When I left my guardian angel Trish in Braidwood on Tuesday afternoon, I was in a hurry. I'd intended to buy a takeaway dinner in Braidwood, and a bottle of wine, but I was out of time.
The trip to the Mount Fairy Airbnb cottage would take an hour - about when Tim the owner would be leaving for the coast. I had said I'd be there. He texted me to say that there was wine in the cottage.
About twenty minutes from my destination was the little town of Tarago. I'd made good time so thought I'd grab a microwave dinner.
I stopped at the Loaded Dog Hotel to ask if there was a grocery store in town. At every turn there's another historic building! This is the shed behind the pub.
No, sorry, said the girl behind the bar. No grocery shop.
There was only one thing for it.
Could I please have a packet of plain potato chips, and that packet of pork crackle?
I've had worse dinners. And I did have a big lunch.
The driveway into Merigan is lined with hundreds of immature oak trees all the way along several kilometres. I wondered who could have planted and watered them until they were established? A true labour of love.
Finally I drove over a grid to see this remarkable homestead belonging to the rose-covered cottage. Merigan is the large working sheep farm of a family whose antecedent was also an early arrival in Australia.
Two sheep dogs met me at the door, followed by Tim. Tall, good looking, tousled blonde hair and cornflower blue shirt. He was about to leave for the coast, but he'd retrieved some relevant books from his library in response to my note on Airbnb that I was searching for a local homestead.
How thoughtful is that? His generous open welcome should be filmed for host training - the house will be open, leave the books back in the kitchen when you go, use the kitchen if you want to, and the front verandahs. Make yourself at home.
We walked over to the dear little cottage, roses winding over the doorway as promised, for Tim to explain the intricacies and as he was leaving, I said, relishing the decadence of it, Guess what I'm having for dinner?
The next thing I knew, before he left for the coast, Tim had brought some lasagne over for me, made by his girlfriend. It's generosity like this that makes travelling such a joy. I ate it later that night and it was sensational.
So there I was, alone at Merigan!
In my frig there was a choice of white wine or French rosé, red on the bench. Just leave the money on the table if you have any, said the typed instructions.
The garden is romantic and feminine, extensive and charming: a surrounding mega-lawn with a high windbreak of tall trees on the southern side, twin loggias facing each other at the front of the house, a huge gravel circular drive at the side with a perfectly shaped tree in the centre, tennis and bocce courts, veggie garden and roses. Roses blooming everywhere... Tim's mother’s creation.
I took the top off the rosé, poured myself a drink (wonderful!), and wandered in the garden until dark.
A photo of Tim and his beautiful girlfriend.
Seven pm could not come fast enough to ring Ian in Braidwood. I dialled the number nervously, and heard a voice say, Hello?
Hello Ian, I began, this is Shelley Dark - I left a message for you at your lolly shop today about wanting to visit the homestead on your property.
Why do you want to see it?
Oh dear I thought. This isn't sounding hopeful at all. Rather than babble, which I'm inclined to do, I took a deep breath and stated my desire to see the homestead slowly and clearly. Then I left him room to answer me.
I have a doctors appointment in Bungendore in the morning.
Pause. Well that's that, I thought.
But I can come before that if it suits you. I'll go on to the doctor afterwards.
Yes it suits me, I breathed gratefully, It does suit me.
Right, be at the yurt at 8.30am.
The yurt? I said.
Yes, it's an octagonal timber house.
Oh yes, I replied. We saw that today.
Right. No, make it 8am. See you then.
We hung up. I was elated. I would have been there at 4am if he'd asked.
Despite my excitement I slept very well in the little cottage (ate the chips too!), and woke to the alarm. Tim had told me about a shortcut which sounded quite easy to navigate, so I didn't need to leave quite as early as I had planned.
But I did anyway, so that I could take some dawn photos on the road, and definitely not be late.
I hoped the sun rays were a good omen....
I phoned Ian on the road at 7am to see if it would be alright for Trish to come too, but when I phoned her afterwards, she had an appointment in another town that morning. I promised I’d keep her informed.
At 10 to 8 I was waiting at the yurt - it's on a private house block right at the entrance to the property not easily visible from the road. Ian drove up in his farm utility with his dogs in the back. Gone was the coolness of the night before. He was warm, interested and charming. I'm sorry he has his eyes closed in the photo....
That's the ruins of the old church, he said, indicating stones under self-sewn flowers. (what's name of those flowers - they come in white and pale pink and this deeper one - it's driving me insane that I can't remember... can you help me out?)
Ian unlocked the padlock on the gate and I followed him along the road into the homestead, not knowing what to expect. Work on it began in 1828. Would it be a ruin? Upright?
In the event, it was both.
It's still standing, has been re-roofed, and an external rear wall is propped up with timber. This would have been an open back verandah in the original homestead. The additions at either end may have been later.
The entire front verandah has been slightly extended and enclosed with ugly tin sheets. I wonder when the oak tree on the right was planted?
The front verandah is no longer supported by timber columns. When the Children's Air League used it as a camp house, toilets and showers were installed along half of the front of the house, behind where I'm standing.
But the lathe and plaster walls are still there, and this original Georgian wallpaper.
The fireplaces are without their mantelpieces and the ceilings are sagging and falling.
Ian told me there's a very big cellar. He's never been down into it.
I was just so happy to see that not everything decorative had been removed - the wooden front doorway is still there, with its architrave of classical wooden columns and geometrically carved lintel.
From the side, next to the old oak tree, two of the three chimneys and low double hip roof is evident, perhaps on the right is the original house, with the addition of the second hip on the left.
At some stage someone has started to replace rotting internal walls with gyproc - thankfully they must have been stopped. Although if something isn't done to the house soon, it will be beyond redemption anyway.
Whoever replaced the tin roof has stored old sheets in the back room at this end of the house. Corrugated iron was patented in England in 1830 but only zinc dipped later that century.
from a painting of the homestead circa 1840 in a private collection, cover plate The Ryrie family by John H. Edwards
How I wish I could just blink the years away, the ugly additions too, and see it as the family home it was in 1830’s, climbers winding around the front verandah posts, smoke rising from the chimneys. The squatter welcoming weary travellers passing on the road from Sydney almost outside the door. He's eager to hear news from the capital. I can see him walk out from under the back verandah, calling to another man standing in the yard who is holding a saddled horse, watching, smiling.
I'd reached the end of the road.
This has been a brilliant trip and it would never have happened without Trisha Dixon, my incredibly generous hostess and Lainey Lawson who thought of me when the lunch was being organised. I'm so grateful to them. And to Howard who didn't know me from a bar of soap yet so magnanimously gave up an afternoon to show me the stone foundations of the old house. Not to mention the people I met while I was on Monaro who have since contacted me with other ideas. And in Braidwood my PA on the run, Trish, and Ian who took the time and trouble to show me the old homestead.
Here's an old-fashioned rose for you all, to celebrate.
Now buddies, it's back to writing for me. This book is begging to be finished. Thank you so much for coming with me on this trip. I've loved having you along.
Until next time, as always, I wait you,
ps. If you're ever down Braidwood way, stay at Merigan Cottage with Tim, on Airbnb - he also has a two-bedroom maids' quarters attached to the house.
And if you're looking for a great tour to the Greek Islands in May/June (it's killing me not to go), or lots of other great tours, look at Trisha Dixon's website. https://www.trishadixon.com/tours