This story is about a childhood memory of a haunted house. It’s a memory associated with my grandparents who lived in Davidson Avenue, Concord from about 1939 until their deaths in the 1960s. They were the best grandparents any kid could wish for.
Between 1913 and 1924 my grandmother had given birth to five girls, with my mother being the youngest. Housing was in very short supply at the end of the war, so when my mum and her sister Jackie each married towards the end of 1945 they had no option but to continue living with their parents in Davidson Avenue for a while. It was only a small home and was then filled with my grandparents, two married daughters and their husbands, and at least one other unmarried daughter.
The crowding was about to get worse. Mum and Jackie each conceived their first child there. They both gave birth in 1947, amazingly on the same day within one hour of each other in adjacent beds of the same hospital. I was one of the babies, and the other was Richard, who I often called my twin cousin.
As we grew up we loved staying over at our grandparents, and we would often be there together. Richard was more adventurous than I was, and was a bit of a handful, so we were often sent to play in the park nearby. There we would play on the swings and seesaws or toss a ball around, or just explore.
A little further on from the park was a large run-down home on a big overgrown property. We knew it was out of bounds and had heard stories that it was haunted. There was also a story that a couple of kids had died on the property when they fell down a well. This may have been true, but equally it might just have been a story Gran or Grandpop told us so we would stay away from the place. Despite this I remember once visiting the property with Richard and exploring the grounds looking for the well. I can’t say for sure that it was Richard’s idea, but it’s unlikely that it was mine. We were probably about 10 years of age at the time, which would make it about 1957. I do recall it was very scary. Had our grandparents found out we would have been in big trouble.
The memory of all this came flooding back a few days ago when I was looking at a photo of my dear departed mother sitting on the front fence of her parents’ home in Davidson Avenue around 1945. In the photo Davidson Avenue is still unpaved, and across the road is a bare paddock. Almost out-of-frame on the right there is a two-story home.
I had a feeling this might have been the derelict home Richard and I had explored some 10 years after the photo had been taken, so I did some online research and quickly found a home called “Wellbank”, located on the corner of Wellbank and Flavelle Streets, just a little over 200 metres (as the crow flies) from my grandparents’ home and in a direction that correlated with the home just visible in Mum’s photo. The estate was owned by John Flavelle (1816-1899) and he had built a two-story home on it around 1870. It was named “Wellbank” after his wife’s birthplace in Ireland.
The original estate was quite large, extending from Correys Avenue to Arthur Street in Concord. It must have been subdivided in stages, as my grandparent’s home was on what was once part of the estate. In 1945 the Housing Commission compulsorily resumed what was left of the estate for post-war housing. This would have been the remaining portion on the southern side of Davidson Avenue that appears in the photo behind my mother. It excluded “Wellbank” and its immediate grounds, as Flavelle’s daughters Lucy (1869 – 1957) and Ida (1873 – 1955) continued living there until their deaths.
I also found two aerial photographs of the area posted by Andy Brill on Flickr, one taken in 1943 and the other in 1951. The one taken in 1943 shows homes on the northern side of Davidson Avenue, with my grandparent’s home probably the most easterly of them (circled in the photo). Between it and “Wellbank” there is just paddock and a few trees. This is consistent with the background in the photo of my Mum. By comparison, the aerial photograph taken in 1951 shows the property reduced to about one acre, with an astonishing growth in housing surrounding “Wellbank”. The home was demolished in 1961 and Concord Council Chambers were built in its place
Checking the dates, it looks like Richard and I were exploring the property just about the time the eldest spinster died. After realising this, I couldn’t help but speculate on what their last years were like. Their parents were Irish immigrants who came to Australia around 1842 and were very successful. They had 13 children, succeeded in several business ve
ntures, acquired the large estate in Concord and built a grand home. However during the life of the two eldest daughters their parents and 11 siblings died and most of the property was compulsorily acquired by the State following the war in 1945. It’s likely they spent their last years as lonely women in a decaying home.
In those years after the war, as new homes sprang up and encircled their diminished property, the spinsters must have been a topic of discussion in the suburb. Did they get help from their neighbours? Or did the stories told to my cousin and me about the house being haunted reflect a community view that they were strange old women who should not be approached?
