fern Hill' (Mackennal Street, Lyneham today). His first wife died in 1872 and the following year he married Elizabeth (Betsy) Williams. Margaret was the eldest girl (born 6th September 1875) and one of nine surviving children from that marriage. Her uncle Joseph Shumack had bought blocks of land in the same area, astride the Yass road, in 1857. In 1876 Joseph converted the house that he had built on his block to a hotel - the Canberra Inn. Another uncle, Richard, farmed the area that became known as Tolldale in modern day O'Connor.

Several of the Shumack children, including Margaret, attended the Stone Hut School. The school began in 1873 and was located in an old building alongside the Yass Road a short distance past the Old Canberra Inn on the east side of the road on Edward Crace's property, Gungahlin (formerly Gungahleen). There had long been complaints about the condition of the stone building, which was described as a 'dilapidated hovel'. In January 1885, a group of influential local residents, including those from the Shumack family, wrote to the education department drawing attention to the conditions at the school.

These complaints brought results. In August 1888 the school children and teacher at Stone Hut School moved across the Yass Road to a newly constructed small timber building specifically built as a schoolhouse. Following a regular visit by school Inspector M. Willis, who appeared to see a dilemma in calling a timber school building 'Stone Hut', the name of the school was changed to Gungahleen. The small school continued to serve the local rural communities as a full-time school.

While a student at the old Stone Hut School, Margaret stitched a sampler under the guidance of her teacher Miss Mary Clare Nolan. Schoolgirl samplers are familiar and endearing embroidered textiles closely associated in the public consciousness with genteel female education, needlework artistry and early Australian colonial history. As with Margaret's, the vast majority of embroidery samplers that exist today have been sewn by young girls as part of their formal education. It may have been her needlework 'graduation piece', done at age twelve during her last year of schooling. Samplers became an integral part of the school curriculum. They were educational tools, which strived to develop a young girl's stitchery skills for both practical and ornamental purposes.

Teacher Mary Clare Nolan was born at Braidwood, and educated at Braidwood Convent. She taught at the Weetangera School until it closed in 1885 and later at the Williamsdale School. She then moved to the dilapidated Stone Hut School and finally into the replacement school, Gungahleen. Moving to the new school must have improved conditions for both teaching and learning. She remained until March 1891.

Most of Peter Shumack's holdings were sold up in 1911, to George E. Southwell of Majura, with the balance of his land known as 'Kia-Ora' (Garling Street, Lyneham today) which was farmed by his youngest son Edward (Ted) up until 1937. Electoral roll information places Margaret at Kia-Ora from 1928 – 1937, with 'home duties' as her profession, her father and mother having died in 1912 and 1918 respectively. By 1943 she was residing in Torrens Street Braddon, where she lived with her sister-in-law Monica Shumack (Edward's estranged wife) until her death on 26th July 1945. She did not marry and had no children.

Margaret was known within the family as 'Sis' and was considered the beauty of the family who had plenty of suitors: all were refused and she remained single. Some said she was too fussy in her requirements. She was still living at 'Fern Hill' in 1903 but by 1915 she was working as a domestic at 'Brindabella'. At one stage she and her sister Ida ran a boarding house in Katoomba but in 1919 her address was given as 283 Edgecliff Road, Woollahra, where she worked for the Bethune family. There is some suggestion that she may have gained this position due to the friendship between the Bethune family and the Crace family of Gungahleen. Electoral roll information places Margaret at 'Kia-Ora' from 1928 – 1937, with 'home duties' as her occupation. By 1943 she was residing in Torrens Street Braddon, where she lived with her sister-in-law Monica Shumack (Edward's estranged wife) until her death on 26th July 1945. She was buried at St John's in Canberra.

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