Shut to visitors and volunteers for four months, a new resident has been stirring up dust behind closed doors at the oldest building in the Blue Mountains.
New property co-ordinator Annie Stevens has spent lockdown ensuring critical maintenance of colonial-era Woodford Academy and its historic National Trust-owned collection continued and developing an innovative curatorial plan in collaboration with the volunteer management committee.
The central Mountains property was forced to close just days before its popular annual Harvest Festival in March because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Fortuitously, the National Trust had appointed Ms Stevens to the role of the museum’s first dedicated property co-ordinator just one month prior.
The property had been managed by volunteers since the National Trust opened it to the public in the 1990s.
Woodford Academy Management Committee chairperson Elizabeth Burgess said Ms Stevens’ appointment by the National Trust was a significant step towards ensuring the sustainability of the multi award-winning museum.
“We were thrilled to welcome Annie to our dedicated team. At the time we had no idea what a tumultuous year 2020 was going to be and, in hindsight, Annie’s appointment could not have been more timely.’’
A Blue Mountains resident for the past five years, Ms Stevens has 17 years’ experience working in museums and heritage sites, including the lead curatorial role on the development of several exhibitions at the Museum of Sydney.
With a Bachelor of Arts (History) and a Master of Arts (Museum Studies), Ms Stevens has experience in conservation, maintenance and management of historic collections. This year she is also undertaking a Masters of Heritage Conservation at the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at Sydney University.
While Woodford Academy has been closed, Ms Stevens has ensured that critical maintenance of the museum and its historic collection continued and has developed an innovative curatorial plan in collaboration with the management committee.
“I am passionate about providing positive visitor experiences, crafting compelling stories and embracing new technologies to engage visitors with history in unique and meaningful ways,’’ Ms Stevens said.
“Legibly curating and interpreting the complex multi-layered history of this important heritage site and its unique collection is an exciting challenge.’’
The four-stage curatorial plan will be incrementally implemented over the next year and include engaging local creatives and artists to produce new interpretive displays.
Several projects identified in Stage 1 have already begun with help from a National Trust Women’s Committee donation, including custom-designed display units by Woodford-based furniture designer/maker Georgina Donovan and a replica of the Woodford Academy football cap by former artist-in-residence Christine’s Millinery.
“The curatorial plan became our lockdown project while the museum was closed, but it was only possible because of Annie’s expertise,’’ Ms Burgess said.
“We see Annie’s museum curation as a much-needed positive step, not only for this heritage property and the morale of our dedicated volunteers, but also for the wider Blue Mountains community as we recover from the devastating 2019-20 bushfires and the pandemic.
“We can’t wait to share the improvements Annie has already implemented during the shutdown including revitalising existing displays, and new interpretative signage and new displays with the community when we re-open the museum.’’
The National Trust (NSW) re-opened a selection of its properties on July 3 including Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge and Everglades Historic House and Gardens at Leura with revised terms and conditions of entry such as pre-booking timed entry tickets. Details.
Woodford Academy is expected to re-open in the next few months, pandemic permitting.
In the meantime, Ms Burgess invited people working from home and looking for extra workspace to consider a tenancy lease at Woodford Academy. Details: Belle Property, Leura
Today owned by the National Trust, Thomas Pembroke was given the original land grant to establish a roadside inn at the Woodford Academy site in 1831.
Since then, the Woodford Academy property has operated as one of the first guesthouses in the Mountains and a Victorian-era country retreat for wealthy Sydney merchant Alfred Fairfax, who expanded the property to a 90-acre estate.
Distinguished scholar John McManamey leased the property in 1907 and operated an exclusive school – Woodford Academy for Boys – until 1925, then a co-educational day school from 1929 to 1936.
After his death in 1946, McManamey’s daughters Jessie and Gertrude lived on in the building.
Jessie died in 1972, and Gertrude, who bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1979 and lived there until 1986, died in 1988.
Today, the property offers a unique glimpse into colonial life in the Blue Mountains as well as an insight into the modern Blue Mountains community through interpretive displays, artist residencies and site-specific arts events organised by the volunteer management committee which cares for the site.
All proceeds from Woodford Academy events directly contribute to the conservation of the property.
About the National Trust (NSW)
The National Trust is Australia’s oldest and largest independent conservation organisation founded in 1945 in New South Wales by Annie Forsyth Wyatt. Collectively the National Trust in Australia owns or manages over 300 built and natural heritage places (the majority held in perpetuity), is supported by 7,000 volunteers and employs more than 300 people nationwide.
The National Trust (NSW) is committed to engaging the community to celebrate and conserve heritage places and collections through events and education. With the support of our members, volunteers and dedicated staff and partners, we advocate on the protection of historical and naturally significant places and collections to ensure their preservation for future generations.
By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
Celebrate the simplicity, subtlety and emptiness of “white’’ when the richly designed and furnished Everglades Historic House & Gardens, Leura, holds a luminous twilight soiree to launch the White Exhibition on November 11.
Featuring three Blue Mountains artists (James Gordon, Julie Martin and Helen Sturgess), exhibition curator and art consultant Louise Abbott of iArt has based the exhibition around the White book by Japanese designer and curator Kenya Hara, the art director of Muji since 2001 who designed the opening and closing ceremony programs of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games 1998.
In his book Designing Design, Hara elaborates on the importance of “emptiness’’ in the visual and philosophical traditions of Japan and its application to design.
“In summary, `white’ symbolises simplicity and subtlety,’’ Abbott said.
“Hara attempts to explore the essence of `white’, which he sees as being closely related to the origin of Japanese aesthetics. The central concepts discussed by Hara are emptiness and the absolute void. He also sees his work as a designer as a form of communication. Good communication has the distinction of being able to listen to each other, rather than to press one’s opinion onto the opponent.’’
Hara compares that form of communication with an empty container.