It gives me a strange feeling to realise that my cousin and I came very close to meeting the eldest spinster. She could even have been watching us from a cobwebbed window as we furtively searched for the well.
Thanks to the Canada Bay Connections web site for some of the information in this post. The Trove web site has a lot more information about John Favelle.
The 1943 aerial photo shows Concord Bowling Club under construction on the western side of “Wellbank”. My grandfather was a very keen bowler there, and also belonged to the club’s choir. I remember once going to a rehearsal with him and being greatly impressed. In my later life it became an ambition of mine to sing in a choir, and I’m pleased to say I’ve achieved that.
By Greg Hill https://www.angeles-hill.com/flavelle-wellbank (reproduced with permission)
I remember well the “haunted house” we used to run as fast as we could past the house to the park and later when I played basket ball we used to practice in the park at night, always running past the haunted house. (Irene Davidson)
I can recall the old house on the corner of Wellbank & Flavelle Streets. Even though I was only 5 when it was demolished, as a small child the “haunted” house has left an lasting impression on me. The old house was surrounded by overgrown gardens , and held a mysterious eeriness to a small child, my childhood memories rekindled. Thank you for the writing the article Greg Hill.
I really enjoyed reading the articule and remembered the sisters very well, their grand house never seemed haunted to me as a child.
My family and I lived in Churchill Crescent. I remember my mother,with me tow, took over a plate of food to the last remaining Miss Flavelle. We entered the house but remained just inside the door. There was a large long room to the left. Although shabby with age I was spell bound by its magnificence, even then. Under the verandahs there were was we kids called dungeons, basements accessed from the gardens. I saw the well, which by that time was covered with concrete and metal grid. When demolition started, many black and white photos were scattered on the ground amongst the rubble. I wished I’d picked them up. Even at that tender age I knew they were important. I was born in 1948, so I was very young. I am still fascinated by this house, and in the last 10 years did the Flavelle Family Tree to learn more about them. I think this house sparked my life long interest in these kinds of houses.
I remember an old haunted house in Military Rd Mosman which was owned by Ken Flavelle. I think he may have been related as I found a reverence to Wellbank. I would be interested to see if he is mentioned in the family tree.
Good article, Greg!
Absolutely thrilled to read about haunted house. Lived at 53 Davidson Avenue frrom 1949 t0 1964. Spent many adventurous times in that garden. Probably frightened the two old sisters nearly to death. Now 78 years old, an enthusiastic fiction writer, I have used that house as the basis for a number of my stories. Love to hear from anyone from those days.
Hi Pam, I live nearby where this property stood. I’m going to chat to my neighbour, born mid 1930’s, to see how much she remembers!
Being, in my retirement, on a ‘Speakers’ Circuit’, one of my stories is about’ Aussie Spooks, Spirits & Spectres’.Born in 1941& raised in Concord West,i was as a boy attracted to Flavelle House, which was rumoured to be haunted. While exploring its dark &musty cellars ,two of my primary school friends and I often sensed a cold & clammy presence, and once saw what seemed to be the shimmering figure of an old man, in butler’s livery, at the far end of the passage, holding a bottle in his hand. We skedaddled pretty smartly, compared our impressions, and realised we had each seen the same apparition. Since we were ‘banned’ from going there anyway, we agreed not to tell our parents. i’m fascinated to learn that others were aware of its ‘haunted’ reputation.I remember thinking it was somehow ‘sacrilegious’ to see it pulled down & replaced by Council Chambers…which were themselves pulled down years later.
My family lived in Flavelle Street, and my brother and I heard that the Flavelle House was haunted. We never saw anyone there, so one day when we were about 6 or 7 we entered the property to see whether it was really haunted. We got under the house, but while we were there we heard a woman’s voice groaning, almost screaming, in pain. This terrified us, and we got out of there in record time and never did that again. This was in the 1950s. I live in Queensland now, but was in Sydney a few days ago and went past my former house in Flavelle Street and also passed the site of the Flavelle block on the corner of Flavelle and Wellbank Streets. It brought back some great childhood memories.