Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

Saddle up for a surprising country road trip and divine hotel

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

Saddle up for a surprising country road trip and divine hotel

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It’s not often that a country town or rural city surprises the socks off you.

Certainly, they all have their quirks and charms. But spend enough time west of the Bruce Highway and one dot on the map might blur into another after a few beers in their historic pubs.

After you’ve paid homage to the annual picnic races, rough ’n’ tumble rodeos and competitive agricultural shows a couple of times and visited one too many antique shops, you may think you’ve been there/done that/got the T-shirt.

I thought I had, until I spent 24 hours in Warwick.

The road trip was a stopover on the way further south-west in the Granite Belt. I wasn’t expecting anything special.


The city boasts impressive sandstone buildings.

I knew the “Rose City” wouldn’t be in bloom yet and I was too early to see the state’s “Rodeo Capital” in full tilt on the last weekend in October every year.

The litter-free, neat and tidy appearance is par for the course for Southern Downs residents who all seem to take pride in their patches of hometown.

Even the odd couple of sheep in suburbia might have been expected, given that legendary sheep shearer Jackie Howe – immortalised for breaking daily and weekly shearing records across the colonies in 1892 – was born at Canning Downs Station in the same year the municipality was declared in 1861 (his mother Louisa was a companion to the wife of the first settler in the area Patrick Leslie).

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A drive-by of State Heritage-Listed St Mark’s Anglican Church in Albion Street – designed by Richard George Suter and built in 1868 by John McCulloch – certainly caught my eye for its magnificent tower and belfry.

On Palmerin St, my curiosity was piqued by steadfast buildings from bygone eras, including the old Warwick Town Hall (1888) and the Post Office (1898). Architectural history has been preserved while, in some cases, interiors have been repurposed and re-imagined – as function venues, cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

The T.J. Byrnes monument. Picture: Shirley Sinclair


I had to brave the steady morning traffic for a closer look at the statue gracing the intersection of Palmerin and Grafton streets. The Heritage-Listed memorial opposite Warwick Post Office is the T.J. Byrnes Monument, commemorating Thomas Joseph Byrnes: the short-lived premier of Queensland who died in office in 1898.

A quick pick-me-up coffee brought me to the Anzac Memorial and a wander around Queens Park before spotting the jaw-dropping 15m high sculpture celebrating Warwick’s equine heritage.

Cobb and Co’s wagons, heavy horses, polocrosse, campdrafting, thoroughbred racing, rodeo, dressage, pony club, show jumping and the World War I Light Horse are all depicted in the impressive steel structure next to the highway at the northern gateway to Warwick.

Nothing special? How wrong was I? But the best was yet to come.

A DIVINE EXPERIENCE

I’m not what you’d call overly religious but I’ve long yearned to spend a night in a former nunnery or monastery.

And my quirky ambition was realised after checking in at Abbey Boutique Hotel on the corner of Locke and Dragon Sts in Warwick.


Owners Mark Cains and Sonia Hunt had always dreamed of owning and renovating an historic building in their native Britain.

But on seeing the then Abbey of the Roses B&B while living on the Gold Coast, they bought the property in early 2010 and have spent the ensuing years renovating, remodelling and upgrading the three-storey building’s 50 rooms.

The gardens have plenty of spots for contemplation. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

The aesthetically breathtaking sandstone beauty in Gothic Victorian-style was built as a convent and school by the Sisters of Mercy.

The foundation stone of the Roman Catholic convent was laid in August 1891 by Archbishop Robert Dunne, who also performed the opening ceremony two years later.

Our Lady of Assumption Convent has since been reborn many times (including as Cloisters and Sophia College) and now offers luxurious comfort, surrounded by more than a touch of divine old-world charm.

The adults-only Heritage-Listed hotel and function venue also boasts beautifully maintained landscaped gardens and manicured lawns on 0.8 ha (2 acres).


The current 12 air-conditioned/heated guest rooms all have ensuites or bathrooms and suit a wide range of budgets and tastes.

Work is under way to add a further four loft suites in the large attic space of the main building, while plans have been approved for eight Queenslander-style cabins to be built in stages on the former tennis courts.

The Do Drop In room. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

Our Do Drop In Room 8 was part of the original build and one of the most important rooms of the convent – hosting four beds reserved for VIPs and visiting nuns.

Today’s Queen Room with four-poster bed, ensuite and chandelier is directly above the quaint chapel and adjoining function room (the stairway once had external stairs but is now built-in).

The private veranda with views to the Great Diving Range is a bonus – ideal for savouring an in-room cappuccino and bikkies while listening to the currawong song in the cool of the afternoon.

The unique view from the Do Drop In four-poster bed. Picture: Shirley Sinclair


An overnight stay offered us ample time to wander the pretty gardens and inspect other beautifully appointed rooms.

My favourite for a return visit is the Bavarian Room with its leadlight windows and barrel-vaulted cedar ceiling that extends to Room 8. And don’t miss the suite named after and decorated in honour of the resident cat, Bazil.

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Surrounded by the romance of history, tradition and architecture, I could easily imagine this tranquil setting embracing an intimate wedding with all the trappings of grandeur yet still maintaining a spiritual essence.

The Bavarian room. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

The vintage cars or horse-drawn carriage transporting the bride and her attendees roll up for a picture-perfect wedding for close family and friends in the chapel.

Memorable photos in the grounds follow as a string quartet plays from the gazebo.