“In visual communication there are equally signals whose signification is limited as well as signals or symbols such as the cross or the red circle on the Japanese flag which, like an empty container, permit every signification and do not limit imagination,’’ Abbott said.
“The Japanese character for white also forms a radical of the character for emptiness. Therefore, we can closely associate the colour white with emptiness.’’
Launched with a White soiree, the exhibition will be held in the magnificent 1930s art deco Everglades House set amid spectacular gardens, formal terraces and overlooking sweeping views of the Jamison Valley.
Dressed in white, guests will be served a selection of canapes and locally-produced drinks sponsored by Dryridge Estate, while floral arrangements will be provided by Floral Ink and musical duo Rachel Hannan and John Stuart will set the tone with smooth grooves.
All the artworks will be white-themed.
Everglades manager Guy McIlrath said: “With its progressive ideas and stark philosophies, the White exhibition is as avant garde as the property itself.
“The soiree event will be a reminder of Everglades in its heyday when you can imagine beautiful people floating around the gardens in beautiful clothes on summer evenings.
“In November the evenings are balmy, cool breezes and summer scents float through the trees and the formal ponds help cool the air, so it will be a very dreamy atmosphere.’’
The White exhibition official opening soiree event will be held at Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, from 5pm to 8pm on Saturday, November 11. Tickets: $55pp, $50pp National Trust members. Bookings essential: 0467 332 591 or 0410 312 827 or email email@example.com (please dress in white).
The exhibition will be displayed in the main house for a month thereafter. Everglades is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free.
Contact: (02) 4784 1938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Everglades Historic House & Gardens is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens
Everglades Historic House & Gardens will provoke and challenge environmental change by opening its closet to a secret stash of exotic animals in June.
The Wunderkammer exhibition of ethically-sourced taxidermied animals by artist Rod McRae will be displayed at the Leura landmark from June 10 to August 27 (11am to 3pm), with one of the exhibits to be displayed at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath.
Wunderkammer, which means “closet of secrets’’, has been on the regional art gallery circuit since 2013 and consists of 15 portals into what was, what is and what could be.
Each work explores an animal “issue’’ using real preserved animal bodies (taxidermy) to tell their stories including trophy hunting, displacement, poisoning.
A polar bear teeters on a refrigerator, a zebra is in a shipping crate on which is written a “shopping list’’ of animals available for hunt, there are penguin skeletons alongside shards of plastic and a list of harmful chemicals, a faceless baboon holding a mirror towards its head and the king of the jungle playing on a bed – with a chain around its neck.
However, no animal was harmed to make the artwork. The skins were the result of death by natural causes, medical euthanasia, hunting, culling and food production and had been traded on, sometimes multiple times before they became part of Wunderkammer. The skin of the baboon is a by-product of trophy taking.
McRae aimed to provoke thought, discussion and, ultimately, change through the sometimes hideous displays.
“I would like to believe that art can make a difference,’’ he said.
“Using the real thing creates art that is both authentic and empathetic. I argue that sculptures of animals rendered in resin, plastic, stone, wood or metal cannot speak as directly to us as the real animal.
“Each work touches on a different aspect of the human-animal relationship including biodiversity, pollution, climate change, conservation and stewardship. Each work asks us to examine our responsibilities as fellow travellers on this planet.’’
A floor talk will be given at the official opening on June 10 by a curator from the Western Plains Cultural Centre. Then, on June 24, Everglades will be hosting a faux fur luncheon with Rod McRae giving another floor talk.
Everglades manager Scott Pollock said: “This exhibition is an opportunity to meet these exotic creatures up close in ways we could never do while they are alive.
“While this exhibition is provocative and even confronting, our environment surrounding us here in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area with its vast wilderness of rare, unknown and thought-to-be-extinct plant and animal species demands that we give it consideration.’’
The art deco-style of the 1930s property and squash court building which is now used as the gallery is an apt venue to showcase the unusual.
“Visitors already expect the unexpected at Everglades. We have a manmade waterfall and bathing pond, exotic landscaped gardens amongst the native bushland, unusual columns, niches and drystone walls and live Shakespeare productions, so coming across a zebra in the a squash court or Polar bear wrapped around a refrigerator won’t be too extraordinary.”
“The exhibition is very Blue Mountains of the 1930s and the local community is very comfortable with the concepts of it today actually.’’
Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free.
Contact: : (02) 4784 1938 or email email@example.com.
The works included in Wunderkammer are managed by the Western Plains Cultural Centre, a facility of Dubbo Regional Council.
Rod McRae began his visual journey as a children’s book author illustrator in the 1980s producing more than 50 books.
In the `90s he experimented with photography and was twice a finalist in the Blake Prize for Religious Art.
Since 2008, McRae has explored sculpture and installation art concentrating on conservation and human-animal themes and has been a finalist in several art prizes including the Wynne Prize for Australian landscape/figurative sculpture, Fishers Ghost Art Prize and Sculpture by the Sea.
Wunderkammer is McRae’s first travelling show. It has been on the regional art gallery circuit since 2013.
* Everglades Historic House & Gardens is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Lithgow Tourism Photos: David Hill
Dreadful Draculas, grisly genies, creepy clowns and terrible trolls will mingle with loveable fairytale characters, superheroes, goblins and fairies when Lithgow hosts Australia’s largest Halloween celebration on October 29.
Organised and hosted by Lithgow City Council, with support from local sponsors including Lithgow McDonald’s, Centennial Coal, Energy Australia, Village Voice and Lithgow Workies, Lithgow Halloween `16 will again feature spectacular Vivid-style lighting displays and spooky decorations.
The main shopping area will be transformed into a fun-filled pedestrian zone with themed precincts, non-stop entertainment, Australia’s biggest Trick or Treat for children and a public Thriller dance-off lead by internationally renowned Michael Jackson impersonator Jason Jackson.
