What’s your story?
Amanda Mackevicius describes herself as a “professional sticky beak” who has always been interested in other people’s stories. Working from a 200 year old barn on the historic Throsby Park Estate in Moss Vale, she is in demand as a writer of the histories of people, families and properties in regional Australia.
As she shuffled papers and searched websites from her kitchen table at home, Amanda Mackevicius would dream of working in an old, ivy-covered barn. Then, one day about two years ago, her husband Ashley showed her images of the barn at Throsby Park he had been commissioned to photograph.
“I started hyperventilating when I saw the photos,” Amanda recalls with her eyes shining. “It was exactly what I’d been dreaming of. I called up the real estate agent immediately and was lucky enough to get the lease.”
The barn sits on the edge of Throsby Park, which is named for Charles Throsby who led the first European expeditions into what we now call The Southern Highlands. Throsby’s positive reports to Governor Macquarie resulted in the first European settlements and roads in the region – and in 1819 Throsby was granted 1,000 acres in appreciation of his services to the colony of New South Wales.
The barn from which Mackevicius works was originally built in 1828 and renovated in the late 1960s by the energetic artist and architectural heritage campaigner, Rachel Roxburgh.
“It’s the most beautiful place to work and a wonderful creative space,” she says.
Mackevicius’ work combines two of her passions – genealogy and writing. She joined the Australian Society of Genealogists when she was just 17 years old and worked in her family’s genealogy and asset recovery business for 11 years. She also graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Communications/Public Relations degree.
Mackevicius has worked as a journalist and assisted with the research and editing of the comprehensive 400,000 word autobiography of Sir Asher Joel, KBE (an Australian who had a distinguished career in journalism and public relations before serving as a member of the NSW Legislative Council for 20 years). The manuscript is held in the NSW State Library and can viewed in the library or online.
Most of her clients, however, begin with more modest requests.
“I am usually contacted by people who know very little about their family history, but they are thinking about what they can leave their family. Their legacy. They will ask me to do some research and when I do “the reveal”, when I present the research to them, I know I’ve done a good job if they cry. And they usually do! Because I am giving them something that is very personal.”
After presentation of the initial report, her clients often want more.
“They ask me to keep going, to keep digging, and when we compile enough material they might want to record it in a book for the family. It isn’t economic for mainstream publishers to produce family histories or autobiographies with small print runs, but the advances in ‘print on demand’ technology mean you can produce a beautiful bespoke book for a fraction of the price of what it used to cost.”
She works closely with other genealogists, designers, editors and photographers to produce her family reports and books.
One of Mackevicius’ largest projects was Waugoola to Woodstock, a book documenting the history of Waugoola homestead and the nearby town of Woodstock in the Central West region of New South Wales. It was commissioned by Peter Allen, the former Chief Executive Officer of Scentre Group, who purchased Waugoola in 2013 and thought it was important to record the history of the property. Waugoola was previously home to five generations of the Whitney family who, with other partners, bought the legendary Cobb & Co stagecoach business in 1861. Originally more than 17,000 acres, Waugoola was renowned for its Merino wool and employed about 50 people until 1944.
Mackevicius is currently working on a history of Bective, formerly known as Bubbogullion, a cattle property on the Peel River near Tamworth which was established by Robert Pringle in the 1840s and has been owned by five generations of the Vickery family since 1890. She is currently harvesting stories for this project and would love to hear from anyone with a connection to the property.
Amanda grew up in Sydney and moved to The Southern Highlands in 2000.
“I had fallen in love with the country when I was studying for my degree at Bathurst,” she says. “My husband and I went to a friend’s wedding in Sutton Forest and we thought it was so beautiful. Ashley turned to me and said: ‘What do you think about moving down here?’ And I said ‘yes’ straight away.”
After looking at about 80 houses over eight months, Amanda and Ashley bought a house on 1 1/3 acres in Moss Vale. They had a one year old son when they moved and then a daughter was born a couple of years later.
“In those days Moss Vale was considered ‘The Badlands’ of the Highlands,” she says. “People used to call it Most Vile.”
Ashley initially commuted to Sydney during the week for work while Amanda worked on publishing projects including Australia’s Best Spas and Australia’s Best Spas and Retreats. She also started a small business called Aromadough.
“I hated the smell of commercial play dough, so I made a similar product with natural colours and infused it with essential oils and sold it at markets and to local kindergartens. Different oils have different properties – lavender helps calm your child and rose encourages a loving nature.”
Having lived in the Highlands for over two decades, and raised two children here, Mackevicius has established strong connections with the community. She has been a volunteer guide at the National Trust (NSW) property Harper’s Mansion in Berrima for a decade and she is currently working on a book celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Oxley College in Bowral.
For more information about Amanda and her work visit mygenealogy.com.au
Michael is the Gallery Manager at Michael Reid Southern Highlands and, like Amanda Mackevicius, has long been interested in other people's stories.
Ashley discovered photography at the age of 15, which proved to be a lifeline for the academically challenged son of Lithuanian migrants. He has had a long, successful and award winning career, but will charge a special penalty rate if he is ever commissioned to photograph his wife again.