The Queanbeyan-Palerang region is home to a diverse set of distinctively unique towns and villages. To give you an insider’s look into the hidden gems the region has to offer, we’ve enlisted the help of our trusty locals who will share their stories and local loves from the towns they call home.
In the fourth feature of the series, Bungendore local Xanthe Gay of X Gallery shares her story which took her from the bustling streets of Sydney to the quaint serenity of Bungendore.
City to country
“I never imagined I’d end up in a small country town, being a city girl from Sydney,” Xanthe states right out of the gate.
She first moved to Canberra to do a year of post graduate study in Gold and Silver Smithing at Canberra School of Art, ANU. After that year, the plan was to move back to Sydney.
“But then a series of events led me to take a Sunday drive up to Bungendore one day, and I saw this little building for lease which had sat unloved for many years. I had not even had a look inside the building, nor did I have any idea how much it would be to rent and how I could make it work, but I had this idea that it could make a great little gallery,” Xanthe explains and continues, “I went back to my flat in Canberra that Sunday night and I couldn’t sleep – I was just waiting to make the call on Monday morning and I moved here that very same day”.
“I’d never been to Bungendore before, didn’t know a soul, and moved into this kind of ramshackle building that became my home for the next six years. After renting it for a year, I made an offer to the owner and opened the gallery 17 years ago after some renovations – and the rest is history!”
X marks the spot
Now known as X Gallery, the building’s unique shape is known to stop people in their tracks to inspect it closer. “I love that it looks like a little slice of cake. People are always stopping and taking photos of the gallery, wanting to know more about its history,” Xanthe says.
“Originally, the building was attached to another one which was built in the 1860s, some fifty years before this one was built on its side. In the 1960s, the other building burnt down, while this one survived – that’s why it looks quite unique standing on its own today.”
“When I first moved here, I made a bit of a cheeky excavation behind a door of the building and discovered this beautiful stone wall, which was actually the exterior wall of the building that burnt down. I believe that stone wall is what saved this building from that fire. I spent a month on the jackhammer, getting the 30cm of cement render off that stone wall to reveal it and it’s now become a real talking point of the gallery – everyone’s always asking about it and the history of the building,” Xanthe recollects.
Despite its compact size, the building now functions as both a workshop and gallery space, holding exhibitions of other local artists’ works, as well as showcasing Xanthe’s own silversmith work.
“People are always surprised with how much can fit in. Whenever I have exhibitions, artists bring their work in saying it’s never going to fit and I say ‘don’t worry, it always does’. Every piece finds its place.”
Legends of the land
“I think people that come here for the first time are really surprised by the rich history of the place, given the proximity to Canberra which doesn’t have that history. Bungendore’s history goes a long, long way back,” Xanthe contemplates, and adds, “There’s a lot of Aboriginal history and significance connected to the land, especially when it comes to Weereewa, also known as Lake George, just north of the village.”
“To me, Lake George is an intrinsic part of Bungendore. It’s this beautiful, magical and mystical place that a lot of people only really experience driving by on the highway, but there are places where you can get quite up close and personal to it,” she points out.
In the past, Xanthe herself has spent a long time working on the shores of the lake at Silver Wattle, which at the time was a conference centre located right at the end of Lake Road. “I just fell in love with the lake and all its different moods.”
She also recalls the lake from her childhood, as her father and grandfather used to come down to Bungendore to sail the lake. “That’s how much water it used to have – it was a serious lake. Since then, the water levels have gone up and down. These days, the water could be just 10cm deep, but the lake will look full. It’s a mirage. The everchanging water levels have created many myths surrounding the lake. According to one myth, Lake George is connected to another intercontinental lake and when one goes down, the other goes up.”
Shrouded in mystery, the lake has seen many more unexplainable events than just alternating water levels. “Lots of mysterious things have happened on that lake – people have disappeared never to be seen again,” Xanthe says.
This year, Xanthe is celebrating half her lifetime spent in Bungendore. “Having moved here without knowing anyone, I found that I was embraced by the community really quickly, and I try to pass that on to others relocating to the area,” she says and adds, “It’s a really easy lifestyle, a great community feel, and such an ease of living”.