Lithgow City Council Tourism Manager Kellie Barrow encouraged everyone to join the hocus pocus in costume: “Costumes don’t have to be scary and they don’t have to be expensive. In fact, one of the favourite characters with kids in the past has been a local lady who dresses as Snow White and I suspect there will be quite a few interpretations of Michael Jackson this year to go along with the Thriller theme.
“Many of our shops in the CBD are stocked with affordable costume items and shops are beginning to install their window displays so there’s plenty of inspiration in town.
“Lithgow has earned itself quite a reputation for costume parties, and we don’t do anything by halves – we have whole families coming in character. Even our mayor and local MP Paul Toole have traditionally thrown themselves into the spirit of the occasion and are unrecognisable.’’
Lithgow Halloween `16 will include something for everyone, with a range of free community events in public spaces through to ticketed events at private venues.
Ms Barrow recommended visitors stay overnight in the area to fully explore the surprisingly diverse range of scenery, dining options and activities available in Lithgow and surrounds including the Back to Hartley event at Hartley Historic Site on the way to Sydney on Sunday, October 30.
Go to www.halloween.lithgow.com for more information and Jason Jackson’s Thriller tutorial video to practice the dance before the record-breaking event.
- Lithgow Tourism is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity
By Ellen Hill for Deep Hill Media Photo: David Hill
A photographic exhibition at Woodford Academy, a National Trust property, in September will lay bare the soul of the oldest collection buildings in the Blue Mountains, revealing the colourful history which played out on the property.
The collection of black and white images by Blue Mountains photojournalist David Hill gives a revealing interpretation of the collection of buildings which makes up Woodford Academy in the mid-mountains village.
Based at Springwood, Mr Hill is a former newspaper photojournalist with a unique eye for poignant architectural, human and landscape portraiture.
“I’m always in search of depth and soul and try to make an emotional connection beyond the superficial with every subject, whether it be food on a plate, a person with a story to tell, light on a landscape or an architectural work like Woodford Academy,’’ he said.
“Life is a continuous stream of fleeting nuances and it’s a constant challenge to capture as many as I can.
“The use of black and white photography to capture the essence of Woodford Academy made sense for me because the land and the buildings have a complex past, influenced by so many events and characters and black and white printing tends to show more subtlety and tone without the distraction of colour.
“Hopefully my interpretation of Woodford Academy reflects the many shades of grey between the contrasting black and white tones.’’
Mr Hill also photographed the property at night to capture another dimension of its character.
“The pop of the streetlight and the slick new highway running next to this stoic sandstone old timer is such a juxtaposition yet is so in keeping with how our modern community lives alongside and within such tangible reminders of the past.
“Woodford Academy is not just a few old buildings on the side of the highway – it is a living entity that has a story to tell and a relevance to us today, and the volunteer management committee is doing an excellent job in ensuring that story is told and exploring ways in which to realise that relevance locally and nationally.’’
Woodford Academy Management Committee deputy chair Elizabeth Burgess said: “We were fortunate to have David Hill photograph the Academy a few years ago. The committee was overwhelmed by the beauty of David’s striking, highly detailed black and white photographs.
“We are greatly looking forward to presenting these stunning photographs of the Blue Mountains oldest building for our September open days in conjunction with the annual Hazelbrook/Woodford Garden Festival.’’
Shades of Woodford Academy will be on display at Woodford Academy, 90-92 Great Western Hwy, Woodford (on street parking available on Woodford Ave), from 10am to 4pm Saturday, September 10 and 17, and 12pm to 4pm Sunday, September 11 and 18. Meet photojournalist David Hill from 1pm – 2pm on Saturday, September 10. Photographs included in the exhibition will be for sale each Saturday.
Museum/exhibition entry: $6 adult, $4 concession, $15 family (2 adults, 2 children). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
By Ellen Hill for Hartley Historic Site Photos: David Hill
New upmarket accommodation at the gateway to the NSW Central West gives visitors the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in Australia’s colonial past.
Surrounded by pastures, heritage orchards, cottage gardens and charming sandstone buildings, the St Bernard’s Presbytery and Old Trahlee properties at Hartley Historic Site will open for bookings from June.
Managed by the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) since 1972 under the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, the buildings are among the collection of 17 historic structures at the site.
Hartley Historic Site manager Steve Ring said: “Visitors to the site can already catch a glimpse into colonial Australian life during the day. Now they can soak up the full experience overnight.’’
“These are not just pleasant rooms in a nice but generic hotel. Like all NPWS accommodation experiences throughout the state, we have used unique antique knick-knacks and quality furnishings to complement the special character of both properties.’’
Set on the side of a hill overlooking the picturesque village, St Bernard’s Presbytery accommodates up to four people in one twin and one double bedroom. It has a full kitchen, spa bathroom, dining room and living room for guest use.
The presbytery building is believed to have been built about 1860 and used as the home of the resident priest to St Bernard’s Catholic Church next door until the mid-1880s, after which it was leased by local families until coming under NPWS management in 1972 and used as a visitor centre until the mid-1980s.
“Just imagine sitting on the verandah with a glass of exceptional regional wine watching the sandstone of the buildings in the foreground and the Blue Mountains escarpment in the distance light up at sunset,’’ Mr Ring said.
“In winter, what better way to end a day exploring the region than with a hot drink in front of a roaring fire?’’
While St Bernard’s Presbytery would be ideal for couples seeking a romantic retreat, the Old Trahlee property is best suited to families.
Built between 1846 and 1854 by John and Mary Finn, Old Trahlee accommodates six people in two double rooms and another with bunk beds.
There is also a baby’s cot in a separate room and standard wheelchair access to half the property including the kitchen, ambulant bathroom and one of the double bedrooms.
