This weekend’s Greek Film Festival is not only a celebration of Greek cinema, but also…
A Hilltops homestead filled with treasures has decided to downsize—and you could own a piece of it.
A decision to take “the scenic route” during a drive in the Hilltops region in 1991 saw John and Liz Baker stumble upon something that would spark a new chapter of their lives, and provide a challenge that would consume the better part of two decades.
Somewhere between Cowra and Boorowa, the Bakers found an old homestead – Old Graham—a derelict, stone house with holes in the roof, broken windows and sheep grazing around it.
“John and I had been away in Dubbo for a few days,” says Liz. “We took a back-road home, and just came across a house, that looked really interesting. It was all falling down, so, we stopped to have a look at it and that’s where it all started.”
But ‘having a look’ didn’t exactly go to plan.
“The owner was actually there, and she saw us down near the house and thought we were trying to steal something,” laughs Liz. “We had a good chat with her, and she asked if we wanted to look inside, so we did.”
Continuing the drive back to Canberra, John and Liz talked of how they’d always wanted to take on a project like that.
The next day John realised they had no way to contact the owner of the house, so he drove all the way back to Old Graham, asking along the road until he found somebody who could give him a phone number. John rang her that night.
The owner said she might be interested in selling it but that she was shearing and to call her in six weeks, laughs Liz. “Eventually we were able to buy it on its original block.”
Originally from the UK, John and Liz embarked on what would become a great adventure of restoration and collecting in order to bring Old Graham back to life, but as Liz puts it, “it was only the beginning!”
The restoration process took around two years. This included enlisting the expertise of heritage architect Peter Freeman, who was supervising work at Port Arthur in Tasmania at the time, enquiring around Boorowa to find a stonemason to fix up the half-meter thick granite walls and an experienced heritage builder. In the end John and Liz found Bede Morrissey, a country builder from Boorowa who, together with his son, agreed to take on the job.
“They drove up in the ute with their stuff on the back, looked at it and said, ‘what have we let ourselves in for?’”
Liz has done her research into the history of Old Graham, uncovering the story of the family that resided in it. The original owners, Edward and Mary Ann Kerr were both Irish and met in Sydney, eventually marrying at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
They had 11 children in total, one passing away as a baby, all born in different places along the road between Sydney and Boorowa. Liz thinks Edward worked as a carter–taking goods to a little store across the valley. Luckily for Edward, the benevolent store owner left her land to Edward in her will, for ‘all his kindnesses’.
On that land, Edward built what would become Old Graham. The original home had seven rooms, which eventually became 10 (a bar, cellar, and sitting room) upon realising that a coach from Sydney to Cowra came along that road.
Finished in May 1884, it was known as Glenco Inn but sadly Edward never got to fully enjoy the fruits of his labours, dying in November that year from a heart attack. Nine months later Mary Ann passed away as a result of alcoholism. But there was happy ending yet for the homestead.
135 years later, Liz and John have filled Old Graham with items that would have been found on the property of the time, mostly found in antique shops—and now some of them could be yours.
Utilising online action platform AllBids, Old Graham’s downsizing sale features many treasures that were part of a 2019 exhibition—Old Graham: Collecting in the Bush—at the Canberra Museum and Gallery as well as many never-before-seen treasures.
Think a vintage enamelled oven door insert imprinted with ‘Canberra’, rare Royal Doulton crockery, plenty of ‘Australiana’ themed paintings and pastel oil lamps.
With 400+ items up for grabs, this is a vintage and antique lovers dream—and as all items can be shipped to your home, even those who love nothing more than browsing antiques on the weekend can still get their kicks during this age of social distancing and self-isolation.
Find Old Graham’s online auction at allbids.com.au/t/old-graham.