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Rediscovering Ginninderra:

In 2019 a review of heritage issues raised by duplication of the Barton Highway from the ACT border to Murrumbateman identified Dellwood cottage, originally the family home of the Morris family as a place of heritage interest. The review designated the homestead as being of 'local historical, associative, research, rarity and representative significance'. The Dellwood homestead is located on Lot 1 of Deposited Plan 846623 immediately north of the NSW/ACT border to the west of the highway. The property includes a number of elements including:

• Dellwood (house)
• Modern shed.
• Granary shed
• Tanning shed
• Tanning tank
• Cultural plantings

The Dellwood homestead is not identified on any heritage registers.

Dellwood is strongly associated with the Morris family, who occupied the property from c.1884 until the early 1980s. The construction of Dellwood and the relocation of William and Louisa Morris to the local area demonstrates the increasing intensification of population in the area to the point that a bootmaker could be supported by the local community. 'The intact structures associated with the tanning of hides for leather on a small scale may allow for research into the techniques used that may provide information unavailable elsewhere. The tanning tank is thought to be a rare item. As a whole, the Dellwood homestead demonstrates principal characteristics of a rural property established as a self-sufficient family business'.

Dellwood was the home of William 'Billy' Morris and his family. The slab hut homestead was built by George Harcourt in 1886 for bootmaker William and his new wife Louisa Gozzard. Bootmaking was a Morris family business. William's father Henry plied his trade in Ginninderra village where he constructed a tanning pit and it was he who taught William his trade. Shoe-making was an essential service as no ready-made footwear was available. Boots and shoes had to be made to individual measurements. The trade was passed to Henry's sons, grandsons and great grandsons, with Morris footwear proudly produced in the district until the late 1950s.

William commenced his bookmaking business from within the grounds of his Dellwood home, where the tanning pit was located. Hides were tanned for the shoes and boots he sold, initially directly from the house.

In 1907 he built a bootmaker's shop in Victoria Street Hall. It was a small worker's cottage of corrugated iron with a weatherboard front and verandah. The roof was also made of corrugated iron with gable ends. In the middle of the shop floor stood a tub in which leather was soaked to make it pliable for shaping. Hides were bought locally, cow hide for soles and kangaroo and wallaby skins for linings.

He treated his bootmaking as an art, working long hours to make boots and shoes of the highest quality. His surgical boots were made to individual customer measurements and were highly sought after throughout the district, including by the Campbell and Crace families. According to Leon Smith [Memories of Hall, 1975] , 'as for material, make and fit, the Morris boots were practically unequalled, both for wear and water resistance'.

In January 1930 the Morris family built and began using an above ground concrete tanning pit. Billy would have been 71 at this time. It was built by William himself and Edward Denney, a young lad who was raised in the family home after his mother's death. Billy lived and worked until 1941, when he was 80 years of age, so he may well have made good use of it. This above ground pit is considered rare as most tanning pits in colonial Australia were constructed in ground.

The above ground pit enabled easier lifting of wet hides from the tanning mixture of wattle bark (stripped from local acacia trees), water and salts. Many different hides were treated including cow and bullock, kangaroo, goat, rabbit and fox. Fresh hides were hand scraped clean of fats and flesh, scrubbed with salt to cure then suspended in the water filled tanning pit. Salts and wattle-tree bark were added to provide tannin to be absorbed by the skins. When an individual skin had tanned, it was hung on a covered rack to dry. After drying it would be burnished to highlight the grain (texture) and then pulled (worked) over curved surfaces to increase softness and flexibility. It was the finer (softer) skins, stripped of hair, which became shoe and boot uppers.

Billy's mother Hannah was extremely skilled in making leather products and passed her knowledge on to the Morris daughters. In the 1920s possums were killed under licence and their skins were used to make possum rugs which were hand sewn and lined for domestic use. Dellwood became the site of a small but successful, self-sufficient family business operating on a rural property on the outskirts of the fast developing Federal Capital Territory. Dellwood was a Morris family home until it was sold in the 1980s.

On the occasion of Billy and Louisa's golden wedding anniversary in 1936 the Queanbeyan Age reported: 'Mr Morris had conducted a bookmaking business at Hall for over 40 years. He is one of the few surviving tradesmen who can treat a skin or hide from the animal to the finished boot. He is well known in the district for the high standard of his work. He maintains he has made the largest pair of boots in the state – number sixteens. He specialised in riding boots and cripples' [sic] footwear for many years'.

William and Louisa's son Henry ('Harry') operated at the Hall village shop after his parents' passed away. However, in the 1940s he moved the W.H. Morris Bootmaker shop into Civic, in the centre of Canberra. Three generations of Morris bootmakers had pursued their trade in the district for almost one hundred years from the 1860s through to the 1950s when Harry closed his business.

Related Photos

William and Louisa Morris in front of Dellwood homestead with their 8 children. ⧉

Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.


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