The cavernous cellar at Fitzroy Inn (November 30, 2019), which housed a subterranean cell for prisoners en route from Sydney to Berrima Gaol isn't our region's only knock-out cellar. While there are others which were purportedly used as convict cells, many of our region's historic cellars were designed for various purposes. Some are vestiges from the bushranging era while others, heaven forbid, were built to in case of nuclear attack. Here are my top five.
Where: Sir George Hotel, Jugiong.
Age: Circa 170 years.
Original purpose: Kate Hufton, who, several years ago, renovated the popular pub reports, "our cellar was originally built to store beer and wine", adding, "the original entrance was built of blue granite and at some point a steel ladder was installed to roll the kegs down."
Current use: A working cellar for the pub and private dining room. Look out for some giant hooks in the huge local gum logs that are the beams for the floor above the cellar, which indicates they may have also stored meat in the cellar at some point.
Can you visit? You bet. They even have wine tastings where the pub's sommelier will guide you through some of our region's best wines or show you through his personal collection of carefully collected favourites. The only catch is you have to descend down a narrow ladder through the trap door from one of the bar areas. The Sir George is on Riverside Drive, Jugiong. sirgeorge.com.au
Where: Royal Arms B&B, Nimmitabel.
Age: Circa 170 years.
Original purpose: The original part of the Royal Arms was built in the 1850s as a Cobb & Co Station, originally trading as the Royal Hotel. Since then, the Nimmitabel landmark has served as pub, boarding house, dining hall, and also starred in the 1960 film The Sundowners, featuring Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov.
After a string of different owners, the building was bought in 1988 and lovingly renovated by the Garside family. Following the restoration, your Akubra-clad columnist spent a spooky afternoon about 15 years ago in the cellar with the Garsides. "People have been scared out of their wits by all sorts of weird happenings down there," reported Heidi at the time, adding "phantom bells ring at midnight, keys mysteriously turn in locked doors, and the face of a dishevelled lady sometimes appears".
Current use: Now owned by the Walker family, it's both a private residence and occasional B&B.
Can you visit: The cellars are off limits to the public but at the town's annual Steam Punk Festival (first weekend in May) market stores are usually set up atop the external entrance to the cellar. The Walker family also hosts occasional high teas. The Royal Arms B&B is located on the main street (45-47 Bombala St) of Nimmitabel opposite the bakery. royalarmsbnb.com.au
Where: Cooma Cottage, Yass.
Age: Circa 180 years. Around the time explorer Hamilton Hume bought the property from the O'Brien brothers.
Original purpose: While it no doubt stored supplies including wine, there are unconfirmed rumours that soon after its construction convicts may have been kept in the earthen cellar in balls and chains. After the Hume family sold the property in 1910, William Bawden took up residence with his family in 1911.
Current use: The National Trust owns and manages the cottage. In 2016, Alan Howard claimed his father Stanley Cecil (Tom) was actually born on a mattress on the dirt floor of the cellar a century earlier, in 1916. According to Alan, during the time of his father's birth, his mother was said to be attending a party hosted by her brother William Bawden when she went into labour.
Can you visit: Yes, you can take a peek down the concrete stairs to the door leading to the cellar, or venture inside on occasional night tours hosted by your Akubra-clad columnist ... if you dare. Cooma Cottage is at 756 Yass Valley Way, Yass. nationaltrust.org.au/places/cooma-cottage
Where: University House, Acton.
Age: Built in 1954 as part of a broader service tunnel/basement.
Original purpose: As detailed in Jill Waterhouse's encyclopaedic University House As They Experienced It: A history 1954 - 2004, (University House, The Australian National University, 2004), fear generated by the Cold War influenced the design of University House. These design features included "nine-inch thick brick walls (twice the normal thickness), floors made of reinforced concrete and a service tunnel running underneath the building which the consultant architect, Brian Lewis, believed was the safest place to hide if one expected a nuclear attack".