For those interested in visiting from Sydney, Xanthe has oodles of tips to share. “I love that Bungendore is so accessible by train. Often, my friends from Sydney will just finish work in the CBD, go to Central Station and jump on a train and they’ll arrive here just before 9pm on a Friday night, leaving enough time for us to quickly pop over to the pub for a drink. We then spend a great weekend together filled with good food and good times, and on Sunday afternoon they can conveniently pop back on the train, which departs just from the end of the street. They get to enjoy a great weekend in the village without having to drive anywhere, everything is accessible on foot and there’s lots to do and see.”
“Even if you’re coming from Canberra, which is just half an hour’s drive away, you can have a holiday where you feel like you’re miles away,” she continues.
“There’s just so much to do and see – even if you don’t leave the village at all, you can have a really rich weekend of experiences and great food. Just a few minutes out of the village, you’ll also find some fantastic wineries, and there are also some really great accommodation providers now.”
When asked about some of the big drawcards in town, Xanthe lists the local galleries, boutiques, cafes and wineries.
“In addition to X Gallery, there’s also Suki & Hugh just three doors down from me. They, like myself, have changing exhibitions, which are very high class and diverse and they have a shop range as well where they sell a lot of beautiful glasswork. They represent a lot of Canberran glass artists who do phenomenal work. They also feature a lot of ceramics and other media, whereas my work is mainly metal and silver jewellery. There’s also the Bungendore Fine Art Gallery, as well as the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, which has an international reputation and draws big crowds from all over Australia and the world. Between the four of us, we have a few different types of art covered, and that makes Bungendore a real destination to come and gallery hop.”
When it comes to a spot of shopping, Xanthe is once again no short of recommendations for those looking to peruse antiques and collectibles, or beautiful home- and giftware.
“There are some great antique shops in the village. Tim at Village Antiques has an absolute treasure trove of all kinds of things – you could easily spend an hour or more just pottering around the shop. There’s also Deniston Antiques just around the corner from X Gallery with more antique finds on offer.”
“I also love Wild Rose Organics on Ellendon Street. Louise, the owner, has really beautiful giftware and great quality, ethically made clothing. I can always find something special there. There’s also Manon & Moss which is a relatively new business in Bungendore but housed in a beautiful old heritage building. They import a lot of French furniture, homewares, garden furniture and sculptures and it’s very classy, tasteful and special,” Xanthe recommends.
“Even if you’re coming from Canberra, which is just half an hour’s drive away, you can have a holiday where you feel like you’re miles away.”
“And for the wine lovers, there are of course the wineries. I have friends and family in Sydney who now have their favourite wines from the local wineries, so when they come down, they make sure they go down to Lark Hill, for instance, and pick up some of their beautiful Sangiovese, or visit Contentious Character for a beautiful sunset dinner overlooking the vines. The cool climate wines here are top notch, and many of the local wineries have restaurants as well, so you can make a real afternoon of it and go have a lingering lunch and then explore the vineyards and cellar doors,” she gushes.
If you weren’t convinced yet, Xanthe has even more recommendations up her sleeve for a weekend getaway in the country village. “There’s really something to suit every taste – if you’re after a decadent weekend of food and wine, I recommend going to Cafe WoodWorks for breakfast – I hear they make the most amazing Eggs Benny! There’s also The Gathering on Gibraltar Street, which is a great spot for a light lunch or brunch, and there are many more great cafes in the Village Square. The Flock at The Carrington has the most beautiful garden and huge elm trees and spaces for the kids to play while you have a leisurely drink and lunch, and for dinner there’s also The George Bar & Dining. They have a big beautiful fireplace and huge leather arm chairs to enjoy in the winter, and in warmer weather you get to enjoy their big beer garden decked out with a playground to keep the kids entertained. For something different, there’s also the French restaurant Le Tres Bon, and Fat Baby Thai which serves really great Thai food.”
It’s clear to see Bungendore has left its mark on the once self-proclaimed city girl, who can’t stop singing the village’s praises. “Like I said before, I never imagined myself moving to a small country town, but now I can’t see myself anywhere else,” she laughs.