The custodians of our history in Braidwood

As a first-generation Australian with Vietnamese migrant parents, I have never really felt in touch with our national history. This all changed after two days in Braidwood and the surrounding region. 

Here, there is a humble sense of place; it’s one that heralds Braidwood’s significance in Australian history while carefully balancing preservation and refurbishment. There’s also a passion for sharing the town with others, with an acknowledgment that cultivating an appreciation of its history in as many people as possible is what will keep it standing for generations to come. 

Thuc Do Bedervale

It began with lunch at Majors Creek where I felt as though I stepped back in time at The Elrington Hotel. The original hotel was built in 1856 during the gold rush and the hotel as it stands today was built in 1913. It’s tucked away, close to the creek, with a grassy area and an old train carriage that is being fixed up and will be used for accommodation. 

Jackie, who owns and operates the pub, took over in August 2021 with her husband. They weren’t looking for a pub but fell in love with its yesteryear charm and its main room is buzzing with happy locals. Jackie has plans to renovate the pub and as we were talking about it, a local man overheard and said, “please don’t modernise it so much it becomes just like any other place!” Luckily, Jackie’s commitment to respecting the pub’s heritage goes so far as to take photos of the space so she can return every frame back to its original position.  

Thuc Do Majors Creek Hotel

That afternoon, I checked into Bedervale, a Heritage-listed homestead and working cattle farm. Built over 1836-40 by Captain Joseph Coghill, the house is now a living museum with curious artefacts like a gentleman’s opera hat (collapsible so it could be stashed under the seat during the opera for visibility’s sake) and what is apparently Australia’s first published children’s book. There is definitely a rich historic vibe here that you feel just by being on the property. It’s fun (and maybe a little eerie) to imagine who else walked the same path as you wander around.  

Sonia lives and runs Bedervale – her parents bought the property in 1987 and her family has lived in Braidwood since the 1820s as part of the earliest European settlements of the area. Despite the fact that Sonia has given countless tours, she still shares facts and tells stories with enthusiasm and a beautiful sense of pride. Sonia’s daughter lives on the property and is the same age as Sonia was when she returned to Bedervale. To me, this is testament to a history so rich that its pull spans across generations.

Thuc Do Bedervale

Dinner was at Troopers Rest, where I was greeted by Ally, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Nick. When they took over this restaurant that’s set in an 1860s cottage, Ally said she immediately felt a sense of responsibility to protect its history – and because she genuinely loves it, it’s ‘easy work’.

Ally and Nick have rejuvenated the building, restoring original features like the flooring and brick fireplaces and even handcrafting the skirting boards to ensure a precise match. The new additions they have made were done in a way to effortlessly complement the original works – for example, the space is warmly lit by Florentine lamps – the style of which harks back to the 1880s. 

Thuc Do Troopers Rest

Before I left the next day, I spent literally hours at the Braidwood Museum, which cemented my newfound appreciation for Braidwood, its region and its history. It’s rare to be in such close proximity to artefacts that are not just regionally but nationally significant. I was shown around by John, who is originally from Sydney and started holidaying in Braidwood when there were only dirt roads. He’s now a beloved local who volunteers at the Museum with a passion for sharing the town and its history. 

As the saying goes, we cannot protect something we do not love and we cannot love what we do not know and so what I found inspired was John’s idea of bringing the Museum out to the streets. He has a vision to bring the old horse cart out to the laneway leading to the carpark, to create a law and order exhibition in the old courtroom and to display the original chemist records in the medical centre. In doing so, more people will get to interact with and appreciate these artefacts.

At the Museum, there is an old telephone switchboard that looks like it hails from the time of the abacus. Yet, John was quick to point out that this switchboard was still in operation in the 1970s – “we were about to put a man on the moon in ‘69 and yet we were still using this ancient piece of equipment!”. John told me a story of how the switchboard operators, all across the country, used to chat amongst themselves during their quiet, late-night shifts and how years later, two of them actually met in real life and ended up getting married. 

Thuc Do Braidwood Museum

It’s stories like this, told by people like John – and Jackie, Sonia and Ally – that truly bring a place’s history to life. They are steadfast caretakers of our history and are so generous with their time and stories. Their work has a ripple effect and with each ring, I believe another generation will form a stronger resonance and love for this sunburnt country we’re lucky to call home.

Thuc Do

Thuc Do

Fiction Agency

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