Guests were once warned that they may see goats fall from trees at Coodravale, a lovely 1920s Californian-style homestead and small acreage located by the banks of the Goodradigbee river near Wee Jasper.
In fact it wasn’t quite pulling the wool or fleece over guests’ eyes. At some stage the homestead’s goats would climb the lower branches of the established trees and drop quite dramatically to the ground.
Of course Coodravale was much larger than its current 16 acres for sale - in fact 16000 hectares, and one of the great sheep runs of the Yass district.
The fine woolgrowing property also grew some of the best maize in the state. Coodravale is steeped in history, mystery and tragedy - with famous families of Australia, including Banjo Paterson and the Lindeman families once owners. There’s even a mystery cache of Penfold’s Grange that has never been found - not that owners John Robinson, a former British and Australian naval officer and his wife Rosemary haven’t tried to find it!
Formerly of Canberra, the couple have restored the 16-room 1923 homestead to its former glory. That includes preserving grand black marble fireplaces put in by one former owner - a Sydney Morning Herald editor - and turned it into a popular bed and breakfast with a private garden wing. Even in its new incantation Coodravale attracts high-profile visitors including once a senior Indian politician. A novelist even set some of her steamy story around Coodravale. “Retribution” by Diane Demetre, had the absorbing mini title “Who Would You Kill to Escape your Past?”.
Escaping the past is not what you do at Coodravale - you sit and absorb it, especially when you are surrounded by 100-year-old trees, abundant wildlife, and large rooms that groan history.
For John and Rosemary, Coodravale has been a wonderful chapter in their life - the dream homestead they’d always wanted, and having scoured across eastern Australia, found the answer was just an hour-and-a-half from their previous residence in Canberra. It brought isolation and peace from John’s work in the strategic planning area of the navy and for Rosemary running the busy pre-school at Duntroon Military College.
It’s been a wonderful interlude in their lives, as it has been for many of Coodravale’s owners.
“I’ve never felt so relaxed in my life,” John says. “Even when I travelled a lot in my work, when I came back to Wee Jasper I felt I was at home.” Now some of the couple’s 11 grandchildren enjoy Coodravale’s environs, but the Robinsons have decided to do some travelling in their retirement and it’s time to hand on the Coodravale baton once again.
Its ownership goes back a long way and includes the famous poet, war correspondent, editor, horse racing enthusiast and solicitor A.B. “Banjo” Paterson. Paterson co-owned Coodravale with Stan Lindeman, two scions of famous Australian families with deep rural roots. Paterson married in 1903 and became a part-owner of Coodravale in 1908, often bringing his young family to the property, right up until the war years, when he became a highly-regarded war correspondent, an officer in the remount section, eventually leaving the Great War in the rank of major.
Of course he didn’t live in the homestead which wasn’t built during his ownership, but Coodravale is acknowledged as inspiring two of his poems, “The Road to Hogan’s Gap” and “The Mountain Squatter”. Some over the years say Coodravale inspired his most famous poem “The Man From Snowy River”, but this link is entirely spurious as the famous poem was written in 1890, well before his Coodravale days, But when you read “Hogan’s Gap” and “Mountain Squatter”, you get a definite feel of the rugged Brindabellas that surround the lovely valley at Wee Jasper. In “Hogans Gap” a city court official is delivering a writ to settler Hogan, but when a local wag explains the precipitous and circuitous route to Hogan’s house in the mountains, the clerk gives up.
If anyone has driven the back road from Tumut to Wee Jasper they’ll know what Paterson was writing about with the knife-like edges and hairpin bends, with signs such as “hunting in this area” quite visible from the roadside.
“The Mountain Squatter” is pertinent to today as we struggle through another drought. Sheep sent from the drought-stricken saltbush plains to agist on the mountain run, become an hilarious twist on plains sheep and slopes’ sheep, as the Riverina sheep and horsemen negotiate the rugged hills south of Yass in some distress. Some Riverina sheep are quickly lost, and the squatter is only too happy to accept them into his own flock. ‘Long may the droughts west of Gundagai’ kick on, is the final sentiment, the Wee Jasper squatter is so enamoured of the western sheep.
Paterson sold out of Coodravale, and the Lindeman family, the famous Australian wine pioneers, took over. The landholders were always battling wild dogs and once 30 hunters in the 1930s were employed to track down a single dingo that had caused mayhem over several months among the flocks. The Lindemans experimented on the property with “maize, lucerne and pigs”, most of the latter escaping into the bush - creating a feral problem that goes on into today. The run was bought by George Sykes, a wealthy Sydney businessman, whose wife was described as the “most beautiful, well-dressed woman of Sydney.” Sykes was also a member of the NSW Meat Board and Coodravale brought him both pleasure and tragedy. He grew in 1941 maize crops that went “100 bushels to the acre” and compared to the “best of any maize” grown in NSW. Mr Sykes often found himself beset by natural pressures - from wombats to brown snakes.
Once he caught a fine trout in the Goodradigbee. Hoisting it on to the bank, to his dismay, a large brown snake slid from the undergrowth sending its fangs in to the back of the squirming trout’s head. As Sykes flew the line up in the air, the snake only entwined itself harder about the prize fish. Needless to say the snake was killed and the trout wasn’t eaten.
Tragedy struck the Sykes in 1936 when the couple left their young son with a babysitter while they attended Yass races. On return they were given the terrible news their young 22-month old son George had strayed into the river and drowned, caught on a snag.
The property has passed hands several times since the 1950s, and in the Yass Tribune in 1955 it was described as “paradise on earth”. It sold for just over 60,000 pounds that year. Another mystery unfolded on the property when a station hand lost a small fortune of 200 pounds he had secreted in his room in a suitcase, that ‘disappeared’ in the midst of a fire in the workers’ quarters.
Most of the time, life passes peacefully on, as does the Goodradigbee river, at Coodravale. It has been an inspiration to many including our most famous poet (if Henry Lawson would agree). If the homestead doesn’t meet its reserve at auction, John and Rosemary say they are only too eager to kick on at Coodravale.
Coodravale sold for $1.09 million to a Canberra buyer through LJ Hooker Kaleen.