The Society acknowledges the traditional owners of the Irwin Districts, their continuing connection to land, sea and community and pays its respects to elders and their cultures, past and present.

Russ Cottage

Russ Cottage is a house museum, set out to recreate a late 19th century worker’s cottage. It contains items donated by the Russ family as well as other items relating to the Irwin Districts.

Russ Cottage was built about 1869 and was purchased by the Shire of Irwin from the Russ family 100 years later. The cottage was leased to the Irwin District Historical Society for the purpose of establishing an historic cottage representative of the district. 

You can visit the Russ Cottage Rooms here

Russ Cottage in a derelict state, 1970 (IRME0859)
Volunteers undertook extensive restoration of the derelict structure. The interior was furnished with items donated by descendants of the Russ and other families who had moved into the district in the mid to late 1800s.

Locally born Sir David Brand KCMG, MLA , the State Premier, officially opened the historic cottage on 23 January 1971.

Russ Cottage Opening – 1971 (IRME0926)

History of the Site

The first European credited with traversing the Irwin District was Lt. George Grey. In 1839, having been shipwrecked at Gantheaume Bay (Kalbarri) he and his exploration party were forced to walk the 700 km to the Swan River Settlement (Perth).

Russ Cottage site map showing the cottage, shop and market garden

The Irwin district was opened to graziers in 1851 and The Cattle Company took up leases in the Upper Irwin. In 1852 tillage leases and the townsite of Dongarra were surveyed.

The Russ Family
The First Generation

Titus Russ arrived in the colony in 1853, as a twelve year old, with his father Absolom, mother Clementina and younger brother Absolom. He moved to Dongarra in about 1860 as an employee of Edward Hamersley, a partner in The Cattle Company. Titus married Caroline Smith Wintle in 1864. He squatted and built the cottage 1868-1870 on land owned by Hamersley. He is reputed to have carted the limestone in a wheelbarrow from a quarry about half a kilometre from the site. The estimated quantity of stone used is over 50 tonnes
The original roof was shingled with sheoak, the shingles were all cut by hand. The two front floors were timber and the back rooms were dirt floors, but the kitchen floor is compressed anthill, which when polished makes a very durable surface.
In 1874 Titus died, leaving Caroline a widow with 4 small children. There had been 5 children born to the couple, but baby Absolum had died aged 7 days. 

Russ siblings in front of Russ Cottage c1893 (IRME0409)

Caroline Russ married again, to James Waterson Johnson in 1878, who was a schoolteacher and secretary of the Irwin Road Board.

The Russ Family
The Second Generation

The house was left too Robert Russ, the fourth of Titus and Caroline’s children. 

Robert married Sarah Plester and with 4 children lived here all his life.

Marriage of Robert Russ & Sarah Plester 1913
Back Row: Rueben Plester, Robert Russ, Lillian Rhodes, Alfred Plester, May Plester. 
Front Row: Sarah Plester, Jane Plester

Robert Russ conducted a very successful market garden and his produce was railed as far as Kalgoorlie.

Pumpkin Harvest

Picking Peas

Robert with his banana plants

A small single- room corrugated iron building stood at the front of the site, which the Russ family operated as a newsagent and tobacconists. Its final use was a bootmaker’s shop when the Russ’s leased it to Alf Edwards in about 1950.

The cottage continued to be the home of the Russ family until early 1960, three generations having lived in the cottage.

You can visit the Russ Cottage Rooms here

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