The history of Goonoo Goonoo Station is intricately connected to the history of New England, NSW and Australia.
Nestled between open plains and rolling hills about 20 kilometres south of Tamworth, the depth of human experience embodied by the property is so rich and dense, it’s almost overwhelming.
The station was established in 1831 and grew into an important village. Over its 185-year history, hundreds of families have lived on and worked its lands, leaving behind thousands of stories.
During the multi-million dollar restoration of the property, owners Simon and Sarah Haggarty, found they couldn’t open a draw or mend a fence post without finding an interesting yarn.
Take the Giovanni family – in World War II, Andrea Giardini, an Italian prisoner of war, was sent to serve his time at the station. When the war finished, he returned home, but the Schmidt family, who ran Goonoo Goonoo for the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) for decades, was respect Mr Giovanni so much they ask him to come back and bring his family.
Three generations of the Gidley King family, all (confusingly) named Philip, have ties to the property dating back to the earliest era of Australia’s colonial history. The first Gidley King was the governor of NSW, while his son managed AACo from the property, turning it into the crown jewel of the Australian agriculture industry.
The third Philip Gidley King, was friends with Charles Darwin and accompanied him on his famous voyage of the Beagle, which led to Darwin’s theory of evolution. He went on to become the first mayor of Tamworth and later a state politician.
You only have to look at comments on the Goonoo Goonoo Station Facebook page to see how the restoration has led people on a trip down memory lane – sharing tales about the village’s butcher, who also doubled as the station’s farrier, or spending summers at the property visiting relatives and, in one instance, reconnecting neighbours.
“I think now that we’ve opened, we’ll get even more people coming forward to tell their story,” Mrs Haggarty said.
The restoration of the station isn’t just repairing its buildings, it’s preserving its stories. “We are talking to Tamworth Regional Council about doing a historical showcase, which will give people a glimpse of Goonoo Goonoo as a working property, why it was important and how it fits in with all these people who are so important to NSW and Australian history as a whole,” Mr Haggarty said.
“We want to put tours on in the not-too-distant future for those people dining at the restaurant with an interest in the history. We won’t be able to go inside the buildings, because guests will be staying in them, but we can take them through the village and give them a feel for it.”
Restoration long but worth it
The entire Goonoo Goonoo Station is heritage listed and over the four year restoration, every building presented its own unique challenge.
The Haggartys wanted to retain as much of the station’s history as possible, but it was a time-consuming exercise.
The Stone Store was originally painted white. Because of the heritage restrictions, the paint could only be removed by hand, a process that took a year to complete.
“There were a couple of buildings in the village that at first glace look pretty good – and then you get in underneath it and realise there is no foundation, and it was built directly onto rocks that aren’t actually set, so the building is moving,” Mr Haggarty said.
“We had to dig out and under, underpinning them all with concrete, to make sure they would never move again. All that was unexpected and took about four months.”
It took 18 months to transform the Wool Store into an 160-seat events room.
But Mr Haggarty said it was worth every second.
“One of the things that convinced us to come here and do this, was how unique this place is,” he said.
“You can build an event room, but you can’t build [the Wool Store], this had to be here already. Everything down to the way the walls look and the vibe of the entire place, you can’t replicate that.”
The history and heritage of Goonoo Goonoo Station has been showcased wherever possible.
The Wool Store’s barn doors, which have been open and closed countless times and battered by the elements for decades, have been preserved in glass.
The stencils used to brand wool bales still grace the walls. There is a hole in the roof where the wool press counterweight went through. The original floorboards, the ones time hadn’t damaged irreparably, have been cobbled together in a square to contrast the old and the new.
You can be sleeping in a house that has been there for 160 years and looked much as it did – with the exception of having the bathrooms inside.
Glass panels in the floor let you look down at the building’s original foundations.
“Underneath the floor is the original 180-year-old timber,” Mr Haggarty said.
While there are other luxuriously all-inclusive rural retreats, such as the Emirates’ Wolgan Valley, the history of Goonoo Goonoo Station sets it apart.
“It’s one of a kind [in Australia],” Mrs Haggarty said.
“You can be sleeping in a house that has been there for 160 years and looked much as it did – with the exception of having the bathrooms inside,” Mr Haggarty said.