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July 28, 2008

HAVE A HOOT – HIRE A HOMESTEAD


john crook & david ellis
 

NEXT time you're thinking about that special-occasion family shindig or a knees-up with all the mates, forget about worrying how you'll fit 'em all into the sunroom and the backyard – head to NSW's Central Tablelands and hire yourself a homestead.

Not only will it come complete with enough rooms and loos, and with a whopping 4000ha around it to cater to every whimsy of the grandkids to the grans, there'll be no need to die of thirst: it's even got its own winery.

Anything from a handful to sixty of you will be able to sit around the tables indoors or under the stars and muse over the glorious past of this circa-1836 property, and its history through the Gold Rush, bushranger-era (Ben Hall was a frequent uninvited visitor,) Cobb & Co, the wool boom, the Great Depression… and how its brash Colonial owners had the audacity in 1937 to take a pot-shot at England's most-esteemed polo event, and to the Pom's consternation, win.

Millamolong Estate & Winery is just four hours drive from Sydney and centred in a triangle bounded by Bathurst, Cowra and Orange.

Its latter-day history goes back to the 1920s when James Ashton Snr, who rose from humble beginnings to become Minister for Lands in the NSW Administrative Assembly in 1895, bought his four sons James Hay, Bob, Geoff and Philip a property called Markdale on the Southern Tablelands.

The boys became keen horsemen and hearing of a new sport called polo being played at Goulburn, went there to investigate; back home on Markdale they played the game with vigour with their workers, and began breeding special ponies with the speed and dexterity to suit the sport.

And on Fridays they'd trot these ponies 90km to Goulburn, play a couple of games of polo over the weekend, and trot their horses the 90km back home.

Then to the bemusement of the Brits, and on a shoestring budget, they took twenty-six of their ponies to England in 1930 to challenge for the world's premier Champions Cup at Hurlington; they were beaten by a margin and subsequently invited to the USA by the newly-formed Long Island Pony Club.

They took the Americans by storm and played against teams that included the likes of Walt Disney and the Peabodys, then sold their polo horses for US$76,000, a $30,000,000 fortune in today's terms, and came home

Being cashed-up, they each bought a grazing property – James Hay Ashton choosing the 4000ha Millamolong, which is still run today by his descendants.

(In 1937, the Ashton boys returned to England, and to the horror of the Poms came home with the cherished Champions Cup.)

As well as remaining one of Australia's most famous polo-playing families, the present-day Ashtons also run one of the largest polo clubs and polo pony breeding programs in NSW from Millamolong.

City-slickers can take themselves for a holiday here and enjoy an extraordinary diversity of country activities from playing pretend-farmers by day to indulging the good life of the "squattocracy" over a grand dinner and a bottle or three of Millamolong's own wines at night.

There're kilometres of horse-riding trails amongst rolling hills, deep gullies and 16km along the picturesque Belubula River, walking tracks, mountain biking, tennis, a pool in the warmer months, a BBQ next to the tennis court, bird-watching for many rare species, and the circa-1930s Edna Walling Garden that attracts garden-lovers from around the world.

For kids there're calves and lambs to feed (in season,) working sheep dogs, and pony rides.

The 28ha vineyard provides fruit for the Millamolong Winery's cool-climate Chardonnay, Shiraz, Riesling, Cabernet Shiraz and Merlot wines.

STAYING THERE:  The Homestead sleeps up to 18 and costs $1200 per night; The Farmhouse 28 and costs $800 per night; Wattle Cottage 7-guests $280 per night; Primrose Cottage 4-guests $220 per night. The captivating 1840s Post Office – once Australia's smallest – has bunkhouse overflow accommodation.

Buildings can be booked individually and prices negotiated for smaller groups for each; catering is available if you want a kitchen-free break. Phone (02) 6367 5241 or check-out www.millamolong.com

(FOOTNOTE: Millamolong means "Sick Man's Creek;" in days of yore Aboriginal tribes would walk vast distances to drink its healing waters that are rich in calcium, magnesium and other minerals.)

 

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

. TO the homestead born: Millamolong can sleep up to sixty for that next big knees-up – complete with caterers if you want.

. SUNBURNT country: you'll have 4000ha in which to play pretend-farmer or simply ride into the sunset.

.  THE BUNKHOUSE was once Australia's smallest Post Office.

- Photos: John Crook

 
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