Current use: Although occasionally used to store wine in the past, the tunnel is now predominantly a service tunnel.
Can you visit: While you can visit University House and enjoy a drink in its subterranean bar, you can't venture into the underground tunnel due to safety (confined spaces) restrictions. University House is at 1 Balmain Crescent, Acton. unihouse.anu.edu.au
Where: Old police barracks, Laggan.
Age: 183 years.
Original purpose: Built in 1837 as cells beneath the police barracks in Laggan, according to local lore Ben Hall was kept down here on more than one occasion and scratched his name onto the wall. Current owners Evan Marler and Sally Emerton bemoan that one of the previous owners "removed the Ben Hall scratching in its entirety".
Current use: Basement of a private home, and used as a cellar for adjoining restaurant.
Can you visit: While you can't visit the cellar as it's in the basement of Evan and Sally's home, you can enjoy lunch at Laggan Pantry, their adjacent restaurant, which serves wine stored in the historic cellar. Laggan Pantry is at 1 Peelwood Road, Laggan, which is near Crookwell. It's about a 100 minute drive from Canberra. laggan.com.au
A tipping point
I remember it well. On September 11, 2001, while soaking up the sun in the south coast village of Bermagui I first heard news of the attacks on the World Trade Centre. At the time I was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. Earlier this week as I watch snow fakes flutter silently into the 9/11 north tower memorial pond in New York City, the shoe is on the other foot - my phone beeps forebodingly with fire alerts along the NSW south coast and snowy mountains. Just like 19 years ago, again I'm overwhelmed with the same sense of helplessness. The tyranny of distance.
I've headed over to the Big Apple for a long-awaited family catch-up and to enjoy some New Year cheer. However, instead of watching the ball drop in Times Square to herald in the new decade, news of the destruction of many of this column's favourite hang-outs back home is like a series of stabs to the heart. Not to mention the tragic loss of lives.
Each night, I watch the TV news in horror and read, in disbelief, emails from this column's many correspondents. Just like 9/11 changed the world forever, this season's unprecedented Australian fire season will change the way many, both at home and overseas, view our continent. The words of John Blay of Eden who has walked through and written at length about the south east forests are particularly poignant. "Places have burned we thought could never burn. There used to be fires. They'd burn here and there. But now it's one big fire coming from many directions that's burning everything and leaving no refuges. Maybe afterwards we'll reflect back and say this is when everything changed."
I tip my hat to all the firefighters; NSW RFS, ACT and international who have done their best to protect lives, property, animals and towns from this ongoing natural disaster, and I know Canberrans, many hardened by the 2003 ACT bushfire disaster, will do their best to help these communities in the long road to recovery.
WHERE ON THE SOUTH COAST?
Cryptic Clue: Not far from a magical mountain
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Last week: Congratulations to June McKenzie, of Fisher, who was first to correctly identify last week's photo (above) as Aragunnu Beach in Mimosa National Park, just north of Tathra.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday, January 11, 2020, will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.
Last year this column reported an increase in the number of hybrid parrots spotted in Canberra and surrounds, especially of hybrid lorikeets, including this one from Tommy Leyden, of Yass, who has recorded the raising of five hybrids by a wild musk/rainbow lorikeet paring.
When this column's avian correspondent heard of Leyden's unusual feathered friends, he beat a path out to Yass and was excited by what he saw.
"This is the best record I can find in Australia of such a history," Geoffrey Dabb reports, adding "this might prove to be the clearest record so far of a fertile pairing of both lorikeet species in the wild."
Meanwhile, Felicity Roberts sent in this photo (below) of a King Parrot spotted amongst a flock of seven in Fraser.
Geoffrey says it's not a hybrid but a colour variation, perhaps better described as a fairly common pigmentation defect in King Parrots. "It takes the form of patches of yellow plumage on back or wings," reports Geoffrey. "It is, however, rather unusual to see this much in the tail feathers."