Southern Comfort

It’s not too far south of Sydney, about two hours’ drive, taking it easy along the way. It’s the beautiful region of the Southern Highlands – an area that is steeped in local history of farming, mining, commerce, bushrangers, Scottish heritage and some wonderful natural wonders of caves, tracks, ghost towns and rugged bushland.

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Mittagong is the door to the Southern Highlands and the town is half way between Sydney and Canberra. The gateway town is all business, it serves the surrounding villages, boutique wineries and Highlands’ population. Over many years Mittagong’s architectural heritage that was built up during prosperous times has been decimated by developers and 20th century bad taste. But the loveliest building to survive, be resuscitated back to life – well, given a new life is the old bank, now The Old Bank Boutique Hotel.

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Warwick and Barbara Wainberg - owners -4

The Old Bank Boutique Hotel’s hosts with the mosts! Barbara and Warwick Wainberg.

The historic building operated as the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and it dates back to the 1880s. The bank has been lovingly restored, and I don’t say that in off-the-cuff real estate speak. One of the owners is Warwick Wainberg, a nuggety bloke who would look quite at home wrangling cattle in the wild. When we arrived at the hotel he was sitting quietly in a small room, listening to the radio and pressing pristine white sheets, “it’s my job and I enjoy ironing”. This rough diamond is the person who meticulously chose the fabrics for the curtains and soft furnishings, designed the bathrooms and slowly and rather extravagantly managed and oversaw several years of extensive restoration by local craftsmen who faithfully transformed the slate roof and stone wall building from a dilapidated pigeon coop in 2008 to a magnificent building today.

Painstaking is the appropriate word here!

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Is there a bear in there?

There are five accommodation rooms with en suite bathrooms, all with elegant decor and individual charm. We had a tiny balcony overlooking the back garden and the lake in the distance.

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There’s also a self-contained studio apartment and a free-standing sandstone cottage plus the original coach house has also been reinvented for the 21st century.

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Main lounge and see the vault door to the left.

I love winter here as the lovely lounge and library are just the places to disappear into and cosy up with a book. A quirky detail worth exploration is opening a 1000kg door cast in London in 1852 – from the lounge area which happens to lead to the original bank vault. The door secured the  is now the wine cellar – talk about keeping the bottle booty safe!

Vault - wine cellar

Inside the vault – the gold has gone but the wine is cooling.

On arrival our host Barbara Wainberg bid us a happy welcome and sat us down to afternoon tea – and how fine those scones were too. and the Dundee cake was rather moreish!

Afternoon tea at The Old Bank - 2

Breakfast was the full Monty – why not? Nothing like eggs and bacon, toast, tomato and coffee to ready us for a drive further into the Southern Highlands. Thanks Barbara and Warwick not only lovely to stay here, but a treat to meet you both.

 

Early History

A severe drought exacerbated by a caterpillar plague in the fledgling colony of Port Jackson and subsequent exploration for new grazing land beyond the Cumberland Basin led to the settlement of Mittagong in the 1820s. Early Land grants for cattle grazing were given to a William Chalker, one of the first pioneers of the district.

Gradually over the next 80 years Mittagong became the home to many industries including the Fitz Roy Iron Works which established this industry in Australia, the Mittagong Coal Mining company operating the Box Vale Colliery, kerosene shale from Joadja, the Fresh Food and Ice Company sending the first supply of fresh milk and butter to Sydney and The Maltings serving the major NSW brewing company, Tooth and Co.

Following the railway line’s completion from Sydney in 1867, Mittagong became a gateway to the southern areas and beyond leading to the development of a tourist trade which still thrives today. Inns, hotels, guest houses, livery stables and shops were built to service the influx of visitors with some of the establishments still standing.

For a brief period in early the 1880’s the CBC occupied ‘Waratah Cottage’ at the junction of Old Main Southern Road, (now Range Road), and Main Street, (now Hume Highway). It then relocated to ‘Victoria House’ some 500m north of its present day site on the Old Hume Highway. By the late 1880’s the current CBC building had been constructed at a cost of 2840 pounds on land purchased from John Hilder for 373 pounds and opened it’s doors in 1891.

1908 saw the start of motorised, more reliable and comfortable transport and with it the Hume Highway via Razorback being completed in the 1920’s. The Highway travelled through Mittagong until the 1992 Southern by-pass was competed, taking heavy interstate traffic out of Mittagong and Berrima. Both towns have flourished since with holiday makers and day trippers enjoying the proliferation of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, antique shops and outdoor activities in the mountain air at some 600m.

Under private ownership the Old Bank is managed with love, kindness and attention to detail. A little gift on leaving (reluctantly) The Old Bank was a bottle of homemade kumquat jam – thank you so much.

Home made jam at Old Bank - 2

Homemade jam with seasonal fruit is on the menu.

For either shorter or longer visits to the Southern Highlands there are all manner of activities including golf, walking, hiking, riding, wine tasting, antique stores, galleries, gardens, arts and craft or just plain relaxing.

DON’T MISS THIS GREAT PACKAGE – HURRY!

Old Bank Boutique Hotel marks 125th birthday of property with new discounted package.

Book and stay by 30 June 2017, for cosy autumn and winter stays

The Old Bank Boutique Hotel in Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands is marking the 125th birthday of the grand, historic property with the release of a new, discounted package that allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the old-world splendour of the luxury hotel.

Ideal for cosy autumn and winter stays, the 125th birthday package includes two nights’ accommodation in one of the gracious suites, cooked, country breakfasts each morning and a delicious, three-course dinner for two at the hotel on one evening, including a bonus bottle of wine.

The package is available from $680 per couple on weekdays (or $170 per person per day, representing a 15 per cent discount,) and from $785.50 on weekends (12 per cent discount). The package is available for stays until 30 June 2017.

The property at 83 Main St, Mittagong, is situated close to the Southern Highlands’ well-known antique shops, boutiques, bookshops, cafes and gardens.

The 125th birthday package is available by direct booking only and conditions apply. Call 02 4872 4496 or visit www.oldbankhotel.com.au

Writer Bev Malzard stayed at The Old Bank Boutique Hotel and thoroughly enjoyed every moment there. More scones puleeeeze!

TIP

  • Drive to Berrima and do a little tour of the Berrima Courthouse.
  • Have lunch at Berkelouw’s Book Barn on the Bendooley Estate just outside Berrima.
  • For a rockabilly burger and fries, check out Bernie’s at Moss Vale – all red vinyl and chrome stools!

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