Saumarez Homestead

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Saumarez Homestead, an historic country homestead and ten hectare grazing property, was first inhabited by British settlers led by Henry Dumaresq in the 1830s … Manager Les Davis tell FOCUS more about this local treasure …

Tell us briefly the history behind Saumarez Homestead?

What was once a 100,000 acre grazing property was first inhabited by British settlers led by Henry Dumaresq in the 1830s. Today, the remaining 10 hectares (25 acres) includes an elegant, extensive, fully furnished Edwardian homestead, built between 1888 and 1906, and 15 farm and other buildings dating up to 1910, with their collections of early farm equipment and other contents.

The property takes its name from the Dumaresq’s Estate in Jersey in the Channel Islands. For five years after settlement, Saumarez, with its well supplied store, tools, clothing and basic food was the last stopping point for settlers moving north “beyond the boundaries”. After Dumaresq’s death, the property was sold to Henry Arding Thomas, whose family lived in the original slab homestead overlooking Saumarez Creek. The White family purchased Saumarez in 1874 and worked the property, until they gave the 10 hectares that included the historic precincts to the National Trust in 1984. The rest of Saumarez was split up and sold off by 2004.

When and why did the Homestead become a part of the National Trust Australia?

When Miss Elsie White, the last member of the White Family who built and lived in Saumarez Homestead, passed away at the venerable age of 97 in 1981, the family decided that this incredible time capsule of Australia’s pastoral age should be conserved for all to enjoy.

In 1984 Saumarez Homestead at Armidale was donated to the National Trust by the FJ White Company. At first there was some indecision as to whether the Trust would take on this “white elephant”, but the long term view prevailed over short term rationality, and today the property is one of the treasures of the National Trust, thanks to the efforts of the many local volunteers, minimal but hard working staff and support from Observatory Hill and the Trust Board, as well as support from the local Council and community groups.

Having found Saumarez Homestead, some visitors expect to complete their sightseeing in less than an hour. My recommendation is to allow half a day to begin to understand how a hundred and eighty year old pastoral property once worked and to allow time to explore the multifaceted, multi layered treasure that is Saumarez Homestead.

How has Saumarez now become a popular destination for locals and visitors alike?

When the National Trust first opened Saumarez Homestead to the public, conservation of the amazing collection of buildings, gardens, farm area, homestead and over 10,000 items that the White Family left for all to enjoy was the main focus, as well as providing the opportunity for visitors to be taken on guided tours of the main homestead and learn about the contents and the one nuclear family members who lived there for almost a century. Over the past 30 years, Saumarez Homestead has developed to be much more than a historic site.

By offering a wide range of experiences in the main homestead, in the gardens and in the farm area, Saumarez Homestead has encouraged the local community and travellers from near and far to redefine how they use and enjoy Saumarez. The main aim has been to have as many people as possible, young and not so young, to fall in love with Saumarez and commit themselves to helping preserve and promote Saumarez to become a self-sustaining resource for the Armidale and wider community.

In the past few years, Saumarez Homestead has embraced social media and improved their web presence. This has resulted in Saumarez Homestead being awarded the 2015 Armidale and District Chamber of Commerce Award for Digital Innovation in 2015 and the Museums and Galleries NSW IMAGinE Award for Museum Engagement in 2016.

As well as having an informative and welcoming website with every aspect of the property, its collection, gardens and other activities available online, Saumarez Homestead now has its own app for both Apple and Android platforms. Together with its Flickr feeds, Facebook page and Pinterest site as well as YouTube videos, Saumarez Homestead now appeals to a much wider demographic. As a result, visitation has increased over the past five years from 3,000 to around 10,000 visitors each year.

In particular, Saumarez Homestead has become a very popular wedding venue for ceremonies, receptions and photoshoots, as well as a venue for corporate events, special celebrations and workshops.

Many families now enjoy a visit to Saumarez Homestead for a picnic, tour on weekends or even a treasure hunt using the “Saumarez Homestead Grounds Hound History Trail” booklet to help them explore the whole site.

Saumarez Café, which is open weekends and public holidays, is also proving to be as popular place for delicious light lunches and fabulous Devonshire teas and coffee, with special leaf teas and plunger coffee provided by the Daily Ritual.

Saumarez has attracted some very interesting visitors nationally and internationally; tell us about this?

Saumarez Homestead is a special place. Locals who have visitors from all over the world make a point of bringing them to Saumarez Homestead, and they are never disappointed by the magic they discover here.

Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, visited Saumarez Homestead with the German Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and his delegation after going to the UNE Smart Farm and touring Saumarez Station, to give his visitors the opportunity to experience Australia’s pastoral heritage.

On a lighter note, we recently had Frank Vagnone and Johnny Yeagley, from Twisted Preservation, New York, USA, experience Saumarez Homestead on a “One Night Stand” to understand the homestead as only an inhabitant can. They ate, slept and rested in the Saumarez Homestead itself as well as in the gardens and found “the peace of Saumarez was quite special”. (Last Word: Frank Vagnone – Trust Issue No. 1 Summer.)

What other attractions can we find at the Homestead?

One of many exciting developments at Saumarez Homestead has been the establishment of the Heritage Rose Garden Saumarez Homestead by the Northern branch of the Australian Garden History Society, using over 450 roses bred pre 1930 and mainly donated by Miss Catherine MacLean.

Tell us about important dates we need to remember?

Currently we have the Nocturne Saumarez photographic exhibition on in the Saumarez Function Centre weekends and public holidays until 29th January 2017.

On Australia Day, 26th January 2017, we will have our annual Australia Day open day for everyone to enjoy.

Plans for the future?

We recently conserved the interior of Saumarez Homestead with funds raised locally and a significant grant from the Copland Foundation. In 2017 we will be carrying out major works in the Farm Area at Saumarez Homestead using a very generous grant from the Copland Foundation of $50,000. We will also approach our local supporters and the Armidale and Uralla businesses, who benefit from the thousands of people who come to Saumarez Homestead each year, for additional funds to allow all the work needed to be done. This will enable us to save some of the seriously degraded elements of the Farm Area, including the stables, blacksmith’s shop, wagon shed, hay shed, slaughter house, store and the Thomas House.

Hopefully, we will be able to attract even more people to join our industrious and committed group of volunteers, without whom Saumarez Homestead would not survive, let alone prosper. As the Armidale Regional Airport precinct develops, we are looking forward to exciting times at Saumarez Homestead. Hopefully, we might get a much shorter and easier to drive entrance road and cross promote with a motor museum, air museum, tourism promotion kiosk and even (possibly) an Aviation Hall of Fame.

Thanks Les.

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