Heritage places are a visible reminder of Australia’s history and identity. If they are neglected or demolished, then part of our history and identity is lost. When they are protected and restored, they add value and dimension to our community.
I interviewed Richard Graham, The Carrington Inn’s owner, in late October. It had reopened earlier that month after a period of extensive renovation and restoration.
Originally known as The Lord Carrington Hotel, the property was built in 1884-85 by William Daniel Winter. The hotel was named after the newly appointed governor of NSW.
When the governor retired, the inn became known as The Carrington Hotel. The town at that time had become a regional hub with the arrival of train services in 1885 which terminated in Bungendore. Cobb and Co coaches then transported travellers to far flung settlements.
In the 20th century, William Winters’ descendants sold the property to Toni Dale who returned the property to its original function from a domestic residence. Years later, she sold it to an intermediary who later on sold it to Richard eight years ago.
Richard Graham’s Carrington Inn consists of the Wintergarden complex and adjacent motel accommodation. He explained that the initial focus for his regeneration project had been on the Wintergarden complex: The Tom Wills Tavern, The Empire Hall and Salons – fine dining, and Myee’s Tearoom. Myee is pronounced my.
The tavern’s namesake and a local, Tom Wills was a leading Australian cricketer from 1856 and is said to be the founder of Australian Rules football. Heavy drinking was apparently part of the sport’s culture at that time and purportedly played a role in his tragic death in 1880.
Maria Myee Gallagher, 1889-1967, was the granddaughter of the original owner, William Daniel Winter. ‘An educated woman of many talents, Maria Myee never married and lived in the hotel throughout her life.’ She was a skilled pianist and taught the piano as well as the sewing arts and painting to locals. She was also well-known for her charitable work in the town.
The Wintergarden complex is situated in an aesthetically pleasing, half acre of man-made gardens. Richard said that they are ‘one of the largest publicly accessible private gardens in the region.’ He credits the illusion of a much larger space to the use of meandering sinuous paths.
When I asked about the ideas underpinning the renovation process, Richard explained the choice before him: restore the inn to look like the property as it had been in 1885 or restore it to reflect the Victorian era from 1885 but have modern restaurant equipment. For commercial reasons, he opted for the latter.
After much research, Richard and his team distilled the Victorian period to a single restoration intention: ‘allow modern-day patrons to appreciate the aspirational nature of the Victorian era’.
As the inn’s owner and curator, Richard’s vision for The Carrington Inn extended beyond a Victorian-themed colonial location with authentic furnishings, décor, cuisine, and artwork. He wanted to create an environment that gave patrons a taste of a lifestyle different from their own.
As I left that afternoon, I realised that heritage places not only add dimension to the character of a community but to its unique features of streetscapes as well.
How to restore a Victorian Inn
The aspirational mood of the Victorian period is clearly visible in the noteworthy features of the tearoom, the tavern, and the Empire Hall and salons. The tearoom’s décor suggests a Victorian garden conservatory. It features hand-painted stencilled wallpaper, pale green wainscoting, slate floor, furnishings, and hanging baskets.
The tavern’s patterned copper ceiling is reminiscent of Tudor ceilings and represents the revival of British styles celebrated during the Victorian era. The decorative tin ceiling in one of the Empire salons features another popular architectural element from that period as do the subtly lit, rounded vaulted plaster ceilings in the Empire Hall.
The Victorian theme is evident in the use of decoratively etched glass mirrors, beautiful period-styled drapery, luxurious furnishings, dining settings, and décor accents. Thirty-three hand-painted artwork reproductions tell the colonial story, including artwork by Tom Roberts. In the tradition of the time, a picture of Queen Victoria dominates the Empire Hall.
The first Bungendorians
The Indigenous history of the region must not be forgotten while discussing colonial heritage.
Before European settlement, Indigenous people represented an unbroken culture that was inextricably linked to the land and history of the continent. That relationship and life as Indigenous people knew it, changed drastically as a consequence of Dr Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume’s exploration of this region in 1820.
By the end of 1821, Europeans had settled the region. The provision of a mail service in 1837 formally made the settlement a town while the arrival of train services in 1885 resulted in the town becoming the hub of the region. Cobb and Co coaches transported travellers to far flung settlements.
During this period and into the twentieth century, Indigenous people experienced a history of exclusion from their land and denial of their own way of life. They were silenced and many died as a result of white settlement (disease and conflict).
Indigenous heritage is in the land, in sacred places, lore and values. By contrast, colonial heritage is in buildings, property, sacred places, and laws.
To better appreciate the impact of the settlement in Australia and related issues, click on The Dispossessed.