Glebe Town Hall: Week 204

Phia performing at Glebe Town Hall for High Tea: Sydney, Australia

For most people high tea is a sugar-filled, decadent afternoon treat. For Sydneysiders in the know, High Tea is also an invite-only folk music event that happens twice a month.

The musical headquarters is located inside a small loft in Surry Hills. The street-level entrance leads people through a graffiti-covered passage, up a few flights, and out onto a walkway that is curiously squeezed between two buildings. It’s a bit of an urban rabbit warren.

Because the venue is so intimate, it’s not always easy to get tickets. You have to follow the High Tea Crew Twitter account so you know exactly when the event list has opened. The event fee is payable at the door and, as always, a table covered with tea cups and hot kettles awaits guests at the entrance.

High Tea at Glebe Town Hall: Sydney, Australia

If the tea fails to excite, there is no charge to bring in your own bottle of wine. There aren’t a lot of chairs but there are plenty of cushions around the room. The lights are low, the candles drip, and the large art deco windows front a twinkling nighttime city landscape.

The only difference this time around was that for the season opener, High Tea was being held at Glebe Town Hall. This historic venue was built in 1880 and the main hall fits up to 200 hundred people, which is a lot larger than the loft in Surry Hills. Although the Town Hall lacked the quirky layout of the usual venue, the table of tea was still there and I suspect the program organizers spent a lot of time tracking down more cushions.

Glebe Town Hall: Sydney, Australia

High Tea kicked off with Phia- an Australian/German loop pedal and kalimba playing songstress. She was classically trained on the piano and is the first to admit her parents weren’t too happy when she first ditched all that training for the kalimba. Her boyfriend is the only other member of the band and is probably the most timid musician I have ever seen on stage. He looks a bit like a lost puppy- which I mean in the nicest way possible. It was the second time I’d seen them perform and I liked them even more than the last time.

The Maple Trail closed the program and as it got close to the end of their set, I lay down, closed my eyes, and listened to the music. The group sounded a lot like The Wallflowers and it reminded me about my childhood in Florida and the excitement of owning my first few CDs (which obviously included The Wallflowers).

While I’m guilty of enjoying a bit of nostalgia, I’m lucky enough to be simultaneously happy about the past and the present. And where I am- inside the Glebe Town Hall with friends and tea and wine and music- is pretty darn good.

About: High Tea

How to get to the Glebe Town Hall: 160 St Johns Road, Glebe NSW 2037

About: Phia

About: The Maple Trail

High Tea at Vaucluse House: Week 153

High Tea at Vaucluse House: Sydney, Australia

Vaucluse House is the former home of William Charles Wentworth, an Australian colonial barrister and politician. In 1827 Wentworth purchased the land and the single story cottage atop it from an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Hayes, who had been banished to Sydney for kidnapping an heiress and attempting to marry her by force.

Curiously enough, despite being sent to the ends of the earth, Sir Hayes had managed to get his hands on enough Irish peat to encircle his house to protect it from snakes. St Patrick had ‘so managed matters that no snake could live on or near Irish soil’.

Over the next five decades Wentworth and his family developed the property into one of the most charming harbor side estates that no upstanding citizen would set foot in.

Inside the servant's quarters of Vaucluse House: Syndey, Australia

Both William Wentworth and his wife Sarah were the children of convicts as well as, “part of a new generation of Australian-born colonists determined to break down the social and civil barriers that divided free settlers from the convict-stained.”

William was successful in this regard as he held important political positions and advocated for social issues like the right to trial by civilian juries. However, high society could not forgive Sarah for having her first two children out of wedlock. Even the Sydney Morning Herald put their two cents in:

Whenever a woman falls, she falls forever … She becomes as it were socially dead.

Ouch- and Wentworth had fought Governor Darling for freedom of the press.

Vaucluse House: Sydney, Australia. The flat wall on the right is where the front door was supposed to go.

In response to their lack of social status William never installed a front door (note the hedge in front of an off-color square wall) and the family spent a lot of time in Europe. Upon their return to Sydney in 1861, after having been in the presence of the Queen’s court, the Wentworths finally find a more welcoming high society. Too little too late? Nah, Sarah enthusiastically jumped into the very scene that had once resoundingly excluded her.

William died in England in 1872 and when his body arrived in Sydney, he received the first ever state funeral in New South Wales. Over 2,000 people attended his funeral and around 65,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession.

In 1923, this comment appeared in Freeman’s Journal: Much interest is being taken in the re-storing of this famous home, so that it will remain always for the people, and it will be to Australians what Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is to the American citizen.

Gluten free desserts at Vaucluse House tearoom: Sydney, Australia

By 2013, the grounds of the Vaucluse estate receive at least 60,000 visitors annually. Many of these guests flock to the garden tearoom that was added in the 1920s. The art deco windows overlook verdant landscaping and the linen-covered tables are piled high with tiered cake platters, flutes of sparkling wine, tea pots, clotted cream, and scones. There is even a gluten free option and it is just as decadent as its counterpart. See those passion fruit tarts with candied flowers above? Not a spec of gluten on that plate.

It’s a bit ironic how one’s popularity can pick up in death. I think if Sarah Wentworth had had gluten free options she would have had a lot more guests. And by guests I mean picky eaters with loose morals.

 How to get to Vaucluse House: Wentworth Road, Vaucluse NSW 2030

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