Formal studies in architecture, along with travels through Asia and Europe, furthered his interest in colonial buildings, domestic design, the relationship between architecture and landscape, and particularly the interpretation of the ephemeral, ever-changing lives of objects, places and people, that is possible in house museums. In Scott’s words, ‘understanding a historic house, an interior or landscape is for me a process of 'reverse‐designing', about taking the finished product and digging down to find the 'why': the reasons, the decisions and the myriad hidden influences that led to its creation’. He is the ‘Curator’ in the award-winning SLM blog The Cook and the Curator, and co-curated the Eat Your History: A Shared Table exhibition at the Museum of Sydney. Scott is also a contributing author to the Eat Your History: stories and recipes from Australian kitchens book.
Storyteller, architect, gardener, chicken whisperer – Dr Scott Hill brings diverse talents, and boundless enthusiasm, to his role caring for and interpreting our properties.
As a young boy growing up in Sydney with bushland on his doorstep, Scott loved building his own ‘ruins’ using rocks and twigs, and making up stories about their imaginary inhabitants. Today, Dr Scott Hill is a curator based at Rouse Hill Estate, Meroogal and Elizabeth Farm.
It seems that a love affair with buildings and their surrounds was in his blood: ‘My ancestors include roof slaters and Yorkshire quarrymen. My father was a builder who designed and built a Spanish mission-style house. It had courtyards and open spaces that blended beautifully with the natural environment’.
Scott also recalls a picture he drew for his grandmother at a very young age: ‘It was an architectural section through a shopping centre, complete with escalators, stores and shoppers. To this day I have a fascination with how people relate spatially to buildings, and the stories born out of that relationship’. Not surprisingly, he went on to study architecture at the University of Sydney.
Then there was what Scott calls his sliding doors moment: ‘Our design class was visiting Mount Annan [in Sydney’s south-west] when Jane, one of the group, invited us back to her house for coffee’. The house was Camden Park, a grand home built in 1835 for John and Elizabeth Macarthur. ‘This was a life-changing moment for me. As Jane threw open the doors of the various rooms I was astonished – not only by the series of extraordinary spaces but at trying to comprehend the people and events that had breathed life into the rooms. It imprinted on me a lesson: that historic houses were built to be lived in, and they must be understood in that context.’
Soon, Scott was leading tours at Camden Park. His journey with SLM began when he visited Vaucluse House for a garden tour, to compare it with those he was leading. He heard that a guiding position was available, applied … and the rest is history. Scott eventually became assistant curator at Elizabeth Bay House and Vaucluse House, and then curator, and has recently celebrated 20 years with SLM.
Scott loves all three properties that form the Western Sydney portfolio: ‘Each is so unique in its approaches and challenges – and its quirks. Much of the past year has been dominated by Rouse Hill Estate, where a major conservation project is underway in the woolshed. I’ve also been researching the Sherwood family, estate tenants whose story provides a very different perspective on what life was like on this complex property’. (Incidentally, Scott is also the resident chicken whisperer at the estate, where Maureen and Jolene can often be seen perched on his shoulder.)
Does he have a favourite property? ‘There’s no denying that I have a soft spot for Elizabeth Farm. My PhD was on John Macarthur and his passion for building.1 It examined the design process that started at Elizabeth Farm and culminated in Camden Park – the same house where an afternoon coffee would define my career.’
There are many wonderful stories to discover and share, and Scott does this via a range of platforms, including Unlocked magazine and SLM’s website, social media channels, blogs, talks, tours and learning programs.
Scott’s background in architecture has been instrumental to his approach to curating: ‘In architecture you start with the brief and concept, and then go forward until you have the finished building. To me, curating a historic house is the same process but in reverse: you have the finished house and you need to work backwards to discover the “why”, all the reasons and processes, deliberate and random, that led to a house, a garden, a landscape’.
Scott is acutely aware of the intricacies and multifaceted layers that form the history of a home and appreciates that even the smallest details have a role to play: ‘My favourite moment is sitting on the eastern verandah at Elizabeth Farm on a late summer afternoon and watching the light subtly dance on the green tented roof. It’s simply magical’.