Why did the Whites come to Mount Wilson and why did they leave?
The White family owned Withycombe from 1921 until 1938. Throughout that time Patrick White and his family moved back and forth between Mt Wilson and Lulworth, the family home near Rushcutters Bay in Sydney.
White came to Mt Wilson during his Australian school holidays. He attended Cranbrook in Sydney's Bellevue Hill (1920- 1922), Tudor House, Moss Vale, in New South Wales (1922-1924) and Cheltenham, a secondary school in England (1925- 1929). Eventually, he went to Cambridge University (Kings College,1932-1935) where he studied French and German languages and literature.
The purchase and settlement of the Mt Wilson house for 2000 pounds was finalised in 1921 and the Whites arrived in December. The Whites were financially secure and were thus able to buy a residence on this "hill station" where they, as did other wealthy families, would escape Sydney's summer heat and humidity. They came too for the supposed relief that the mountain air provided for ailments such as asthma, from which Patrick suffered all his life.
In his autobiography, Flaws in the Glass, White recalls how in 1921 he fought with his sister and on one heated occasion, when she tore up his books, he "half-throttled" her leaving a swollen throat, which was quickly diagnosed as mumps. For his own safety the asthmatic Patrick was sent to stay with the Wynnes at Mt Wilson. As Richard and Mariamne were committed to visiting relatives in the Riverina, Patrick was left in the care of Matt and Flo Davies, their devoted English servants.
The White's house, originally called Beowang, was built by George Henry Cox, a wealthy pastoralist and sheepbreeder, in 1880, a short distance along the Avenue from Wynstay. Ruth White changed the house's name to Withycombe, her maiden name, because she disliked the name Beowang, an Aboriginal word referring to the local tree ferns. The garden Ruth cultivated in those early years, as with other early garden developments in Mt Wilson, used many exotic plants to create the look and feel of an English village. This included the removal of many tree ferns.
After graduating from Cambridge in 1935, White and his sister Suzanne travelled through Central Europe, but soon returned to London where Patrick was determined to make his mark as a playwright and novelist. Dick, Ruth and Suzanne returned to Australia in the northern autumn of 1935.
Dick White died in December 1937. In 1938 Ruth sold Withycombe to the Church of England (Sydney) for ten shillings. Archibishop Howard West Kilvinton Mowll and his wife were regular summer visitors to Withycombe and Woodstock. The London-based Patrick was unhappy with his mother's decision because he was keen to return to the Mt Wilson home at some stage. After the sale of Withycombe, Ruth White left Mt Wilson never to return, thus ending the White family's seventeen years in the mountain village.