Champagne and canapes are served outside before the guests begin moving inside to be entertained by a pianist on the grand piano in the reception area, sitting down to the wedding “breakfast” in the private lounge or celebrating the happy couple with cocktails and finger food in the dining room.

Then again, a simple elopement might see the bride and groom sharing their first dinner for two as a married couple in the anteroom next to the chapel.

We weren’t renewing our vows but our pre-booked dinner was almost as special an event.

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Drinks from 5.30pm in the dining room saw us sipping Asahi beers and an Abbey Fizz (Cointreau, bitters and Sirromet bubbles) on one of the gorgeous chaise longues with a view through the picture window out to the front gardens.

The view from the dining room. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

And we could linger as long as we liked over our pre-booked dinner with choices including homemade pumpkin soup and stuffed mushroom entrees,  mains such as crispy skin Atlantic salmon or tender lamb shank, with a recommended cheese platter finale to share.


  • Abbey Boutique Hotel is on the corner of Locke and Dragon streets, Warwick. Call (07) 4661 9777. For more, visit the website.

TIMELESS COUNTRY RETREAT

Glengallan Homestead today. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

The tourists come by the bus and carload to the landmark Glengallan Homestead and Heritage Centre between Warwick and Allora on the New England Highway.

Some are just there to partake of the scrumptious high tea behind panoramic windows. But others come to immerse themselves in pioneering history and the fascinating boom, bust and renewal story behind the sandstone residence that has surveyed the fertile Glengallan Valley since the 1860s.

Glengallan Station had once been a 60,000 acres (24,300 ha) property.

The homestead was built in 1867-68 – the dream of John Deuchar who, with co-owner Charles Henry Marshall, had established the Glengallan Merino flock and Shorthorn stud.

The home was once considered among the most splendid in the colony – complete with a rare flushing toilet on the first floor from water supplied from a huge rooftop tank – and a glowing example of the prestige associated with a large Darling Downs station of the mid to late 19th century.


While its grand design is still evident, Deuchar had visions of building a much larger house, possibly in a U shape (though the plans have never been found).

But he only had time and resources to build one wing before a variety of pressures conspired towards his financial ruin, with the property reverting to sole ownership of Marshall as mortgagee.

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Uninhabited since 1927,  the sandstone building was derelict when locals and interested parties formed Glengallan Homestead Trust Ltd, a registered charity and, in 1993, acquired the 2ha heritage precinct from Glengallan Station.

The unrestored building had only limited opening to the public, until a $2million Centenary of Federation Infrastructure Grant in 2001.

Glengallan Homestead was more like a village.

This enabled the Trust to do a partial restoration of the sandstone building over the course of a year and build the Heritage Centre, including an archives room and café, in time for a January 2002 re-opening.


But while its restoration has been delicately balanced to ensure authenticity, Glengallan is allowed to tell its own heartbreaking story through the remaining ruins, vandalised walls and unfinished sections.

Parts of the puzzle are still missing but much of the timeline of history and finer details of Glengallan are revealed on a self-guided tour. Information boards help paint the picture of what life was truly like there in its heyday.

Wander the gardens built up over 20 years by volunteers and recreated from historic photographs.

Closer to the house, you may spot a white Glengallan rose propagated from rootstock of the sole serving La Marque planted on veranda columns in the 1920s.

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Once inside, the meandering staircase dominates the entry. Originally intended for a building in Sydney, the staircase was installed at Glengallan when financial restrictions prevented completion of the original design.


Only photographs and a couple of broken pieces remain of a magnificent crystal chandelier that dominated the drawing room.

The original clock on the Glengallan mantlepiece. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

The eye-catching gilded clock – taking pride of place on the drawing room mantelpiece – is an original piece, donated back to the house by the Gillespie family.

As Trust chair Donna Fraser  says, “The history of Glengallan goes hand in hand with the history of Warwick and surrounding districts – the original Darling Downs named by Allan Cunningham in 1827.”

As a result, the Heritage Centre’s archive is an invaluable resource for genealogy detectives.

Over many years, volunteer archivists have collected and collated an enormous amount of data, as well as hardcopy documents and photos relevant to the property and anyone who has lived or worked on it.

“We pretty much have here what John Oxley (Library) has got,” Donna says.

Glengallan Homestead was once the envy of the colonies. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

So, for many hundreds of visitors over the past 30 years, this has been much more than a stroll through history. The pilgrimage to the still-majestic pastoralist home has been a “family affair” – a chance to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.

  • Glengallan Homestead is open 10am to 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Visit the Facebook page or call (07) 4667 3866. The venue may be hired for professional photography, weddings and other functions. The Heritage Centre cafe and gift shop sells souvenirs, arts and crafts and local produce from the gift shop. Seasonal markets in the Heritage gardens are held the first Sunday of March, June, September and December.
  • Warwick is about 245 km or 3.5 hours’ drive from Caloundra and the gateway to the Granite Belt.

A FRESH LOOK AT WARWICK

Queenslander-style verandas help create the Abbey charm. Pictures: Shirley Sinclair

Bazil the cat has a room named in his honour at Abbey Boutique Hotel.

The Abbey Boutique Hotel chapel.

Leadlight and artefacts are everywhere.

High tea at Gelngallan Heritage Centre.

The view from the Glengallan Heritage Centre.

Glengallan Homestead splendour.

Breakages, vandalism and disrepair are part of the Glengallan story.