While at Hartley Historic Site, guests can take a self-guided tour of the Hartley Courthouse and St Bernard’s Catholic Church, browse affordable Aboriginal art at the Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery, stroll along the Kew-Y-Ahn Bell Rock Heritage Trail, have refreshments at the Old Post Office Café and visit Talisman Gallery showcasing Ron Fitzpatrick’s metal art.
Mr Ring also encouraged visitors to explore the wider region: “If you’re coming from Sydney, travel up the Great Western Highway and see the Blue Mountains, spend time with us, then drive into Lithgow and head home via the Bells Line of Road through the Hawkesbury to experience the World Heritage Area from a very different perspective.’’
St Bernard’s Presbytery ($390 per night, minimum two-night stay on weekends) and Old Trahlee ($280 per night, minimum two-night stay on weekends) are located at Hartley Historic Site, Old Bathurst Rd (just off Great Western Hwy), Hartley. Bookings: (02) 6355 2117 or www.bluemountainsgetaways.com.
Go to lithgowtourism.com, bluemountainscitytourism.com.au or visitnsw.com.au for information about dining options and activities in the region.
- Hartley Historic Site is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity
By Ellen Hill for Hartley Historic Site Photos: David Hill
The only dedicated indigenous art gallery in the NSW Central West showcases the evolution of art from the ancient culture to convict Australia and then to modern Aboriginal talent.
The Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery was opened by then NSW Governor Professor Dame Marie Bashir AC CVO in June 2013 at Hartley Historic Site east of Lithgow.
A partnership between Arts OutWest, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the OEH Heritage Division, the gallery features work by Aboriginal painters, weavers, designers, jewellers and photographers.
Hartley Historic Site manager Steve Ring said the gallery aimed to forge new relationships with the Aboriginal community of the region including the Wiradjuri people without being a strictly tribal gallery.
“Any person living in the NSW Central West who identifies as Aboriginal and is recognised by the Aboriginal community as such, may exhibit work in the gallery.
“The idea of the gallery is to give Aboriginal artists the opportunity to grow into commercial artists: we deal with them on a commercial basis like any other commercial art gallery.
“It also provides us with a commercial link with the indigenous history of Hartley and the Aboriginal people who still live in this area.’’
Visitors to Hartley Historic Site can snap up affordable artworks from $3 bookmarks in Aboriginal colours; leather, bead and seed bracelets, hair wraps and leather cuffs; to artworks, paintings and photographs priced up to $650 by artists such as Scott McMillan, Peter Shillingsworth, Jaycent Davis, Tamara Leggett, Claudette Elliott, Tirikee, Tony Lonsdale and Nicole Trudgett.
The gallery is located in the old Farmers Inn building at Hartley Historic Site, one of the best examples of colonial Australia with 17 buildings of historic significance from the 1837 Greek Revival courthouse to Corneys Garage built in 1945 of timber and iron.
The village was declared an historic site under the management of NPWS in 1972.
“Visitors can actually experience the evolution of art at the site from the crude convict scratchings in the cells in the old court house to the quality artworks exhibited in the Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery, which we like to say were 40,000 years in the making,’’ Mr Ring said.
One artwork has been part of the building for at least 120 years before the art gallery standard LED lighting and hanging wires were installed. Before the inn closed in 1895, an itinerant traveller painted a picture of a cockatoo on a wall of the inn in return for a free feed.
In fact, art lovers can immerse themselves in art at the popular heritage attraction with a stroll along the Kew-Y-Ahn Bell Rock Heritage Trail and Talisman Gallery showcasing the metal art of Ron Fitzpatrick in the old woolshed behind Farmers Inn.
Arts OutWest will curate the ongoing exhibitions while NPWS manages Hartley Historic Site including the Farmers Inn building. The project forms part of Arts OutWest’s ongoing Aboriginal Arts Development program.
Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery in the old Farmers Inn, Hartley Historic Site, Old Bathurst Rd (just off Great Western Hwy), Hartley, is open from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 4.20pm Tuesday to Sunday. Cost: Free. Details: (02) 6355 2117 or email@example.com.
Mr Ring also encouraged visitors to explore the wider region.
“If you’re coming from Sydney, travel up the Great Western Highway and see the Blue Mountains, spend the day with us at Back to Hartley, then drive into Lithgow and head home via the Bells Line of Road through the Hawkesbury to experience the World Heritage Area from a very different perspective.’’
Visitors can choose from a range of accommodation and dining options in the Lithgow area.
Go to lithgowtourism.com for more information.
By Ellen Hill for Vesta Blackheath Photos: David Hill
She’s warm and gentle with a loving embrace: the honorary maître’d of Vesta Blackheath has been at the heart of the popular eatery for more than a century.
Executive chef of the upper Blue Mountains restaurant, Misha Laurent, said the 120-year-old Scotch oven influenced the menu and set the tone for the atmosphere and décor.
“This oven is gentle, loving, warm, a matriarchic, an oversized mama. But she’s not temperamental at all. We just put the fire on and she warms up and ten hours later the food is cooked. Literally, the lamb shoulder is always perfect.’’
Guests’ first experience of Vesta is crusty bread made daily in the oven and served complimentary with homemade labne and local olive oil.
In fact, most dishes on the menu are cooked in the oven.
“It would be ridiculous not to because it’s there,’’ Misha says.
Vesta’s use of the enormous oven harks back centuries when wood-fire ovens were present throughout Europe in Italy, Tuscany, Spain and even Turkey and North Africa.
“They would kill the goat and put it in the red wine from their own vines and then add vegetables from the garden and shove it into the oven and come back ten hours later after a hard working day and serve it up to the family.’’
Misha uses the same techniques with local and regional produce at Vesta.
“You’ve got this amazing cut of meat from Rydal and it’s soaked in wine and vegetables for 24 hours, then it’s put into pots and covered with that liquid and vegetables and herbs and put in the oven for 12 hours and pulled back out.
