Sunday 16th March 2014:
Saumarez Homestead lies about five kilometres outside of Armidale. It is a two storey stately home of the Victorian period, which is now owned by the National Trust of Australia, and open for guided tours on weekends and public holidays. It was once part of a large pastoral and grazing estate, but that is separately run now. The story of how the property came in to being, and who owned / operated it is very interesting but too long for a blog post. It originally connects with the Channel Islands and that is where the name Saumarez came from.
The first house was a single storey brick dwelling built in 1888, and then the upper storey was added in 1906 by F. J. White, the owner, who was part of the third generation of Whites, whose many branches were connected with sheep breeding in the colony. Brave man, he did it while his wife and one of his daughters were on the ‘European Tour’ for two years. The house had eight family bedrooms, two guest bedrooms, and servants’ quarters. The house and property employed around one hundred people. The F. J. Whites were a large and distinguished family in Armidale, a bit like the lords of the manor. Two of the daughters never married, and when the last one died in 1981 (at a grand old age), the house and the twelve farm buildings were donated to the National Trust. it is their policy to leave everything untouched – so visitors get to soak up the atmosphere of another age. No photos inside unfortunately. It is eclectic and eccentric, and very little was thrown away – even a broken breadboard was left in a box in the “junk” room. The two sisters had been rattling around in the house together since the 1930s, and they were very different personalities. It turned out that Mary was a keen gardener, and volunteers stumbled across it when clearing overgrowth. It is extensive with well laid out sections – we went through the cottage garden. She also shut in part of the verandah to make an extra sun/sewing room for herself, as can be seen in the house photos. Elsie was a great horsewoman and ran the property after her father’s death. She had a bedroom, but preferred to sleep (in all seasons) on the upper verandah on the side of the house. The iron bedstead is still there, minus the mattress.
Whenever we are based in one town for a few days, we like to do a driving loop of the surrounding areas. We would have liked to stay even longer at Saumarez, poking around the various outbuildings, but that would have taken another hour or two, so we set off instead for Uralla. I was keen to do the heritage walk, take a look at some of their lovely old buildings, and spend some time in McCrossin’s Mill, which is now a museum with a collection of Chinese artefacts from the Rocky River goldfields, and information about the bushranger Frederick Wordsworth Ward (aka Captain Thunderbolt) (1835-1870). He was known as the ‘gentleman bushranger’, because he never actually shot anyone, even though he was a notorious highway robber. He is buried in Uralla cemetery
It was a great plan, but it all went to putty pretty quickly. The day was hot, with a bright blue sky, but a strong, strange wind was blowing. It was odd, but not ominous, and we continued with our plan. When we arrived at the museum in Uralla, they were just putting away the ‘open‘ signs. The volunteers were very apologetic that they were closing early, but an orchestra was staging a performance that evening and needed the space for practice and sound check. Such is life. They happily gave us a brochure on the heritage walk, and Bill and I set off.
We managed part of one street:
Then suddenly the sky went dark, and within a minute, it was bucketing down. These photos of Captain Thunderbolt’s Statue were taken over a sixty second period – while Bill was (thunder)bolting for the car.
The sensible thing to do now would be turn around the way we had come, hole up in our motel room, have a drink and catch up with blogging. However, the rain finished as quickly as it had come, and so I urged us to push on with the touring loop. First stop was Rocky River – “one of the richest alluvial goldfields in NSW” according to the brochure, and at one time home to 5000 miners. Okay, so now it is a public school and a scattering of settlement that we had passed before we realised where we were. And all the remnants of any interest were back in the museum at Uralla that we could not get in to.
“Never mind, we’ll see the Aboriginal rock art at Mount Yarrowyck“, says I, ever the optimist. However, when we reached the start of that track, it looked rather lonely and not well signposted, and the brochure said it was a three klm trek down to the spot (a bit under two miles). While it looked quite dry, we had no way of knowing how wet it might be underfoot, nor indeed whether another drenching shower would come this way.
So finally I gave up, and we finished the third leg of the triangle of our sightseeing adventure that had started in Armidale about seven hours earlier. There was nothing remarkable on this thirty kilometre stretch of “Thunderbolt’s Way.” What was remarkable was that later that night, as we were relaxing in our motel room, we heard heavy, heavy rain outside our room, and by the time we had got to the door to check it out – it had turned into hail!!!
Luckily they were small stones and lasted less than ten minutes, as Red Dwarf was not under cover. No permanent damage done.
Back at Saumarez Homestead, there was a sundial at the front of the house, and inscribed on either side of the plinth was this omen:
“I’ll only count your sunny hours – & Let others tell of storms and showers.”