When this column alerted readers that the circa-1841 Squatters Arms at Bunyan was on the market (Held up in Bushranger Country, June 18, 2018), there was a huge outpouring of nostalgia from readers reflecting on the Monaro Highway landmark, located 7km north of Cooma.
Some remembered it as stop-off for Devonshire tea on the way to the snow, others as a rustic B&B, while bushranger aficionados revelled in recalling tales of long-lost buried loot.
In fact, it was this strong sense of heritage that lured Raelene Forbes and Marshall Sanderson and their two children Sam, 6, and Flynn, 3, to buy the stone inn-cum-home almost two years ago.
"There's a real sense of place here, and living here makes you appreciate the stories and history even more," says Marshall.
With bushfire threats and a wild windstorm which blew away their shed and knocked over a vintage holding cell for travelling prisoners at the back of the property, the first two years have been a baptism of fire for the young family.
But Marshall and Raelene have taken all the challenges thrown at them in their stride, toiling weekend after weekend to lovingly bring the 179-year-old home back to life.
"We wanted to strip it back and start it again, but we didn't realise how much physical work would be involved, so we spent every weekend for three or four months manually moving trailer load after trailer load of rock out of the main yard of the house and clearing out all the debris," says Raelene.
And that was just outside. Inside, the couple used "25 tubes of gap filler to fill the cracks in the walls" before giving it a well needed lick of paint.
They've also replaced the faded sign peddling the Squatters Arms tea house and restaurant and with two flags - the Australian and the Scottish, as a not-so-subtle nod to Scotsman Dr David Reid, one of the pioneers of the region.
Thankfully, it hasn't all been hard work. "One of the delights of living in a rural area are the native animals," says Raelene who was particularly enamoured by "a juvenile echidna which one morning wandered past the stables".
"We're getting a lot of positive feedback from the community, who are appreciative that we are keeping the property's spirit alive," says Raelene, who has occasionally had strangers stop to check how they are settling in.
"Most who pop in remember driving past here years ago, when it used to be a restaurant and are curious to see what we've done to it," says Raelene. "One even asked if there is still a bullet hole in the roof."
While Marshall and Raelene are leaving their own mark on the colonial treasure, they are also having to make adjustments to the yard for the safety of their children and pets, hence removing the hedge and erecting a wrap-around white picket fence. However, arguably the most exciting change for your akubra-clad columnist, who regular readers may recall two years ago had a pipe dream to make an offer on the Squatters Arms, is that the duo have just finished refurbishing the original 18th century kitchen, turning it into a B&B.
While they aren't officially opening the doors until next week (June 4), I recently twisted their arms to let me bunk down for an evening. Heck, if the bank and Mrs Yowie wouldn't allow me to call the endearing property home, at least I could spend one night under its historic roof.
And to say it exceeded expectations would be an understatement. From the moment you pass the hand-made copper lanterns hanging on the stone facade, you know you are stepping back in time. Inside, sure, the original flagstone floor is uneven but that adds to the character, so too the fireplace complete with cooking arm where all the meals were once prepared. I especially like the two watercolours of the property painted by artist Ron Hindmarsh in the 1970s on display in the nooks left by the old bread oven.
However, the couple has also brought it into the 21st century with wi-fi, chic bathroom, kitchenette complete with encaustic tiles on the backsplash which add a striking pop of colour.
In the morning (yes I did sleep well despite its proximity to the highway - thanks to those extra thick walls), Marshall leads me past the stables, which over the last two centuries have been used as a hay shed, pig pen, milking pen for cows and goats and a playground, to a rocky knoll where he's been hauling away trailer loads of gorse, briar and blackberry. A large section of rock is clearly charred with soot.
"I think that's where the blacksmith would have worked," he explains. It's now a kids 'secret hideout' with knock-out firepit for the adults to sit and enjoy a few drinks.
I ask if he's found any of the alleged lost bushranger loot. "Nothing too valuable, just lots of broken glass, part of a hobnail shoe, and an old watch face," he replies. Well, at least that's what he's telling me.
Having put in so much hard work, and then having to endure a delayed opening due to COVID-19 restrictions, Marshall and Raelene are more than a tad nervous to see how travellers will respond to their new enterprise.
But they needn't be. The Old Kitchen at Historic Squatters Arms is an absolute triumph - an enticing modern makeover of a Monaro treasure.
I'm just disappointed I couldn't find that bullet hole in the roof. Maybe you'll have better luck.
Historic Digs: The Old Kitchen at Historic Squatters Arms is on Airbnb and suits singles or couples. $100 per night. Bookings via Airbnb from June 4. Follow further renovations of this Snowies landmark on Instagram: @squattersarms
Clarke connection: On March 22, 1866, the Clarke Gang raided the Squatters Arms Hotel. The notorious gang were hoping to relieve owner John Cullen, who moonlighted as a bookie, of his takings from the Cooma races held earlier that day. However, on hearing that the Clarke gang were in the area, Cullen craftily sent the takings home with one of his servants. Miffed at missing out on relieving Cullen of his significant race-day takings, the Clarke brothers instead fleeced the patrons of the Squatters Arms. According to historian Peter Smith, "they also stole ham, turkey, tongue, beer and a variety of alcoholic drinks and rode down to a nearby creek and enjoyed a jolly good feast". I bet they did.
Curious cellar: Stephen Honeyman of Fisher, who lived at the Squatters Arms as a child from the mid-1960s until around 1973 holds fond memories of its cavernous cellar. Stephen especially recalls when his mum made a large batch of elderflower cordial and stored it in the cellar. "Due to a low consumption rate it turned into elderflower wine which fizzed when opened," reports Stephen. "The down side was that it had a tendency to explode and, as the cellar was directly under the lounge room, the occasional muffled explosion reminded us to not play in there."
Did You Know? The Squatters Arms wasn't the only 19th century pub in Bunyan. The Bunyan Inn, built in 1859, and located several hundred metres closer to Cooma, operated for just one year before being razed. Some believe it was arson - apparently having two watering holes in a small village was one too many.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: Douglas. Bonus points if you can tell me why there is a giant-sized front page of the The Canberra Times of July 28, 1980, featuring an article on the death of the deposed Shah of Iran, in the window.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Laura Walker of Aranda who was first to correctly identify the location of last week's photo as a tree resplendent in soft toys in bush near the corner of Caswell Drive and Bandjalong Crescent in Aranda.
"We smile every time we drive over the bridge and see it," says Laura, who just beat Jen Scott, Steve Leahy, Clare Wall and Maureen Bell to this week's bragging rights.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday May 30, 2020, wins bragging rights. Tickets to Dendy Cinemas will once again be given as a prize when the cinemas reopen.
Eagle-eyed Margaret Webber recently stumbled upon this floral "donkey" lurking in the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
According to Margaret, the 'donkey' is actually a Pink-Mountain Correa (Correa lawrenceana var. cordifolia). "Correas are such wonderful plants and do so well generally in the Canberra area," attests Margaret who is a volunteer guide at the gardens.