21 April 2022

The story of 'The Magpie Lady' and the buttons that became her legacy

| Edwina Mason
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Button collection

The late Jackie Fox of Cooma wanted to see her button collection cared for by the volunteer curators at the Pioneer Women’s Hut in Tumbarumba. The collection now has its own purpose-built building. Photo: Pioneer Women’s Hut, Tumbarumba.

Jackie Fox was a prolific button collector. In her hometown of Cooma she was known affectionately as The Magpie Lady – a nickname that has led her family to wear magpie pins on special occasions in her memory.

One such occasion was the recent opening of a small new building amid natural bushland in Glenroy Heritage Reserve, outside Tumbarumba.

The Button Hut – a hexagonally-shaped building that from above, with its strategically placed skylights, resembles a button – is now home to the Jackie Fox Button Collection.

It sits beside the town’s Pioneer Women’s Hut; a building dedicated to showcasing the domestic lives of Australia’s homemakers and regarded as one of the best and most unusual small museums in Australia.

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Run by four volunteer curators, the museum has constantly evolving displays ranging from patchwork and embroidery to various homewares that demonstrate the ingenuity of women living in rural and regional Australia before and after European settlement.

Now the legacy of one beloved Cooma citizen has journeyed across the Snowy Mountains to make this little spot home to the only purpose-built button display in Australia.

Before she died in December 2017, Mrs Fox had donated the buttons to the Pioneer Women’s Hut knowing they would be displayed for everyone to enjoy.

The idea to build a dedicated space to house the collection was hatched by Pioneer Women’s Hut foundation member Anne Thoroughgood and volunteer Neil Christie after first viewing Mrs Fox’s collection in Cooma.

Almost five years to the day since that viewing the building opened in March, thanks to tireless fundraising efforts that raised $40,000, most of which came from $5 voluntary donations from the Pioneer Women’s Hut and a generous $5000 grant from Hyne Timber Community Trust.

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The 74-panel collection of 400 buttons lovingly sewn onto period-appropriate materials dates back to the Victorian era and concludes in the early 1960s.

They are a national monument to one person’s dedicated efforts to scour, source and preserve hundreds of buttons that tell stories of decades of Australia’s textile history.

“The collection is quite unique and is a closed collection – which means the Jackie Fox Button Collection will always be a dedicated exhibit,” volunteer curator Jill Taylor said.

“In fact, I think the Button Hut itself is unique in that I don’t believe there’s any other stand-alone button collection like this in Australia.

“It’s turned out beautifully, the whole family were there for the opening and they said that Jackie would have loved it.”

Jackie Fox with her button collection

The late Jackie Fox with her collection of buttons circa 2011. Photo: Pioneer Women’s Hut, Tumbarumba.

Jill said she didn’t think there were any particularly rare buttons in the collection – the attraction was in the story of its genesis.

“Our focus is always on the story of the collection but Jackie was a researcher, too, so she’s got stories of the buttons and where they were found,” Jill said.

Many of the buttons came in the form of button boxes donated by Cooma locals, some of which are also on display, which Jill said seems always to trigger memories for visitors.

“There are always little treasures in button boxes,” she said. “It’s never just buttons; there’s a coin or a hairpin or something in there.”

Jackie Fox's Button Collection

Volunteer curator Jill Taylor said The Jackie Fox Button Collection is “astonishingly diverse”. Photo: Pioneer Women’s Hut, Tumbarumba.

Over the long winter in 2019 that Jill and Anne examined and categorised the buttons into different groups, they were never able to pick a favourite – it would change with each new discovery.

And while she did have a soft spot for the natural shell buttons now housed in a gilt frame, Jill said the range was astonishingly diverse and even some of the materials they’re sewn onto come with their own tales.

“The plastics are really amazing – because they’re from the 1930s to the 1960s – so there are lots of little children’s buttons that are so much fun and have so much character,” she said.

“One of Jackie’s daughters came in and said ‘that’s the fabric from my formal dress’, another used fabric from a mother-of-the-bride dress and another from the going-away outfit from another wedding.”

The Pioneer Women’s Hut, the Button Hut and Glenroy Cottage Crafts are open on Wednesdays from 11 am to 4 pm and Saturday, Sunday and most public holidays from 10 am to 4 pm. Group tours can be arranged any day of the week.

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Margaret Carpenter2:19 pm 29 Apr 22

The Display made you think of all the designing, tooling required prior to manufacture prior to enhancing a garment. Great display.

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