“Then you’ve got all this fresh organic local vegetables with it that has been roasted or blanched and this amazing sauce that you’ve got from cooking this lamb for 12 hours.’’
The Vesta oven is part of one of the first buildings in Blackheath, the bakery.
“They would make their bread and distribute it around town door-to-door and people would bring dishes into the bakery and cook them in there in return. It was a sort of barter system.’’
When the bakery closed the oven was ignored for many years. The building was used as a retail shop before it became Vulcan’s Restaurant in the 1980s.
Current owner David Harris was adamant that the oven would become a crucial feature of Vesta Blackheath when he opened the restaurant in 2011.
Built of double brick with a wall of sand between its layers to retain the heat, the oven can hold 180 loaves of bread.
The fire is lit on Wednesday morning when it heats to about 180 degrees Celsius ready for service. It is kept going until Sunday.
Food served from the oven’s belly is infused with the smoky flavours of a century’s subtle perfumed woods and ancient coal.
By embracing the historic oven and allowing her to dictate the food style and influence the menu, Vesta (meaning “goddess of the hearth’’) has become a second home for many locals and substitute Grandma’s kitchen for those searching for the warmth and comfort of rowdy family oven dinners of hearty food in intimate spaces rather than frigid venues offering plates of absence and pretention.
“Who wouldn’t want a slow cooked local lamb shoulder with vegetables grown in Hartley and great wines and good service?’’ Misha says.
This kind of thing is actually missing in Australia, whereas in Italy they have Agriturismo which promotes local food experiences at farms. It’s phenomenal food and it’s everywhere.I want to try to recreate that in regional Australia: an extension of home combined with a special occasion of going out while not being posh and uptight.’’
The oven at Vesta allows Misha and his team to “cook from the heart’’ rather than rely on modern gadgets and technology.
“Unfortunately these days chefs rely on electronic devices monitoring humidity, temperature, time of cooking etc and it removes the feeling part of cooking – looking, smelling, tasting, touching.’’
Diners are also steering away from the complicated eating of the past 20 years and craving a return to the simple, wholesome cuisine of the past, Misha says.
“The trend is to go back to the early days of cooking, all the old recipes are coming back.
“I like to bring in a modern touch, not so much in the decoration but old style cooking was quite heavy so I modernise it by keeping it light.’’
Food has always been at the heart of French-born Misha’s life. His father Toma who is now a Blue Mountains food supplier, is an avid cook and owned restaurants and espresso bars in Germany.
While food on his mother’s side of the family “wasn’t very relevant’’, Toma was on a perpetual food safari.
“My dad used to grab us on the Friday after school when I was a child, drive from Munich to Modena four hours away, to his favourite restaurant. We’d have dinner, amazing stuff, and then drive back.’’
Outings and holidays centred on eating – golf and food.
“We’d go skiing in Austria, we’d go to Faro in Portugal, we’d go to Italy, Switzerland. It had to have good food.’’
Friday evenings were spent at the table of Misha’s Jewish step-grandmother Rachel.
“She’d prepare homemade breads and duck and chicken and fish and there would be porcelain and crystal glass on the table. She spent two days in the kitchen preparing for what we call shabbat.’’
Misha began his career with an apprenticeship at the Sheraton Hotel in Munich followed by positions with the Eastern Oriental Express luxury train through South East Asia and The Road to Mandalay river cruise in Burma.
He then solidified his techniques in his father’s upmarket Italian restaurant, Il Borgo, in Toronto, before being the opening chef at Leura Garage in the Blue Mountains where he created the menus, its concept of shared food and designed the kitchen.
Misha took over the Vesta kitchen in 2014.
Vesta, 33 Govetts Leap Rd, Blackheath, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. Details and bookings: (02) 4787 6899 or vestablackheath.com.au.
By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens Photos: David Hill
Children can learn about heritage conservation and the natural environment in one of the most enchanting historic properties in the Blue Mountains these school holidays – and they won’t even know it’s educational.
My Adventure at Everglades children’s program will begin at Everglades Historic House & Gardens at Leura during the long December/January summer holidays.
Funded with a $25,000 grant from the Ian Potter Foundation through the Alec Prentice Sewell Gift, the program aims to encourage children to care for their natural and historic heritage.
Everglades manager Scott Pollock said the My Adventure at Everglades program would introduce a new generation of history and nature lovers to the Everglades property and others like it.
“We know that about two thousand of the thirty thousand visitors who come through the Everglades gate every year are children. That is two thousand potential future guardians of our nation’s heritage, culture and natural environment.
“For the first time, we have a dedicated program for children at Everglades, one which will spark their curiosity and urge to investigate and explore and help create a magical memory for the rest of their lives of an afternoon spent with Mum and Dad or Gran and Pop at this fairytale property in the Blue Mountains.’’
Surrounded by the spectacular landscape of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Everglades features many outdoor “rooms’’ where small people can explore grassy slopes, tall trees, tiny flowers, colourful shrubs, outdoor theatre and mystic sculptures, tucked away among the Banksia men with their wicked tales.
The Everglades property at Leura includes 12.5 acres of Paul Sorensen-designed European-style gardens and native Australian bush with breathtaking views over the Jamison Valley, as well as the art deco house created by Henri Van de Velde in the 1930s.
Designed in consultation with expert educators for three to six-year-olds, the My Everglades Adventure program provides learning tools such as the Garden Detective Program, Sculpture Trail, activity book and an array of things to see and do.
Children will set off on their adventure with a pack of tools including a work book, magnifying glasses, garden trail, Play with Parents Guide and instructions for physical activities throughout the property.
Half the activities are for children to do themselves while others are conducted with parents.
A great resource to help children become ready for school, activities will give the opportunity for matching, drawing, colouring, identifying component parts, labelling and drawing from their surrounds along with counting, exploring and contemplating.
