Growing up on the Glenloch property: the life of a Canberra pioneer
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Growing up on the Glenloch property: the life of a Canberra pioneer

Gwen Lawless has lived most of her long life in Canberra, growing up on a property near what is now the Glenloch Interchange and even boarding in a cottage that became the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie in Weston Park.

Gwen Lawless, with her daughter Karen, is one of Canberra's pioneering residents.

Gwen Lawless, with her daughter Karen, is one of Canberra's pioneering residents.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

The Conder resident, who turns 95 on March 24,  is one of Canberra's pioneering residents, remembering a golden time in the city's history. And a momentous, sometimes tragic time.

She was even trapped in a taxi in the Woden floods of 1971, on her way home to Torrens from her job at the then Department of Air at Russell.

"I worked back one night and nobody told me it was flooding rain," she said.

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"We got as far as the Mint and it was just water.  The taxi driver drove a bit further and said, 'Don't you get out of the car' - I had my foot ready - 'You'll float away'.

"So we had to sit and wait. It was pretty scary."

Gwen Lawless and a friend in early Canberra.

Gwen Lawless and a friend in early Canberra.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Gwen was born in Goulburn on March 24, 1924, even though her parents, Kathleen and William Vest, were living on the Glenloch property south of Mount Painter, in Canberra.

"Nobody knows why [I was born in Goulburn]. My mother used to travel to Sydney to visit her sisters. Maybe she got caught short coming back," Gwen said, with a laugh.

She used to ride in a sulky to the Weetangeera schoolhouse. Later, she had to board in Canberra to attend the Telopea Park and Canberra high schools.

"I had to board because I didn't have any way to get to high school every day," she said.

Gwen Lawless used to board with her relatives at Hobday's Cottage in Weston Park when she was going to school. It is now the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie .

Gwen Lawless used to board with her relatives at Hobday's Cottage in Weston Park when she was going to school. It is now the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie .Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Gwen boarded with her uncle and aunt at Hobday's cottage, what is now the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie in Weston Park. Her uncle was John Hobday was the chief gardener at the Yarralumla Nursery.

Gwen slept in the front room of the cottage, now part of the art gallery, with her cousin. She'd go back to Glenloch on the weekends.

"I would paddle across the river and mum and would meet me on the other side," she said.

Her grandfather Richard Vest worked as the top gardener at the Campbell property, now Government House.

Gwen left school to work at the Census office in the Jolimont building. She learnt shorthand and typing in Manuka.

An early photograph of Gwen Lawless' home on the Glenloch property in Canberra.

An early photograph of Gwen Lawless' home on the Glenloch property in Canberra.

"I used to learn ballroom dancing at the 'Y' and go to balls at the Albert Hall. That was fun," she said.

Gwen married Eric O'Sullivan and had three children: Maryanne, Bruce and Karen.

They divorced and she remarried, to Pat Lawless. The couple lived at Milton on the South Coast for 23 years and Gwen owned Lizzie's Boutique in Ulladulla.

They moved back to Canberra in 2004. She now has seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Gwen is honest when asked what she likes about her home town.

A photograph of the old Cotter Dam from Gwen Lawless' collection.

A photograph of the old Cotter Dam from Gwen Lawless' collection.

"Not much," she said, with a smile. "There's too many units. It was all right until a few years ago. It's too busy, too many cars, too many people.

"I think I lived in a good time."

She does still enjoy the Cotter and will be celebrating her birthday there. And her secret to a long life?

"Good people, family," she said.

"And a glass of wine," prompted her daughter Karen.

"Why not?" Gwen said, with a laugh.

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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