Cottage refurbishment restores memories of a life past

The grandson of one of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens’ original gatekeepers is overjoyed to see restoration in progress at the cottage that holds so many stories of his family’s history. 

THEN AND NOW: Betty Margaret Donovan and her brother grew up at the gatekeeper's cottage at the north side of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.

THEN AND NOW: Betty Margaret Donovan and her brother grew up at the gatekeeper's cottage at the north side of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.

Gary Barnett’s mother Betty Margaret Barnett (nee Donovan) spent her first 10 years living at the gatekeeper’s cottage near St Aidans Drive in the 1920s. 

Mr Barnett’s grandfather was responsible for closing the large gate at the garden’s boundary every night to keep out stock like cows, sheep and pigs, vehicles and ‘hooligans’, according to the book ‘Ballaarat Golden City: A Pictorial History’. 

Now almost 100 years later the historic building is undergoing refurbishment to be used as an educational facility, back at its original home. 

The cottage was returned to the Botanical Gardens in June 2017, after 85 years situated at 1414 Gregory Street. 

GATEKEEPERS: Betty Margaret Barnett (nee Donovan) was born at the gatekeeper's cottage in 1922 and lived there until she was 10-years-old while her father was responsible for closing the iron garden gates each night.

GATEKEEPERS: Betty Margaret Barnett (nee Donovan) was born at the gatekeeper's cottage in 1922 and lived there until she was 10-years-old while her father was responsible for closing the iron garden gates each night.

Mr Barnett said his mother, who died four years ago, would be ‘rapt’ to know the building was being restored for educational purposes. 

She used to share stories from life growing up at the cottage with Mr Barnett, when the pair made frequent visits to its Gregory Street site. 

“She always wanted to go back to visit the cottage. She never got sick of seeing it,” Mr Barnett said. 

We would sit there in front of it in the car and she would remember things that had happened.

Gary Barnett, grandson of gatekeeper

“We would sit there in front of it in the car and she would remember things that had happened... the trees she used to climb. 

“Her playground was the ‘fairyland’. That is where she played with her brothers.

“She told me a lot of people visiting the gardens would wander across to their house, which was the only building there, to get hot water for a cup of tea or to heat up baby’s bottles.”

REPURPOSED: The old gatekeepers cottage is undergoing restoration work back its original home at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. Picture: Kate Healy

REPURPOSED: The old gatekeepers cottage is undergoing restoration work back its original home at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. Picture: Kate Healy

The historic cottage’s roof and chimneys have already been restored, as part of a Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and City of Ballarat refurbishment project. 

The building was gifted to the community through the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens by previous owners. 

Once refurbished, it will be used as an education and interpretation centre for visitors to the gardens, primarily for children’s program BontaniKIDS. 

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