- What I believe was intended to be the front of Elizabeth Farm, which faces away from the street frontage.
Elizabeth Farm has a number of intriguing points. It’s Australia’s oldest standing homestead, according to the Historic Houses Trust
, having been constructed in 1793. It’s also one of the artefacts that date from Parramatta’s surprising early colonial history.
I say ‘surprising’ as I didn’t realise that Parramatta and its surrounding suburbs (and Elizabeth Farm is located in a surrounding suburb – Rosehill) had an early colonial history. I thought that the western suburbs were all relatively new (post-1900) and that many of the houses were fibro, weatherboard or new brick veneers. Apparently, this was extremely ignorant of me, at least when it comes to the suburbs dotting the Parramatta district. In Rosehill, you’re most likely to come across Federation brick beauties - some with well-kept, pretty front gardens, and others that are crying out for restoration.
Elizabeth Farm, located on a street in Rosehill that is towered over by Parramatta’s growing CBD, is one of a number of heritage houses open to the public in the area.
One of the main house's verandahs.
My favourite element of the house is its sunrooms, which sit off the drawing room and what seems to have been the formal living or dining room. The house is split into two wings, which is interesting. Unfortunately, the bedrooms are quite dark, and aside from the high ceilings and floorboards, don’t offer much visual appeal.
One of the house's sunrooms.
The floors stood out. I’m accustomed to seeing ornate ceilings, but I’ve never before seen ornate floor patterns (where the floor wasn’t tiled).
The house’s owners – Elizabeth and John Macarthur – came to Australia in the Second Fleet. Macarthur, who is lauded for his furtherance of Australia’s pastoral industry, was granted 100 acres in the area. He was a pretty wiley guy, and in his time managed to secure a landholding of almost 1,300, with Elizabeth Farm comprising 300 of them. He cultivated the land while still acting as inspector of public works, and on his resignation, some authorities were taken aback that he had been engaging in such large-scale farming while still on duty.
Ceiling in servants' quarters
Macarthur was arrested at one point for injuring the Lieutenant-General in a duel, which I feel provides some insight into his character. Much more dramatic than your average 18th century colonial home tale!
The house was remodelled in 1826, but didn’t reach completion by the time of Macarthur’s death. In his later years, he succumbed to insanity, making renovations frenetic. Without delving into its complete history (which, while interesting, is lengthy), the house was saved from demolition in the 1970s. People had been trying to preserve the house since 1968, when it was in a state of dereliction. The dilapidated room that remains in the house acts as evidence of its ruinous state.
In 1977, it became NSW’s first property to be protected by a conservation order. Unfortunately, a heritage listing cannot always save an important home, as one recent incident demonstrates. The Heritage House has pieced together aspects of the house’s history through photographs, intending the interior of the house to look like it did at the time it was lived in.
Lovely (and historic!) toy.
I couldn't resist uploading this. What a strapping young man.
As you would expect from a farm, the property has a big overgrown vegetable patch. The land size is still large (although certainly not 300 acres – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any 300 acre blocks anywhere near the Sydney metropolitan area). This house, more than any I’ve viewed, presents a queer contrast – it sits awkwardly in a suburb that seems to be trying to move on from its rich historical underpinnings. That’s one of the things that makes the house so attractive; it’s not surrounded on either side by similar homes. It stands apart, and acts as a little historical breakaway – something that stands out from the rest of the street.