When John, the city farmer and I found out we where expecting our first child, we looked at one another and said, “let’s get out of Sydney”.
So in 1997, we moved to Kangaroo Valley and began searching for a house in which to raise our family. It took a couple of years and lots of looking but one day we were told of an old place that was unofficially on the market. The moment we walked in the back door we knew we had found something very special.
And so we moved into this charming old farm house. We not only gave her a bit of a face lift but collected the stories of the woman who had lived a good part of her life at 1689 Moss Vale Road; (once “The Laurels”) and was known to the locals as “Auntie Eileen”.
Eileen Condon had grown up in the house with her seven brothers and sisters. Her father Ned Condon, was the local stock agent and auctioneer. At the age of thirty-three Eileen married Tom Rendall and a few years after her father’s death, Eileen and Tom moved back to her family home where she remained for the rest of her days.
Eileen was very much a woman of her time. A devout Catholic, who from the age of 15 until “she just couldn’t do it anymore”, spent her Saturday’s cleaning the local church. Whilst childless herself she was godmother to the five children of one of her brothers. Due to the nature of the roads at the time, Eileen made sure the newborns were baptised before making the perilous journey home. It was only when the youngest arrived that Auntie Eileen deemed the roads safe enough for the little one to be brought over the mountain for baptism in the church she so lovingly cleaned.
Her nieces and nephews remember her as an upright woman who was well turned out with matching shoes and handbags bought in Moss Vale or Goulburn. They described her as a bit of a sheet snapper and often shocked by modern ways. If she found something a little beyond the pale she would let out a high pitched “Whoah!!” One local remembers collecting Auntie Eileen and her friend Peggy and delivering them to his grandmother’s place where the three woman sat darning on the front verandah. Auntie Eileen was also an avid gardener and the orchard at the side of the house was planted by her and her husband Tom.
However, the common thread in everyone’s stories is of Auntie Eileen’s cooking. Her family remembers the Sunday lamb shoulder roasts, pumpkin scones and the hours spent mixing ingredients with their Aunt. While long term valley residents all talk of her legendary, Valley Show winning sponge cakes. The sponge was her trade mark and many a cup of tea and piece of sponge was shared with Auntie Eileen. As luck would have it, she not only shared the end product, but the recipe itself.
When we made the decision to welcome others to this special place, in which our children had grown, we thought it only fitting that the property carry the name of the woman so many remembered. With her name comes an important tradition. Baked to Auntie Eileen’s own recipe, a complimentary sponge cake awaits your arrival. Just as Auntie Eileen would have expected.
Born January 29th 1906. Died June 8th, 1993.