Jenolan Caves

Miss Chisolm - Legacy of a Lovely Lady

June 3, 2020

Barbara Chisolm is third from left

At a London dock, on April 10 1913, Barbara Mary Chisolm boarded the Marathon, a ship of the Aberdeen Line. She was embarking on an adventure, to seek a life in faraway Australia, a world away from her hometown of Inverness.  A tall, thin girl, Barbara was only 23 and single.

photo of Barbara Chisolm

Trained as a ‘domestic’, Barbara immediately found work as a waitress. She waitressed at several places in Victoria, including the Saracen’s Hotel, Bourke Street, Melbourne and the McKenzies’s Hotel, Woodend, near Bendigo.

In 1930, at age 40, she obtained a waitressing position at Jenolan Caves House and, working hard, soon progressed her way up into supervisory roles. She must have found her niche, because she became one of Jenolan’s longest serving members of staff.

Legend associates her with Jenolan’s grand Dining Room.  When Barbara began at Caves House, the grand Dining Room was still new, completed only 4 years before, in 1926. The standard was ‘Silver Service’, and even Royalty had dined there. Barbara steadfastly upheld those standards for 29 years.

in 2001, fondly reminiscing about Barbara Chisolm, local Joan Harmon said, “She was a very tall and elegant Scotch lady. She was absolutely fantastic. If there was a tablecloth with one little peak lower than the rest….she was very…she was so good. She was a lovely lady.”

Miss Chisolm, as she is now remembered, is reputed to have always ensured that dining room staff were perfectly groomed and attired.  Joan said, “The waitresses were all in black dresses with white collars and, not a frilly apron but a nice apron and nice little cap. It just suited that dining room.  That was a lovely dining room she was a lovely lady.” We can only imagine the number of dining room staff that were trained by Miss Chisolm.

The headstone of Barbara ChisolmOn Jan 31, 1958, at age 69, Miss Chisolm died at Caves House. She had never married and had lived at Jenolan all those years.  The grand dining room was named Chisolm’s, in her honour.  It is said that she still keeps an eye on things and her spirit travels the rooms of Caves House, the dining room and corridor leading to her room. There are stories of table settings being changed during the night, and of curtains being mysteriously opened or closed.

The grand Dining Room in Caves House, now Chisolm’s Restaurant, was built in the fashionable Art Deco style. Lofty columns, high bay windows and imposing ceiling, deeply embossed with strong geometric patterns, made it clearly a place where important people dined. Everything was the highest quality. Today’s 21st century guests still enjoy all the refined ambience of those architectural features, which, along with a warm open fireplace, are still there. 

In Miss Chisolm’s day, Jenolan had a farm which supplied all its own vegetables, flowers and even prize-winning pigs. There was a slaughterhouse, and Caves House’s enormous kitchen even included its own butchery. Although the Jenolan farm is long gone, Mark Livingstone, Jenolan’s head chef carefully sources ingredients from the local region to create a modern Australian menu, often with a French twist.  Guests can treat themselves to hearty dishes such as ‘Braised Oberon lamb shank cassoulet with lamb sausage, garlic and haricots with warm house onion bread’. Like Miss Chisolm, Mark has a Scottish background and loves to present entrees like ‘Cullen Skink - Scottish smoked fish cream soup’.  Chisolm’s now also offers decadent High Tea, a dainty delight we think Miss Chisolm would have approved.

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Jenolan Caves Apps
4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911
Sydney Bucket List2011 Winner - Australian Tourism Awards

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