Historic “Burrundulla” on the outskirts of burgeoning Mudgee, NSW, has been in the same family for nearly 180 years, with today’s custodians diversifying the cattle and sheep property into crops and vines.

Story By Ian Glover

Opening the cracked leather and vellum-bound volumes that fill the floor-to-ceiling bookcases in the library of Burrundulla homestead is something more than a little incongruous: the boot of a long dead workman. “Part of the ceiling collapsed in 2003 and had to be completely removed and replaced,” says Burrundulla’s Jeremy Cox, who describes himself as “the caretaker of the house on behalf of the family”. “This is when we found the boot, above the fireplace, almost at the junction of the ceiling … apparently there was a superstition around when the homestead was built in 1864 that a boot placed in a wall – particularly a chimney wall – would keep out evil spirits.” It appears to have worked.
By outback station standards, Burrundulla is tiny – a mere 760 hectares – but it is extremely significant in the Mudgee district of central-western New South Wales for two reasons: it boasted the first major homestead built in the region, and has been under the stewardship of the same family since 1821, when George and Henry Cox – sons of Lieutenant William Cox, the army surveyor who supervised the building of what’s now the Great Western Highway over the Blue Mountains – took up land there. Henry founded “Menah”, now to the north of Mudgee, and George founded Burrundulla, originally 1595ha, with a lot of land relatively recently sold off to become Mudgee’s industrial zone on the Castlereagh Highway. The township of Mudgee, springing up between the two properties, ate into yet more of Burrundulla, and in the late 1840s, part of Burrundulla was divided into small farms that were leased, with the tenants later able to buy their blocks, progressively shrinking the property. But the Cox brothers weren’t the first Europeans in the area. That bit of history belongs to James Blackman, superintendant of police at Bathurst, who followed the course of the Cudgegong River in 1821, stopping only when he encountered the dense reed beds on present-day Burrundulla. “That’s where the property name comes from,” Jeremy says. “From what we can work out, Burrundulla is a derivative of bundulla, which is what the natives called the reeds in the river flats.”
Unfortunately, Burrundulla homestead is not the original one built by George Cox and his wife Elizabeth in the early 1820s. According to Jeremy, it was either flooded or burnt out. The present homestead, built on higher ground and now right on the southern outskirts of Mudgee, was erected by their son George Henry, who commissioned William Weaver, a Sydney architect with many government buildings to his credit, to design an imposing two-storey structure in the colonial Georgian style. Heritage-listed, it’s magnificent, constructed of bricks, with a Penrith sandstone verandah sheltered by corrugated iron, high ceilings, coffered doors in the original timber, vaulting arches, cedar-lined fireplaces (with double-potted chimneys – one for the lower room, the other for the upper), a formal dining room featuring the original floorboards, a striking stained-glass window that graces the mezzanine of the staircase to the four bedrooms and bathroom on the upper level, and on the lower level, a further 10 rooms including one devoted to billiards. Then there’s the underground wine cellar, complete with horizontal loading door in the courtyard footpath (just like an old pub). Judging by the Freddy Krueger-style meat hooks fastened onto the overhead beams, it was used as a meat safe as well. One room of the separate (five-room) servants’ quarters is now Jeremy’s office, and the original stables are still used to house Jeremy’s wife Petrina’s horse. The homestead was completely renovated in the 1970s, winning the Sydney Morning Herald medal for Preservation and Restoration of Historic Houses in New South Wales. “There’s only one problem with this house,” Jeremy says. “It’s really hard to heat.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #68

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010