The My Everglades Adventure program will start during the 2015 summer school holidays. Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free.
The children’s activity books cost $10 and $5 per subsequent book. Bookings and information: (02) 4784 1938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group Modern car photos: David Hill
The original Blue Mountains party palace will rev up when the Hydro Majestic Hotel hosts a vintage and modern super car show on the November 28 and 29 weekend.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “Original owner of the hotel, retailer Mark Foy was a huge car enthusiast and actually owned a number of the first cars brought into Australia and inspired the first car rally from Melbourne to Sydney and subsequently, Sydney to the Blue Mountains’’
Opened originally as The Hydropathic Establishment on July 4, 1904, during a snowstorm, a group of special guests arrived by train at Penrith where Mr Foy had a fleet of motor cars waiting to drive them to the clifftop hotel in the upper mountains.
Totally enamoured with the motor car, Foy then began Australia’s first motoring touring business, travelling from Blackheath to Jenolan Caves. With the exception of a line of steam omnibuses in Western Australia, it was the first public service motoring venture in Australia.
An arduous journey even today, the trip was taken in two 9-h.p De Dion cars, propelled by petrol and each seating six people.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph of September 29, 1903, reads: “…and so far they have given every satisfaction, doing the journey in about three hours and a half.
“The visitors were entertained by Mr. Mark Foy, who is an enthusiastic patron of the sport of motoring, at his residence at Medlow, and great interest was taken by them in the preparations being made there for the erection of an elaborate hotel and hydropathic establishment.’’
Since relaunching last October after a sumptuous refurbishment, the Hydro Majestic is once again a luxurious pit stop.
“The Hydro Majestic is right on the Great Western Highway, enroute to the Eastern Creek and Bathurst race tracks and the highway is a well-travelled scenic drive route for tourists, so seeing Lamborghinis and Ferraris in our carpark is not unusual for us,’’ Mr Bruegger said.
“The Hydro Majestic has a reputation for being a little racy, a bit naughty and outrageous so we didn’t want to settle for one or two – we will have dozens of the fastest, meanest and sexiest cars that have ever been on the road.’’
The Hydro Majestic car show will feature modern super cars and veteran cars on display and offering joy rides for visiting guests.
Car enthusiasts are encouraged to fully immerse themselves in the motoring experience and stay at least one night at an Escarpment Group property, each with private parking.
By Ellen Hill for Hartley Historic Site Photos: David Hill
Explore one of the best examples of colonial history afresh when Hartley Historic Site holds its annual Back to Hartley family fair on Sunday, October 25.
Be entertained with live music by Lithgow Folk Club; take a trike or pony ride; have a close encounter with a furry friend at the petting zoo; make a fire poker with metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick at Talisman Gallery; and hit a bullseye at the archery.
There will be the Galloping Gumnut travelling playgroup for pre-schoolers, face painting, sheep shearing, a reptile show, locally-made handmade arts and crafts stalls, vintage cars and dancing demonstrations. New this year will be a rock climbing wall.
This year’s Back to Hartley will also commemorate the first 100 mile motorcycle race in the Hartley Valley and motorcyclists are invited to submit their bikes for judging by Lithgow Motorcycle Club with a range of prizes and categories up for grabs.
The Hartley Vale Circuit was originally marked out on public roads in 1915 just south of Lithgow. The circuit was first used by the Sydney-based Canberra Motorcycle Club to hold its first annual 100 mile race. The circuit was 6km long and a gravel surface. Racing was conducted in a clockwise direction and later controlled by Western Suburbs Motorcycle Club. It closed in 1936.
Hartley Historic Site manager Steve Ring said funds raised from the day would go towards Paxton – MPS Journey to help pay for treatment for Lithgow one-year-old Paxton who was diagnosed with the rare and incurable MPS II disease also known as Hunters Syndrome when he was nine months old.
“Back to Hartley is a good chance for NPWS to work with the community to raise funds for a local charity or causes we both feel are important. This year we are pleased to be helping young Paxton.’’
Hartley Historic Site is managed by National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) and buildings tell the story of the village from the 1837 Greek Revival courthouse to Corneys Garage built in 1945 of timber and iron.
Set among pastures, orchards, native plants and 19th and 20th century cottage gardens, the village’s sandstone buildings preserve an important piece of history – the settlement of inland Australia.
The settlement began when a need for a police centre in the Hartley Valley led to the construction of Hartley Court House in 1837.
During the next 50 years a bustling village grew around the courthouse, the judicial and administrative centre surrounded by churches and accommodation, a post office and staging facilities.
The village served travellers and settlers west of the Blue Mountains until it was surpassed by the Great Western Railway in 1887 and became stagnant and fell into decline.
In 1972 the village was declared an historic site under the management of NPWS.
Today, it includes 17 buildings of historical significance, two privately owned, including Old Trahlee (1840), Post Office (1846), St Bernard’s Presbytery and St Bernard’s Church (1842) still operating as a Catholic church, Shamrock Inn Cottage (1841) and the Court House (1837).
“We have recently completed many improvements and added new attractions to the site including an Aboriginal art gallery, café, the Kew-Y-Ahn walk and modern toilet facilities, new gardens and fences,’’ Mr Ring said.
He also encouraged visitors to explore the wider region.
“If you’re coming from Sydney, travel up the Great Western Highway and see the Blue Mountains, spend the day with us at Back to Hartley, then drive into Lithgow and head home via the Bells Line of Road through the Hawkesbury to experience the World Heritage Area from a very different perspective.’’
Visitors can choose from a range of accommodation and dining options in the Lithgow area.
Go to lithgowtourism.com for more information.
