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An Ashby State of Mind

Emma Macdonald

A small stone cottage in Bungendore has survived 180 years. 

Now a young Canberra family has given Ashby Estate a new lease on life, hopefully ensuring another 180 years for the graceful rural retreat.

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The gigantic canopy of elm trees which hides the historic homestead at Ashby Estate was already more than 50 years old by the time Canberra was named in 1913.

Located within a stone’s throw of what is now Bungendore’s main street, the 4000-acre estate was marked out for settlement
 in the mid-1820s—around the same time the neighbouring settlement of “Canberry” was being forged. The land was divided into a smaller plot and a humble stone cottage, Ashby Farmhouse, was built in 1836.

Successive families have sought to put their stamp on the historic three-room cottage ever since, adding additions and new rooms over the decades. Now the current floor-plan encompasses a sprawling four-bedroom three-bathroom farmhouse with enough living space to host a country dance.

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Cut to last year and a young Canberra family with a busy weekday routine but a hankering for a slower life saw Ashby for sale.

Tara and Christian Taubenschlag run corporate communications company CMAX Advisory from a bustling office within Barton’s Realm Precinct. But while you will find 
Tara engaged in high-level cross-Atlantic negotiations for her American clients, running in and out of Parliament House, or devoting her “spare” hours to her maternal health charity Send Hope Not Flowers, she is a farm girl at heart.

Her parents Suzy and Michael raised three daughters in a succession of properties across northern and coastal NSW, instilling in Tara a passion for horses and an instinctive urge to swap stilettos for gumboots.

Most importantly, Tara and Christian have two little girls, Allegra, seven, and Siri, six. They fervently believe in the need for children 
to connect with the land, roam free on the weekends, and eat unhurried meals of homegrown organic produce.

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In a beautiful confluence of events, Tara’s parents were looking to downsize from their coastal property.

As soon as Tara and Christian saw Ashby they saw the opportunity to come together as an extended family in an idyllic patch of pasture and shade.

They envisioned reclaiming the original building as a grandparents’ self-contained retreat and felt fortunate that Suzy and Michael can keep the farm running during the week while Tara, Christian and the girls resume their hectic schedules “in town” from Monday to Friday.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and we feel truly blessed that it has worked out the way it has,” said Tara.

It is, however, fair to say that the pair were 
a little confounded by Ashby’s aesthetic at the time of sale. Think timber panelling, tiled floors and a pastel colour scheme.

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This thankfully did not deter them, nor diminish the charm of the original stone cottage or the majesty of that elm canopy.

Within days of the sale, Ashby began a massive renovation and restoration — future-proofing it for the Taubenschlag’s tenure, and for generations beyond that.

Perhaps the biggest task was ripping up the tiles and sourcing a beautiful 100-year-old hardwood floor from an old Melbourne factory to stay sympatico with the original floorboards which were revealed below carpet. Now the cottage and modern home meld almost seamlessly.

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The cottage has had a gentle facelift, its non- square and gently sloping walls were painted, while the magnificent and massive wooden window frames and doors remain in their natural wood state – showing the patina of almost two centuries.

In the new section, which attaches to one
 of the original stone walls, out went the timber panelling and in came Chilean painter Enrique, who spent weeks creating a crisp white internal canvas to show the external landscape to its best advantage – and in whose honour a new foal has been named.

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A new kitchen in Tara’s preferred colour palette of black, white and grey went in 
the main house while a second kitchen was installed in the cottage allowing both families to live separately but join each other on a Saturday night around the massive dining table custom made by Rabbit Trap Timber in Moss Vale.

Meanwhile, restoration of the beautiful gardens around the homestead has consumed the family over the past few months, as has tending to the 20 contented Simmental cattle who roam around the eight paddocks.

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One of the biggest jobs has been hiring an arborist to tend to the 58 160-year-old elms. In a long and laborious process, the trees were pruned and checked and all received a clean bill of health.

Michael has been quick to establish abundant vegetable patches and Tara’s spiritual retreat has become the old church building which lies to the back of the house. Tiny and made from slats of wood that let the sunlight in, the building was also formerly a schoolhouse before becoming the tack room.

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Tara stands in the shards of light on a Saturday morning as she listens to the girls chase each other between the trees and the stresses of the week all but evaporate.

“The drive from the road to the house and through the trees is just long enough to stop thinking about work and Canberra and get into an Ashby frame of relaxation.”

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PHOTOGRAPHY BRENTON COLLEY, LIGHTBULB STUDIO

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Future for Winter 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author