Back to Hartley will be held at Hartley Historic Site, Old Bathurst Rd (just off Great Western Hwy), Hartley, from 9am to 4pm Sunday, October 25. Cost: $5 per vehicle. Details: (02) 6355 2117 or email@example.com.
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group
Senior travellers can experience a taste of the nation’s opulent history, a portion of its rich heritage and a slice of cake when they indulge in the Escarpment Escape High Tea package to the Blue Mountains – for just $75.
Begin your journey by exploring Mark Foy’s “Palace in the wilderness’’, the genuinely iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel, on a history tour at 11am. See for yourself the exquisite refurbishment carried out by the Escarpment Group, owners of four luxury hotels in the Blue Mountains, and learn fascinating tit-bits about the famous hotel’s past on a guided history tour.
Recharge over a decadent high tea in the luxurious Wintergarden restaurant while taking in the magnificent views overlooking the Megalong Valley.
Head 15 minutes down the Great Western Hwy to the quaint village of Leura and Everglades Historic House & Gardens. Roam the gorgeous art deco house and art gallery and Paul Sorensen-designed gardens.
Mature travellers can explore the home of one of Australia’s most beloved fictional personalities, the Magic Pudding, and the cantankerous character’s creator at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum at Faulconbridge
The Escarpment Escape High Tea includes high tea in the Hydro Majestic Hotel Wintergarden, a hotel history tour and booklet and entry into Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum and Everglades Historic House & Gardens.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The Hydro Majestic holds a special place in the hearts of many people, none more so than mature travellers who remember it in its heyday as well as when it did not look so glamorous.
“We are delighted to offer this value package with our industry partner the National Trust, which owns the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Everglades properties. Together, we can showcase this marvellous collection of Blue Mountains heritage buildings to people most likely to appreciate them.
“Team that with the Gold Opal Senior/Pensioner card available to travellers aged 55 and over and capped at $2.50 for the day, decadence becomes even more affordable on Sydney Trains and Blue Mountains public buses.’’
National Trust NSW director of enterprises Anne Weinman said: “The Blue Mountains is fortunate to be home to three National Trust properties.
“This high tea package highlights the pleasures to be found at our premiere Everglades Gardens and unique Norman Lindsay Gallery. We are thrilled with this partnership between the Escarpment Group and our regional properties.’’
Mr Bruegger also encouraged senior travellers to fully immerse themselves in Blue Mountains history by staying at least one night at an Escarpment Group property (the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Echoes Boutique Hotel or Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges).
As well as exploring the accommodation property, visitors can see the famous Three Sisters rock formations at Echo Point, ride the steepest passenger railway in the world at Scenic World, visit the oldest cave system at Jenolan Caves and cuddle a koala or hand feed a kangaroo or emu at Featherdale Wildlife Park on their way to or from the Blue Mountains.
Phone (02) 4782 6885 or go to www.hydromajestic.com.au for more information and to book accommodation and dining options.
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
(Continuing the story of the Hawkesbury River, we re-publish here an article that featured in the April-May 2009 edition of Blue Mountains Life magazine.)
THE last tendrils of fog swirl up to meet the golden rays of a weak winter sun, mirrored on the still surface of the water.
The occasional jumping fish makes a quiet “blip’’ noise. Birds twitter in the trees and skate across the gentle ripples before settling on the surface to float aimlessly with the tide.
This is Ted Books’ favourite time of day to cruise the Windsor section of the Hawkesbury River in his boat, the Montrose. He’s alone.
By mid-morning, the water twinkles in the glaring sun, the river a silver thread pulsing through colonial Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s kingdom with the monotony of routine.
Given the majestic Hawkesbury River has supported his family for five generations, you understand Books’ attachment to it.
As the boat gently bobs along the water, Books’ shares his memories and tells the history of the stretch he knows best _ the strip of water his famous colonial ancestors eventually learned they could not tame.
Ted Books is known for expressing a strong opinion and enjoying a chat. But he’s not known for being an emotional man. A former wrestler and retired excavator, he tends to say his bit in his no-nonsense way and leave it at that.
But aboard the Montrose, I not only see a different side to Books, but the river I have known most of my life.
“Sydney’s salad bowl’’, “Sydney’s playground’’, the Hawkesbury River has supported Australia’s largest city since European settlement.
For the handful of free settlers desperately trying to survive with virtually nothing in a foreign environment, the river was their transport, it watered them, their crops and animals.
In colonial times while chain gangs of convicts were still cutting roads by hand, the Hawkesbury River was the natural highway to Sydney Cove.
In fact, ships including the 101 ton Governor Bligh were actually built on the river. Two of Books’ ancestors _ Captain John Grono and Alexander Books _ had a shipyard at Pitt Town on Canning Reach, the remains of which can still be seen at low tide.
Among the 200 cargo vessel movements on the river each year were tall ships which took three inward tides (about 20 hours) to travel from Brooklyn at the mouth of the river to Windsor.
The 100 ton SS Erringhi was the last of the big ships to trade on the Hawkebsury River between the 1920s and 1937.
“I used to dive off the Windsor bridge and there used to be 30ft of water there,’’ Books says. “We used to dive off the bridge and go with the tide to Pitt Town, about 4 miles by water.’’
The Hawkesbury Nepean River is part of the vast 22,000 sq km Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment, stretching from Goulburn to Lithgow, Moonee Moonee, Pittwater and Singleton.
Its tributaries and creeks begin in the higher land of the Great Dividing Range, others in the highlands to the west of Wollongong and south of Sydney.
The Nepean begins in the Camden Valley near Moss Vale and becomes the Hawkesbury at Yarramundi after being joined by the Wollondilly River, on which Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main drinking glass, was built in the 1950s.
From the 1870s, a series of dams was built on the Upper Nepean, south east of Camden and its tributaries the Cataract, Cordeaux and Avon Rivers.
The mighty Hawkesbury Nepean River ends at Juno Point at Broken Bay.
“Sydney would never survive without this river,’’ Books says. “This river is the playground for the city.’’
Every now and again Books stops the boat, points out a landmark, pulls out yet another packet of black and white photographs and tells the story of the place.
“See that place up there? That’s where Thomas Arndell (the first surgeon to the colony, he came out with the First Fleet) settled when he came to the Hawkesbury. His homestead’s still there.
“They built next to the river because it was clean water and there was fish.’’
The oldest church building in Australia is at Ebenezer, built from stone in 1803 by a small band of free settlers. The church used to run a punt across the river to transport people to church.
The water is deepest _ about 90ft _ nearby, opposite Tizzana Winery at Sackville Reach Wharf.
Glancing at the river banks from the boat, it seems not much has changed apart from technology. Irrigation pumps spew water across enormous paddocks of turf, veggies and flowers. The staccato bark of a dog sends drifting ducks into a flurry. The sun’s rays highlight the fur on a lowing cow staring with lazy interest at the boat. The ghostly figures of farm workers can be seen inside a row of greenhouses.
But then Books’ tale of how his dad and his mates used to catch more fish than they could eat up this stretch of the river is broken by the roar of a power boat towing a skier.
Books pauses and waits for silence to return before pointing out another historic property on the hill.
He revs up the engine and the Montrose slips on.
The river remains a great source of seafood: flathead, bream, mullet, hairtail, mullaway, whiting, flounder, tailor, snapper, trevally, blackfish, leatherjackets, kingfish, John Dory, shellfish and prawns.
It is also home to much bird life: shags, cormorants, kingfishers, ducks, sea eagles, pelicans and terns.
And down in the salt water near the river mouth at Brooklyn there are sharks, sea snakes, jellyfish, stingrays and fortescues.
Today, the Hawkebsury, Penrith and Baulkham Hills region along the river generates a whopping $1.86 billion worth of produce (not including the equine industry). Sydney chows through 90 per cent of it.
The vast quantities of fruit, vegetables and turf grown in the Hawkesbury have fed the entire Sydney population and beyond for generations.
The river is also a major tourist attraction used extensively for recreation (the annual Bridge to Bridge boat race attracts thousands). Tourism and recreation reap $2 billion a year, thanks to the river.
Three car ferries and several bridges provide crossings over the waterway.
Crowds of day trippers are drawn to popular swimming, fishing, water skiing and boating spots each weekend.
A startling white glare suddenly burns the retinas of our eyes. Deck chairs blindingly white in the sun, emerald green manicured lawns and landscaped yards, expensive boat sheds. The property listings at the local real estate agents would reveal that river frontages are also becoming private paradises for the wealthy.
But later, in the golden after glow of sunset, the birds and fish replay their evening ritual as the mist settles like a gossamer blanket over the water surface, melding with the gloom of dusk. The river continues to beat its slow rhythm of life just as it always has.
Words by Ellen Hill Photos by David Hill
The world-famous Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath hosted another historic milestone when 360 costumed dancers high kicked their way into history to smash their own Guinness World Record at the launch of the annual Roaring 20s Festival and all that Jazz on Saturday, February 7.
In the flamboyant yet elegant style of legendary former Hydro owner Mark Foy, the Blue Mountains Charleston Challenge and the following Majestic Long Lunch attracted hundreds of chicly-draped visitors.
Hydro Majestic co-owner Huong Nguyen said: “We at the Escarpment Group were very proud of the refurbishment of the buildings and were confident they were true to the Mark Foy style.
“But no amount of beautiful décor and furnishings can bring a building to life – we needed the laughter and chatter, the movement and essence of people in the hallways and rooms.
“We have had several successful events at the Hydro since October but the Charleston Challenge and the Majestic Long Lunch was the real clincher – the Hydro is back to its rightful place as a centre of fun and activity in the Blue Mountains.
“Congratulations to all the dancers who helped keep the Blue Mountains on the international stage.’’
The day began with the Blue Mountains Charleston Challenge on the lawns when 360 dancers aged from 3 to 92 and dressed in 1920s-style costume broke the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of costumed people to dance the Charleston. The event set the record with 276 in 2013, 319 in 2014 and aimed for 350 in 2015.
After the dance challenge, 250 guests indulged in decadent local fare at the Majestic Long Lunch in the Majestic Ballroom.
In Great Gatsby style, they spent a long afternoon grazing on gastronomical delights, promenading on the lawns and dancing to the 1920s-style band.
Hydro Majestic head chef Maté Herceg and other Blue Mountains food heroes prepared a feast from regional food.
An antipasto platter from award-winning Princess Pantry featured meats and locally grown vegetables. Maté showcased his culinary skills with a memorable main course, followed by delicious cheeses from the Carrington Cellars & Deli. The finale of the feast was a wickedly indulgent dessert from Josophan’s Fine Chocolates.
Guests included Australian food and wine identity and Majestic Long Lunch ambassador Lyndey Milan OAM, Roaring 20s Festival ambassador Claudia Chan Shaw, festival patron Charlotte Smith and a host of food and wine writers.
“To have interest from specialist food and wine industry media and a sell-out event is testament to the quality of food produce in this region,’’ Ms Nguyen said.
“That is why we are so confident about the success of the new providores pavilion at the Hydro Majestic, where visitors can buy their own taste of the Greater Blue Mountains food basket.’’
Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism’s Roaring 20s Festival continues throughout the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region until February 22. (Details: www.roaring20s.com.au)
The Roaring 20s Festival events were part of a continuing program of events and entertainment at the Hydro Majestic Hotel including the weekly Live at the Hydro gigs featuring high calibre acts such as Dragon, Adam Cohen, Diesel, Wendy Matthews and Christine Anu.
Go to www.hydromajestic.com.au for more information about events, dining and accommodation at the Hydro Majestic Hotel.